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The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic

Volume 1, Number 2 (Winter 1996)
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Everything that Writhes
Must Converge: PUCK #11

by Paul DiFilippo
Copyright © 1996, Paul DiFilippo

The success of such zines of thoughtful erotic fervor as White Silk and the Masquerade Press reader. The popularity of amateur press associations devoted to sex such as APA-69. The model of ventures like Cecilia Tan's Circlet Press, enterprising publishers of "erotic SF." These seem to be the likely inspirations behind the Special Sex Issue, Number Eleven, of Puck, the Unofficial Journal of the Irrepressible (ISSN 1071-7633, $5.95, 96 pages. Available from Permeable Press , 47 Noe St #4, SF, CA 94114). Or maybe not. After all, the topic of sex is hardly ever far from anyone's mind, including, one presumes, editor and publisher Brian Clark's.

In any case, it is my pleasure to report that, whatever his original inspiration, Clark and his talented staff have assembled in this issue a meaty menu of fiction and features for all tastes. After an aside or two about the magazine in general, we'll take a quick look at the non-fiction, then the stories, finishing with a word or two about the total effect of the issue.

Puck exists on the high end of the zine spectrum. With its full color, glossy covers (used to good advantage inside and out to present suggestive collages and a winsomely alluring cover photo), its eye-pleasing interiors, ripe with intelligent design, creative fonts, and unique black-and-white illos, it looks as good as--if not better than--any mass-market magazine such as Wired. As the official house organ, so to speak, of Clark's Permeable Press , the zine benefits from a creative synergy that comes from such a joint zine-book publishing organization. Some Permeable Press writers are featured in Puck, and vice-versa, contributing to a kind of enviable, heartening--well, family atmosphere. Puck probably represents the apex of what a small publisher is able to accomplish without getting listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Clark's editorial deals only peripherally with the issue's main topic. He leaves musings on that to his assistants. Stan Henry delivers funny, caustic insights into the sexual immaturity of the digerati, while Violette Riverrun offers some equally pointed insights into bisexuality. The longest essay--"Hot Buttons: Love & Death in the American Mind"--by Martin Wayne, traces in the manner of Baudrillard the evolving semiotics of skin and violence in our culture. While it reads well and offers important insights, I missed the personal angle that Henry and Riverrun provided. A multipage portfolio by Freddie Baer and Leah Rachel assembles portraits of non-professionally naked women amidst abstract collaged surroundings into an illustration of female sexuality unmediated by male pinup standards. Continuing in that vein, a deftly probing interview conducted by Alexander Laurence with the writer known as Eurudice, author of the novel F/32, gives us a look at the author's personal libido and working habits. Various reviews and comics fill out the remaining nonfiction slots.

The stories that form the bulk of the issue range all over the map, both in terms of the sex they present, the forms they utilize, and the generic niches they inhabit. Most of the fiction is mimetic, living in the contemporary world, even if impressionistically or imagistically. Some of these pieces are gauzy and relatively plotless, such as Sara Hafner's "Cheerios" and Adrienne Greenheart's "Numb." Others are hard-edged and naturalistic: "News From The Front, 1968," by Barbara Peck; "Boss: A Love Story and A Dream," by Michael Hemmingson; "Cocktail," by LindaAnn Loschiavo; "How Rubies Get Passed On," by Susan Birkeland; and "Ready for The Country," by Hillary Sloin. Others, due to their absurdity, nearly approach the fantastic. Here I"m counting Lance Olsen's "The Life & Times of a Two-Headed Monster"; Mark Amerika's "Crashpad"; and Clive Madigan's "A Sedate Social Evening." Finally, a Beckett-like play, "Fade To White," by Rane Arroyo, Glenn Sheldon and Dianne Williams, puts its characters through various mindgames on their trip to nowhere.

Among the stories which actually seem to cross the border into alternate realities are "Crimson Mosaic (I)," by C. Belletini, which can arguably be read as a vampire tale; "Word Criminal," by Morgan Songi, a view of linguistic dystopia; "It Just Happens That God Is My Name Tonight," by Eurudice, which postulates and illustrates mating with a deity; and "Becoming My Sister in Her Flesh," by Doug Rice, your typical tale of melting biological identities.

Not one of these stories is less than finely written; all contribute their share of thrills, perceptions, and observations to the fluid, mutable topic of human sexuality. But when I was finished with the issue, I was left, strangely, with a feeling of consensus. Despite the variety of voices, I got the impression that everyone was writing within the same parameters: trying to keep their tone reasonable, avoid getting into any territory too messy or personal, too unedited or dangerous. When I think of some of the writing on sex that Kathy Acker or Samuel Delany or Michael Blumlein have done, I recall being more viscerally affected than by anything here. Even oldie-but-goodies like Henry Miller and Jim Thompson and Georges Bataille threw punches that the Puck writers seem to be withholding.

Nonetheless, this issue of a fine zine still stands out as a great blind date.

The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.

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