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Not enough Space and Time

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    Posted: Mar-05-2015 at 8:31am
Not enough Space and Time, by Robert J. Santa

originally published 4/28/2009

It's fitting I find myself reviewing the Summer 2009 issue of Space and Time while I'm in the middle of my Spring Cleaning. After going through the girls' bedroom and discovering too many clothes and shoes that don't fit, stuffed into drawers and piled on shelves, boxes under the bed overflowing with toys and fuzzy animals things, hats and belts they never wear...I've learned I don't have enough space in my life. And it goes without saying we could all use a little more time, especially the kind needed to pursue my favorite pastime: reading. So with a box of shoes and two bags of clothes bound for the Salvation Army as a footrest, I settle into my favorite chair with issue #107.

First and foremost: love the cover artwork! It's classic pulp science fiction. A bikini-clad girl kneels beside a swimming pool, hand covering mouth, eyes wide with shock. Tentacled skulls the same color as her swimsuit bob in the pool, the nearest grinning and leering. It's all set at a Hitchcockian angle, and it immediately brought to mind the kind of bug-eyed monster, girl-thrown-over-shoulder covers I used to find in the used book stores of my youth.

But there's no throw backs with the writing. Ty Drago starts us off with "Bits and Pieces." The accompanying artwork also shows some cleavage, with a cyborg-like thing embracing a girl in a low-cut top. Don't worry, Sherman, Mr. Peabody didn't set the Wayback Machine to the 1940s. That's all the objectification we're going to get, and it's barely appropriate to the context of Drago's piece. "Fleshy flotsam" is the simple sentence that starts the story of Scavenger Unit 1225, our immediately empathetic protagonist. On a world that is effectively the Bermuda Triangle of interstellar travel, 1225 has eked out survival by grafting bits and pieces of crash victims onto its mostly mechanical body. It turns out, however, something new happens with this latest crash; this bit of flotsam survived. With neatly intertwined conversations between 1225's Logic and Philosophy Methods, he surgically removes the woman's feet, right arm and a portion of her liver to graft onto its body later. She awakens and immediately curses 1225 out in a thoroughly R-rated manner. Yup, I'm still a prude when I write, and I never fully understand why writers resort to adult language in situations that don't need it. It seems Lily, our survivor, is a professional whore on a brothel ship bound for a rendezvous with some military units. I found this aspect one-hundred-percent unnecessary and feel it was only a convenience so Drago could arrange for her specific form of dialog. There's no reason she could not be any other profession and maintain a G-rated conversation with 1225, despite what it had done to her. That aside, "Bits and Pieces" is a remarkable story, especially for the aforementioned empathy with 1225. It is almost from the opening paragraphs I felt for this surviving being in a truly awful environment. I genuinely cared whether it lived or died. Not so much for the crass Lily, which may be what Drago intended. Once the "whammy" (and I love a good "whammy" in a story) was introduced, I felt the ending was destined to happen only one way. Nevertheless, Drago's writing in this piece is as good as it gets.

"The Party" confused me only momentarily in its opening, but that has nothing to do with Diane Arrelle's clean and uncomplicated writing style. My confusion stemmed from trying to put together how the characters were related in the first few paragraphs, which is exactly how Arrelle meant to do it. "Aunt Lisa," who isn't really her aunt (as unnecessarily distracting as the fact that her "Big Brother" is a cousin, but is a nice commentary on how families operate) has wardship of little Tina after her parents are killed. Lisa, living in Tina's house, is putting the finishing touches on a Christmas tradition: Tim and Marcy's holiday party. It's only been a few months since their deaths, yet Lisa is going ahead with the party as a form of honoring their spirit. Yes, the pun was intended, because Tim and Marcy visit Lisa and Tina as ghosts on a regular basis. They also show up to the party, with all the guests obviously more surprised than either Tina or Lisa. This is a lovely tale about family with a bittersweet ending I found hard to take, though it's really the only ending Arrelle could have given this piece.

