Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #43
My RTRcausal of the fiction in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #43 will appear in the ‘comments’ below as and when I read each story.
My other RTRs from 2008 are linked from here.
The fiction is by Madeleine Beresford, Gary Budgen, Douglas Thompson, Howard Watts and Mitchell Edgeworth.
My previous reviews of TQF publications: Real-Time Review of TQF #37 & Real-Time Review of TQF #39 & Real-Time Review of TQF #40 & Real-Time Review of TQF #41.
12 responses to “*”
Above photo image by Tony Lovell
Diving Bird – Madeleine Beresford
“One wall was lined with bookshelves full of crumbling paperbacks, their bindings decaying, a long-archaic format.”
…which perhaps is ironic, reading this story in a book that one day may be on that shelf. In fact, I feel you need to read this story in a real book, for its full effect to work – psychologically – at the interface of physicality and hyperspace. And it does work wonderfully, beyond anything similar I’ve read before (I don’t watch cinema films, so can’t speak for them).
So, yes, this story is a perfect gem of a fictionalisation about not only using the internet but also becoming a living part of its bots, orts , “swimming in pure code” etc… except here it is experiencing that interface BETWEEN travelling on old-fashioned trains, through old-fashioned stations, controlled by the ‘signalboxman’ AND the ability to “tweak things” (tweet things?) as an adventure playground after electronic login. Astonishingly, this reminds me strongly of the “spiritual helicopter” (as an equivalent of this story’s railway train), but, even more so — as you will appreciate when you take into account the title of this story above — of the “diving-suit of the soul”, both of which phenomena I happened to pick out during my immediately previous RTRcausal of another book (a 1952 one!) here.
Also seems to suit the book cover I recently chose to use to decorate my website where you may be reading this: The Lady of the Barge, in resonance with this Lady of the Train or the Signalbox’man’…
And this incredibly mind-stretching story’s last sentence brings it to a close with a truly brilliant play on words which I won’t give away here.
Is that a face at the window of the train above?
Through the Ages – Gary Budgen
“But it is the viewing platform that is the highlight.”
…which begs the question, who is viewing whom, and I wonder, if this story, like the previous one, has, in its last sentence, a similar play on words (with different words), i.e. ‘superseded’ to evoke ‘superseeded’?
This is an engaging piece, if a brief one: a synergy between an essay or speech as part of a Socratic dialogue and an extrapolation by speculative fiction to clarify the stages of mankind in an entertaining way as one addresses the levels of mankind as by archaeological vistas. With a sort of atomic brew or natural Large Hadron Collider at the Earth’s centre retrocausally creating the various stages?
[If I may be self-indulgent for a moment, this scenario, although quite distinct in itself, reminded me of the various levels of the journey through the Earth in my own novel ‘Nemonymous Night’, except there (spoiler!) it was Azathoth at the centre rather than a possible Large Hadron Collider!]
Quasar Rise – Douglas Thompson
“Sophie’s first real seizure had occurred when she was four years old on Earth. She still remembered it vividly. A passing train, intense sunlight through the vertical slats of a timber fence.”
…or Madeleine Beresford’s earlier urls slashing between ill-shelved books?
This story is, I feel, a crisp, yet delightfully word-textured, often physically pungent, embodiment of a planet’s believable ‘genius loci’, where Sophie, a suspended-animation long-haul traveller from Earth, already suffering epilepsy, experiences this planet’s severely ‘gender-sloping’ (my expression, not the story’s) form of ‘cosmic spring’ (cf Arab Spring?), as beset by an inimically physical vegetable-consciousness as well as what I shall call a quasar-migraine. This substantial story is much more than that (another Douglas Thompson gem), but I hope what I have already written gives you a feel for the impending gestalt of events’ eventual culminating repercussions…
Some of the repercussions involve, among many other striking visions, tree roots gathering to themselves the living flesh together with a sense of hybrid vivisection (that, again astonishingly, was identified in my immediately previous RTRcausal of a 1952 novel!) — and here the Planet’s own mis-colluding Nature is further unleashed by good-intentioned Sophie… with a few possible conclusions regarding human gender as well as ‘plant-insects’…
There is also here a pervading sense of factors from Gary Budgen’s story, factors of retrocausality … and archaeological evolution seen in one go — as exemplified by these two quotes:
“…history gone wrong and rewritten, the ghost dance working, invisible Red Indians rising up to murder the white man … or woman.”
“‘It’s like evolution in fast forward,’ Sophie marvelled, ‘a million years of natural selection in one day, a century in every minute.'”
Dodge Sidestep’s Dastardly Plan – Howard Watts
“It felt as though my entire body was stretching . You know as well as I that whilst on the Gleampipe what everyone perceives as their ‘body’ is just the travel computer’s digitised impression of the person using it.”
