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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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A Brace of British Standouts

Reviews by Mort Briggs
Copyright © 1996, Mort Briggs

[CLF is developing a cooperative relationship with UK's NSFA , the New SF Alliance, headed by Chris Reed. We want to promote the best English-Language LF published anywhere!--Ed.]

Psychotrope, Issue 3; published and edited by Mark Beech.
[4 issues/$20. Check to Psychotrope/Flat 6, 17 Droitwich Road/Barbourne, Worcester WR3 7LG/UK];

The Edge, Vol. 2 No. 1; Editor, Graham Evans.
[4 issues/$16. Check to The Edge/1 Nichols Court/Belle Vue, Chelmsford/Essex CM2 0BS/UK]

We have here two zines, English, devoted to fantasy and horror. One is titled Psychotrope, the other The Edge. They are similar in aims, but rather different in execution. The Edge contains "imaginative SF, Fantasy, Horror and Slipstream." This issue (vol 2, No. 1) includes book and film reviews as well as an interview of Christopher Fowler by Graham Evans, an interview which is far more like a conversation than the conventional question and answer format. The reviews (whose authors are identifiable by initials at the end) are themselves entertaining and informative.

But it is of course the stories which take center stage. Though by definition they are short stories, they are considerably longer than those in some of the smaller zines, thus giving the authors more time to develop characters and situations. There are three here: John Shirley's "A Walk Through Beirut,", Paul DiFilippo's "Fantasy Trilogy," and Keith Brooke's "Brain Jive." By far the most successful is DiFilippo's triune effort. They are clearly satirical, and maybe that is why I grant them so much; I like satire, at least when it is fanciful and clever. The first of these, "Image Central," is true to its title. What would it be like if the making of public images were to be extended to everyone through the medium of uncontrolled media shufflers? There is an Andy Warhol component here. Everyone can have his moment of fame, carefully marketed by the new hucksters--but the price is high. The second part of the trilogy expands on the saying "shit happens," and is similar to the first story in the sense that events are out of ordinary control and that victimage is not an illusion but a carefully choreographed scenario. Finally, "The Boredom Factory" combines the utterly banal with the expression of geometric increase, producing the ultimate implied by the title. I am reminded of Hannah Ahrendt's subtitle of her book on Eichmann: the banality of terror. DiFilippo has a real talent which is well developed.

The other stories move toward a kind of horror endemic in the modern world, perhaps developing not so much through foresight as through a slight expansion on present reality. "A Walk Through Beirut" is an image of an urban riot complete with a multi-ethnic society, youth on an uncontrolled rampage, and a curious obsession with body imaging (moving-picture tattoos, skin-implanted stereos, and the like). Drugs and the question of What is real? are a very real part of the scene. There is even a happy ending--well, as happy as an ending to such a story can be. Finally, "Brain Jive" is true to its title. The question again here is control, in a future where robots have taken the center stage and rather purposeless people search out some goal (mental? spiritual?) or other, most of them succumbing to a plug-in existence where the hopes and desires are now artificially taken care of even though there is a dimension of freedom through which the fortunate or the strong willed can find their ways back to a true nature. But, as in so many of these dystopias, the way is seldom found and the ambiguous endings do not give one a cheery vista to contemplate.

Psychotrope, according to the editor, Mark Beech, has "many aspects of Mad Love, Psychological Horror, Surrealism and so on...." A smaller zine, physically, than The Edge, its typeface is more that of a typescript, which makes it larger and easier to read than the more elegant journal. There are only stories (and letters to the editor) here, no reviews or interviews. The stories are shorter, some less than a page long, but all are less conventional than those in The Edge. They also tend (for me) to be more obscure, the imagery and the symbolism somewhat more difficult to decipher. The first story, "The Gates of the Body," by Gavin Williams, is a sort of spiritual search for sublime sexual love, but is curiously unerotic to my taste. There is not much effort at drawing characters; much more energy is devoted to somewhat overdone descriptive imagery. That style persists in many of the stories--the aim is surrealism and not satire, strange cerebrations rather than true narratives. One of my favorites is "The Fourth World," by Julie Travis, in which there are two series of thoughts, one on a conscious level, the more elaborate on the unconscious level; the latter is presumably in a near death experience while the former watches from outside, unaware of the mental gyrations which on the other level are creating a geography of their own. The themes throughout Psychotrope, clearly an accurately named zine are dreamlike and eerie.

The two zines should be popular in the selective crowd of readers who will find the phantasms they search for. The Edge is perhaps more professional, containing a greater variety of articles and slicker illustrations, while Psychotrope is narrower in scope, but gives opportunities to a larger number of fledgling writers.

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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