Scott H. Andrews' "Ebb" is my favorite piece, a true standout. Narrated by an old man in a society where elders simply don't happen, he describes the approaching Convergence when sun, moon and planet align. The people live in a primitive society on a water-dense planet, floating on rafts, living in huts, braiding rope from seaweed. During the Convergence the tides shift for half the year, draining the surrounding land so that harvest can take place and men can travel to the Everest-like peak that juts above the waves. The narrator, lovingly called "Moonpa" by the young boy too small to contribute to the society, was on the logging mission to the mountain during the last Convergence, decades ago. While trying to float a raft of logs back with his brother, a storm struck. The brother stayed with the raft to try to bring it back to the community, every citizen's highest duty. The narrator took one log and used it as a life preserver to save nothing for the community, only his own skin. For forty-four years he has lived with this secret burden, until this day when he is useless to the society and therefore nothing but a burden himself. Andrews gives each piece of this world a rich description, with enough emotion and character to chew on for days. Once again, only a handful of endings were possible, and I would have chosen the same one Andrews did. Yet I smiled as I read his words, they're so powerfully written. I don't feel I could have blended the possibility of the narrator's dementia/imagination with the reality of his offering to the community. One word: superb.

I usually skim the interviews but not so with this one. Part one of a two-part series, Peter S. Beagle shares some interesting thoughts. Favorite for me was his story about winning the Hugo and the Nebula for "Two Hearts" and how he reacted upon hearing his name called. I hope one day to have the same experience, and I can guarantee in the same situation I would react the exact same way.

Okay, I talked about space already, how there's too little of it in my house in lieu of my best efforts to create more. I also talked a bit about time. I'd like to expand on that, if I may. Time is a precious commodity; you're only allotted so much. I used some of it to write this review. You're using some of your valuable time right now to read it. If it gets wasted - that is, you do not reap enough reward for your investment to justify the expenditure - you should get mad. I get furious. The concept of time itself has nothing to do with "Jackpot World" by Larry Hodges. Actually, it has to do with alternate realities. The story opens with Songo, an alien visitor studying alternate reality Earths, on trial by the U.S. military for national security violations. After a full page of back-and-forth with the JAG attorney, Songo asks, "Would you like to hear my side?" The prosecutor says to proceed, and we, the readers, are given three asterisks in a row before Songo narrates.

This would be the wasted-time aspect I mentioned. "Jackpot World" does not begin as a story until after this scene break. Everything before it, and I mean "everything," is useless. What happens after is where the story begins. Songo arrives in this alternate reality and visits a convenience store to study human dietary habits. Introduce Wayne. Wayne is a thug - an armed one, at that - bent on a quick robbery. Getting practically nothing from the register till, he demands the customers, including Songo, empty their pockets. Songo is forced to put the holographic generator that keeps him looking human onto the counter, at which point he transforms into a furry Barney the Dinosaur. My disbelief was totally suspended here as Wayne did not react the way I would think your average, low intelligence thug would: shoot the alien, grab the money, leave in a panic. Instead, a long conversation ensues about dimensional travel in which Wayne discovers there are worlds - many, many worlds - where Wayne is rich and famous. For all the faults with this piece (and I will cover them shortly), the "whammy" is so mind-blowingly delicious I would never dream of ruining it here or in any of the hundreds of millions of alternate realities where I am also typing this review. Suffice it to say, Larry Hodges came up with a clever idea for a story and wrote what turns out to be a pretty good piece about it.

Pretty good, because - and this is a first for me, reviewing someone other than the writer - I feel the editorship of Space and Time let him down. If the entire opening sequence were summed up in literally two or three sentences after the "whammy," the story would be tighter and infinitely more enjoyable. Songo himself is an unnecessary alien, in fact. The story would work better if he were a human dimensional traveler (perhaps even a student working on a Master's thesis, for then his inexperience with dimensional travel would only assist the "whammy"), so that the unbelievable aspect of his revelation to Wayne could be eliminated. The introduction of the "whammy" goes completely unquestioned by Wayne who puts it into action (this last could be speaking volumes about Wayne's intelligence; still, one or two remarks on it would have helped smooth the rough edges). Had this piece received better editing it would be great, from concept to construct. However, it did not, and it is merely good, tainted with the feeling that I will never get back the five minutes I spent reading the opening nor the ten minutes I spent writing about it.

