Few small-press magazines make it to double figures, in comparison to the many that go under well before, so it's doubly satisfying to see two British publications each releasing issue number nine.
Roadworks -- Tales from the Hard Road features the words and pictures of Lauren Halkon, including an interview with this remarkable young writer. I presume it's her portrait on the front cover. She has three stories in this issue, all well written: the madness/horror of "Projection", in which a man paints his dark imaginings, the obscure "Destroy Me", and the superb "Giver, Taker", a dark story of misunderstood love.
There are many stand-out stories among the eighteen presented here. Paul Bradshaw's "The Exam" uses effective description and graphic horror to reach a satisfying conclusion. Ralph Robert Moore's "rump-a-thump" is an implausible but fascinating account of the results of an unusual accident in a San Francisco street. "The Visitors" by Richard Reeve is an evocative thriller that builds tension, despite its short length, to an unexpected ending. In Stuart Young's streetwise "Junkie Blues", a black piano-playing heroin addict sells his girlfriend to the Devil, and regrets it -- great fun. Another sharp, tongue-in-cheek story is "Leaving Present" by Roz Southey, set in a not-so-distant future where people who don't want to grow old buy 'contracts' on themselves.
Of the rest, stories from Steve Redwood, Robert Neilson, Simon Logan, Edward Parker, and a collaboration between DF Lewis and David Price are of matching quality. Most of the fiction is on the short side -- notoriously difficult to do effectively, but the standard is high. There's also some poetry, all of which reads well, even if some of it is obscure. Engaging non-fiction completes this densely packed (and therefore good value) perfect-bound magazine printed by TTA Press (the Halkon bibliography, however, is a loose-leaf insert). Roadworks' unfussy black-and-white design lets the quality of the writing shine through.
In The Zone, another British magazine to reach issue nine, the fiction takes second place. Though the four stories (by Neal Asher, Hugh Cook, John Light and David Ratcliffe -- all exhibiting a degree of humour, and all SF) are excellent, editor Tony Lee gives prominence to non-fiction. There are no less than six interviews: Pat Cadigan, Joe Haldeman, Simon Ings, Dean Koontz, Alison Sinclair and Howard Waldrop. Three of these (Cadigan, Ings and Waldrop) are by that SF interviewing stalwart, David Mathew.
Steven Hampton gives an overview of asteroids and comets in SF, and Jeff Young & Tony Lee tell how Isaac Asimov came to write "Nightfall". Loads of reviews -- TV, video and films, as well as books -- along with readers' letters, and even some SF poetry, make up The Zone's solid value. Tony Lee's editorial mentions that this issue was produced entirely on his new computer. I remember the tiny typeface of earlier issues, and this is a vast improvement.
Reaching double figures may be a milestone, but the American magazine Not One of Us is up to number 24. This is a saddle-stapled black-and-white magazine with small print and few illustrations. It publishes fiction and poetry around the theme of individuals who do not belong. Issue 24 has eight stories and six poems. I found the poetry less than satisfying, but that was more than made up for by the fiction. All eight stories are of a high standard, but four stood out for me.
In "Rolling Stock" by Steve Vernon, a traveller is stalked by the 'piggyback man' -- a ghost who inhabits the bodies of humans (who die when he leaves them). This was eerie, with a good payoff. In Patricia Russo's evocative and convincing "Skin", a woman is trying to look after an old lady who refuses to eat. The old lady seems to be looking for something, and eventually she finds it. Neil Williamson's beautifully written "Hard to Do" concerns the deeply felt contemplations of the end of a relationship. P Curran's "Very Old Things" is a powerful story of transformation. A young woman witnesses -- indeed is involved in -- a traffic accident. As a result she finds she can see things she couldn't before. Then she discovers some people who understand what's happened to her, even if she herself doesn't. A long story, but it held me.
Not One of Us is a rock of the independent press. It may not have the pizzazz of some recent offerings, but it has stood the test of time.
Roadworks: Trevor Denyer, 7 Mountview, Church Lane West, Aldershot, Hampshire GU11 3LN. A5, 110 pp, £3.00 or £10 for 4
The Zone: Tony Lee, Pigasus Press, 13 Hazely Combe, Arreton, Isle of Wight PO30 3AJ. A4, 68 pp, 3.25 or £12 for 4
Not One of Us: John Benson, 12 Curtis Road, Natick, MA 01760, USA. 5.5" x 8.5", 52 pp, $5.50 or $13.50 for 3
Copyright © 2001 Paul S. Jenkins
Note: This review originally appeared in Zine: The Definitive Guide to the World's Independent Press.
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