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The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic

Volume 1, Number 5 (1998)
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MegaZine Review

Faye Ringel

In the previous version of the CLF Newsletter , (1.2 Winter 1996), I reviewed a number of small-press magazines and suggested a classification system based on that of major- and minor-league baseball, that is, Rookie League (the former D C and B leagues); A, AA, and AAA; and Major League. As I noted at that time, the following league rating recommendations are personal and unofficial, nor do they reflect the judgments of the CLF board.

It's getting harder and harder to distinguish the minors from the majors these days, in both worlds. In the summer of `97, my hometown AA franchise, the Norwich (CT) Navigators are featuring a $12 million Japanese pitcher, media hype, and skyboxes. Similarly, all of the following zines feature major-league writers, and many have major-league presentation styles as well. As with all small-press magazines, comments apply only to the issues reviewed, not to earlier or more recent productions. Also, because of the time lag involved, some of the zines reviewed may no longer be publishing on schedule or at all. Unlike professional sports, small presses are not seasonal, and careers, while not as lucrative, may last considerably longer.

Seriously though, the sheer mass of worthwhile reading contained in these zines says something about the health of the Literary Fantastic today. People must be doing this for love of art, for surely nobody editor, publisher, artist or writer is getting rich from the enterprise.

TransVersions Vol. 1 #4 and #5 (n.d.); Editors: #4 Dale Sproule and Sally McBride; #5 Dale Sproule; 1019 Colville Rd. Victoria BC, CANADA V9A 4P5; 5 1/2 x 8 1/2, 72 pages, $4.95 single issue, $18/4 issues.

AA presentation: still having some problem with color cover bleed and page layout. Major League content. Fine continuation of the zine I reviewed in CLF Newsletter Winter 96; still featuring all types of LF horror, sf, high fantasy, or (as in Adam Corbin Fusco's Pearl in #5) all three at once. Issue #4 features heavy hitters and critical favorites Sean Stewart and Stepan Chapman in dark sf/humorous mode. Issue #5 has some unusually fine poetry, including a technically dazzling set of sestinas used as narrative verse by Poetry Editor Phyllis Gotlieb. As I noted about the earlier issues, many of the stories seemed to end all too soon: here I particularly enjoyed the dystopian vision and sick humor of Derryl Murphy's Day's Hunt and the urban horror of Gemma Files's Hidebound.

Talebones:Fiction on the Dark Edge/A Magazine of Science Fiction & Dark Fantasy, Issue #5 (Fall 1996); ISSN 1084-7197; Editors Patrick & Honna Swenson, 10531 SE 250th Pl. #104 Kent, WA 98031; e-mail Talebones@aol.com; Web site: http://members.aol.com/talebones; 5 1/2 x 8 1/2, 64 pages, $4.50 single issue, $16/one year.

AAA just about ready for the Major Leagues. An entertaining little zine, with gross-out horror side-by-side with gently humorous and even sentimental dark fantasy. Well-chosen art illuminates the stories, though both can be a bit pulpy at times. Tom Piccirilli's writer's nightmare Lap Me in Soft Airs is a particularly haunting short-short. Ken Rand's interview with C.J. Cherryh was informative (but does she really have to tell would-be SF writers to keep up with things like Science News Science , and Scientific American ? Sheesh.).

On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of Speculative Writing, Vol. 8 Issue 1 (Spring 1996), ISSN 0483-476X Special Theme Issue: 'XF/SF' Cross-genre fiction; Publisher: Copper Pig Writers' Society, Editorial Collective: Barry Hammond, Susan MacGregor, Jena Snyder, Diane L. Walton; ON SPEC, P.O. Box 4727 Edmonton, AB, CANADA T6E 5G6; 5 1/4 x 8, 96 pages, $4.95 single issue; various subscription rates available. Web site: http://www.greenwoods.com/onspec/

Major League concept, AAA presentation (I really had a hard time reading the perfect-bound digest pages -- watch those inner margins!). A very entertaining theme issue in which each story crossed at least two pulp genres, with varying results. Perhaps the most seamless merge was David Nickle's Love Means Forever: nurse romance meets back-to-rivets sf. The flavor comes through in his slug line, Suki Shannahan felt like she was the luckiest girl in a million light years. The other stories are varied and amusing; James Beveridge's color cover of tiny punk fairies conveys the spirit of crossed genres.