And with a heavy sigh I have to say something similar about David Tallerman's "In the Service of the Guns." The opening scenes could easily be eliminated, as the story doesn't really begin until Pilate arrives on the planet of the Singers. He is a profiler, basically a problem-solver for the interstellar military. The other soldiers are cyborg-like things, programmed to perform and think a certain way. Pilate is fully human, which gives him greater insight into areas too abstract for computational processing. The only other full human is Ballyntine, the xeno-enthographer trying to make sense of the slug-like beings that constantly "sing" on this planet. Pilate and she eventually (and quickly, though understandable) connect as they both try to solve the riddle of these indigenous life forms. How they relate to Pilate's original unsolvable military problem seems a bit forced and problematic. Tallerman establishes a certain way of thinking by one set of aliens then breaks it so offhandedly it's obvious he missed it himself. So, too, did the editorship for it is a crucial mistake in the storytelling that makes the ending impossible. Even without this glaring flaw, I found "In the Service of the Guns" a bit lackluster. It just seemed to take too long to go nowhere.

Not so with "Catted" by J. Michael Shell. This is a two-page doozy of brilliant writing. Take from it what you will, for I have little doubt readers fall into only two categories after experiencing this piece. Either you love it for its concept on the existential nature of love and reality, or you hate it for being overindulgent crap. I could make an argument for both, but I fell into the former group. It's a fast read, so if you're in the latter group, it'll all be over in few minutes.

"Chocolate Kittens from Mars." Pause for a moment to take in the title of Mary A. Turzillo's fantasy piece disguised as science fiction. Ivy falls head over heels for Herschel, a man who frequently travels to Mars on business trips. He gifts her with a heart-shaped box of kittens, three-week-old babies that will sleep forever if left in the box until taken out. Returned to the box, they will sleep again, and they consume so little nutrient - just a sip of MicroMilk (tm) - they would live as kittens indefinitely. Yet Ivy takes them from the box regularly, not just to play with them but to also give them little licks. It turns out they taste like chocolate, each cat with a different flavor. Like the movie "Gremlins," one should heed the warnings when dealing with chocolate kittens from Mars. Solid ending, solid writing, this piece is nice for dessert, which is no doubt why it wraps up issue #107. Good thing, too, because I wasn't feeling the love for my misspent time in the previous few stories.

I've mentioned before how I feel I am as unqualified as a rock to review poetry, having little skill at writing it myself. Poetry by William Blake Vogel III, Gwynne Garfinkle, Gwyn Raven, Tracie McBride, S. C. Virtes and Saint James Harris Wood will go unmentioned here.

Okay, so what's the overall impression? I own a subscription to the venerable Space and Time and will continue to do so as long as they are in print. As a firm believer in supporting writers however I can, this includes, in my opinion, not just offering advice when asked but also making purchases from the markets those writers wish would purchase their stories. A subscription to Space and Time is a mere twenty simoleans, for four issues per year shipped to my house. Do I feel I have the time in my life to read every issue? Not always, but that's what beach days are for when the kids are building sand castles and I'm left to my own devices. The backpack is usually stuffed with magazines that collected dust all year. Do I have the space in my wallet for a subscription? Honestly, it's just five bucks per issue. Is it worth it? Yeah, it's undoubtedly worth it. While there's parts I didn't particularly like about issue #107, Space and Time is quite simply one of those magazines that makes me realize why I'm a writer. I get to take away something from every story, good or bad, and I'm happy to see it in the mailbox every three months.

And while there may not be enough space in my house or enough time in my life to get everything done, if there were no Space and Time at all, it would be heart-breaking.
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