…which, when factored into a similar, but dissimilar, phenomenon told by the Madeleine Beresford story, I felt as if my entire reading-mind was also stretching! The Beresford tale told of how the future is actually lived by human beings as a journey on real computer-trains masquerading as old-fashioned trains (or vice versa?) rather than it being a role-playing computer-game lived *within* a computer … but this story portrays how music changed the actual journey itself with deceptively louder / or increasingly closer to the music-output-synaptic-‘real ears’-ideal via separate or even brain-embedded computer-loudspeakers in synergy with some internet PayPal etc shenanigans. Meanwhile, the items of Sound-Equipment with registered technical names galore hang on to our coat-tails as we hang on to theirs. Or that’s how I felt.
There’s even a reference to the main protagonist’s day-job cataloguing (Gary Budgen’s?) (archaeological) ‘finds’ before he becomes embroiled in that music scenario — serving again to accentuate that interface between the physical and the hyperspace…hence the space rock in my picture above. (The cover of TQF #43 is by Howard Watts and I presume it illustrates this story as written by himself).
The story starts as an engaging memory of school days and I thought it was a re-telling of the History Boys by Alan Bennett that’s on TV tonight. But it soon turns into a wonderfully hilarious reunion by our protagonist and an old school friend in the world I have tried to adumbrate above. Once a cruel schoolboy, ever a cruel man, I guess, as this friend entices our hero into a bet about music on which far more than money depends. The descriptions and names of the various items of Sound equipment are truly mind-boggling and, as a big music fan myself, I never thought there could be a story about loudspeakers in such a way. But this is it. Brian Eno eat your heart out. A quasar-migraine is the least of your troubles! An eschatological synthesiser of a fiction that, if you are attuned to it, as I am, you will never forget. What is more, the conversation with the ‘veg-prep’ is probably one of the funniest things I have ever read.
Flight – Mitchell Edgeworth
“‘How could somebody possibly get lost driving down the M1?’
‘I dunno. He’s a pilot, not a navigator.'”
In many ways, this shouldn’t be the sort of story that appeals to me. My fault, if so, not the story’s. Ostensibly, a well-crafted 22nd Century story on Mars that tells of the obsession with obtaining a pilot during a pilot shortage for what seems to be a makeshift spacecraft – involving crooked means and a gunfight. A professional story about amateur characters. Engaging, and often amusing. And the ‘genius loci’ of the Martian City with its architecture-for-many and sudden shafting light and claustrophobia … followed by a sudden expanding of urban vista. Later the spaceflight’s own expanding vista. I can appreciate the skill. But still not my story?
Yet, there was more to this story somehow. I’m still thinking about it and for me an aftertaste is important.
Significantly, this story’s “Flying stonewall” seems to encapsulate the gestalt of all the fiction in TQF #43 (i.e. that interface of Budgen’s physical and Beresford’s hyperspace), a life not so much interrupted but controlled by computer, which someone in this story tries to ‘scramble’ during the gangster type interactions that occur – which parallels the scrambled improvisation of the spacecraft itself. I could not help but remember this book’s excellently meticulous cover design when studied close-up, as I hope I have done to the fiction itself, doing it justice (a part of which design is shown above) and then relating it to the inside of this story’s spacecraft, not so much a Tardis as the inside of a house adapted by all manner of child-like knobbed-controls from ready-mades. I often controlled such ‘flight’ from inside my childhood home in the 1950s. But I was both pilot and navigator, I’m sure. I had to be, being an only child.
Which brings me back to Douglas Thompson’s ‘rewritten history’ as these amateur chancers in the story make their own ‘cosmic spring’. Their version of the futuristic retro-train or my ‘spiritual helicopter’, perhaps. Ten million computers looked up.
My typo-hunters hunted for typos but typos they found none.
[Later Edit (10 May)]: unless ‘Fingals Cave’ should be ‘Fingal’s Cave’?
I also ought to confirm that the fiction in this book only represents about half of its contents, the rest being SF, Fantasy and Horror reviews and an interesting editorial by the eponymous editor about his unannounced abandoning of Facebook but not of Twitter. (I don’t know how that sits with the internet-fantasy of some of this issue’s stories).
The other editor of this book is someone named John Greenwood who, in my experience, does not seem to write editorials.
Thanks for the review. I have to own up and say that there is a typo in the printed edition. For some reason I remain convinced that Douglas Ogurek’s middle initial should be R, no matter how often he tells me it’s J, and in this issue it slipped through in a couple of places.
Ah, my typo-hunters only checked the fiction in TQF #43. 🙂
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My other reviews of TQF publications: Real-Time Review of TQF #37 & Real-Time Review of TQF #39 & Real-Time Review of TQF #40 & Real-Time Review of TQF #41 & Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #43 & Theaker’s Quarterly #44.