Adventures of Sword & Sorcery/ Heroic & High Fantasy At Its Best, Issue #4 (1997) ISSN 1082-9601; Editor: Randy Dannenfelser, P.O. Box 285, Xenia, OH 45385; e-mail: dspress@erinet.com; 8 1/2 x 11, 76 pages; $4.50 single issue, $15.95/one year.

Major League Presentation, AAA content. This specialized zine shares a certain look with Worlds of Fantasy & Horror and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine , but its content does not always match its professional presentation. The color cover and interior artwork by George Barr do set a high standard. Perhaps it's the nature of the beast. I stand with those critics who believe that contemporary fantasy set in subcreated worlds is not well served by the short story form. Traditional mrchen and myths are short because they express their culture's consensus reality they need not establish a new worldscape, a new history, an economy. Contemporary fantasists have to do all of the above, but it takes a particularly skillful wordsmith to accomplish these tasks convincingly in 3,000 words. I was happiest with Nancy Varian Berberick's Tal's Tale, because she draws on the (already-created) world of Norse saga, and her plain style is not jarringly modern. In this story, as in her novels, it's clear that she's done her homework. Overall, for those who like fantasy, but are impatient with multi-book epics, this magazine may fill the bill.

Heliocentric Net (Now transformed into Heliocentric Net Annual ), Vol. 4, Issue 4 (1995); Vol. 5, Issue 1 (1996) Editor: Lisa Jean Bothell; Three Stones Publications, LTD., PO Box 68817, Seattle, WA 98168-0817; Old format: 8 1/2 x 11, 48 pages, $2 back issues; New Format: 8 1/2 x 11, 100 pages, $9.95 + book-rate postage/year. Web Site: http://www.wolfenet.com/~lbothell

Aspiring Major Leaguers, but still in the AAA realm. This publication is nothing if not ambitious, whether in its previous quarterly format or its new 100-pages-of-small print annual incarnation. The zine remains horror-oriented, while its guidelines request eclectic, experimental, and hard-to-categorize dark fiction, poetry, and art. Eclectic is the word all right, with both experimental and traditional styles on view. The artwork varies in quality and only occasionally illustrates the stories in which it is placed.

The Urbanite/ Surreal & Lively & Bizarre, No. 5 (1995), The Strange Relationships Issue; and No. 6 (1995), Strange Fascinations; Editor & Illustrator: Mark McLaughlin, Urban Legend Press, P.O. Box 4737, Davenport, IA 52808; 8 1/2 x 11, 92 pages, 64 pages; $5 single issue, $13.50/3 issues.

Major League content, AA presentation. I admit to being disappointed that though the publisher's name is Urban Legend Press, the zine had nothing to do with Urban Legends. Not one microwaved poodle, reincarnate Elvis, or Kentucky-fried rat could I find. Instead, both issues display an impressive range of LF, with no one house style predominating. Thomas Ligotti's The Bungalow House(in #5) alone would be worth the price of admission. Issue #6 is organized around the Seven Deadly Sins (and a few Wants and Needs), with gruesome horror (including Poppy Z. Brite's His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood) and a beautifully retold fairy tale (Diana Kolpak's Bedtime Story). All in all, it's amazing that Editor McLaughlin has been able to attract such superb writers to his small press. I do quibble with his using only his own illustrations which, I'm afraid, add nothing to the look of his zine. Luckily, the stories and poems speak for themselves. I hope some of them have caught the eye of print anthologists because they certainly deserve a wider audience.

Aboriginal Science Fiction, Nos.51&52, Fall 1996; Editor: Charles C. Ryan, P.O. Box 2449, Woburn MA 01888-0849; 8 x 10 1/2, 98 pages; $5.95 single issue, $21.50/year.

Ryan has been playing in the Majors for years, with the innovative Galileo in the 1970s and Aboriginal in the 80's and 90's. Ryan has fallen behind his announced publication schedule hence the double issues and I'm unsure about his current status, but his periodicals are always worth reading, as much for the columns as for the fiction. This issue's wonderful color cover by Cortney Skinner, Air Taxi, anticipates Luc Besson's film The Fifth Element , but Skinner's vision is not so dark. Book review columns by Darrell Schweitzer and Mark Olson, and Robert A. Metzger's impressive science writing in What If? are highlights. While the fiction is professional enough, the stories struck me as overly similar. Though their styles ranged from comedy to dystopian tragedy, nine of the ten short stories could be summarized as AI run amok. One nice Big League touch: the competent artwork actually illustrated the stories.

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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Copyright 1998 Faye Ringel
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