ChiZine #33

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The vine that ate the south - Bill K'tepi:

Those strange little confessions we make to people waiting for the same bus. Those little pieces of ourselves we casually and freely give away because they're worth so little on their own, never thinking of how they could be stitched together.

Adamae, as a young girl, meets an older man who has the knack for striking all the right chords, saying all the right things and eventually seduces her. In the years to follow, she keeps running into men who seem to know her with disturbing intimacy - whether as rapist, or as husband. A tale of strange, timeless obsession.

I really am not sure what to make of this story. Puzzled, is perhaps the best word I can use.

There are two reasons why I'll re-read a story - one, if I enjoyed it enough that I want to re-enjoy it; two, when the story is intriguing enough for me to follow all the way through, but I don't understand what happened exactly.
I'm afraid this one falls into the latter category.

On the re-read, I have to admit that I admire the job K'tepi does with foreshadowing, and the lines and phrases that only click in retrospect (or re-examination), and certainly the events of the story itself makes a lot more sense (the physical how and what). I would have preferred those lines to be stronger on their own, on the first read, not simply tools for re-examination.

Some of the ideas contained here, and materializing in maddeningly small glimmers, were extremely interesting. But I'm still puzzled and have no clear idea of what I'm supposed to take away from this or what the overall thought was.

The whole is cohesive and yet is not - everything is neatly connected and tied, and still it feels like it's not, as if its quicksand trickling through the net and making an interpretation impossible, at least for me.

The tone of the story is very passive, and I'm not sure that was such a good idea. I'm not overly fanatical about the "show, don't tell" mantra (tell worked terrifically well for me with Larry Tritten's "Raft" in a recent issue of Darker Matter), but here it may have been a better idea to show rather than tell.
That's a minor nit, and more personal preference; ultimately this was too puzzling a story for me to make a call one way or the other.

The mayor will make a brief statement and then take questions – David Nickle:

"Nicholas speaks to us from the dark corners, the cold spaces—but they are shadows amid light, a chill draft by a glowing hearth.

What starts off as an almost rote public speech by the mayor of a city turns very personal and very, very chilling.
Too short a tale to say anymore except one simply has to read that final paragraph. Gave me the shivers.

Waiting period – Sunil Sadanand:

"You don't go to hell," she says shaking her head. "Hell comes to you."

In a story of drug abuse, and regrets, and the weight of the things we didn't do measured against what we did do - I can think of no more apt line.

Louis is looking for his daughter, in a building teeming with the dead, every one singularly obsessed with a last regret. As Louis is obsessed with finding his daughter.

Bleak, with a haunting beauty that chills at times, the prose here is some of the finest and most measured I've seen this year -it has to be read to be savoured, the way Sadanand's sentences can suddenly run breathlessly while still retaining pace and strength and the rhythm never loses its intensity, never hiccups or stutters.

A fine, fine piece of writing.

Ladders – David Sakmyster:

These climbers, wet in the driving rain, embrace their ladders, and it's as if they're caught in an infinite moment of rapture. Nothing can shake them loose or even make them blink. Nothing, of course, except for Lang coming to retrieve them.

Charles Lang is a Retriever -a self-invented job where people pay him to go up the ladders and fetch those relatives whose desire to escape a world that is only city finally drives them the only way they can go: up.

A rather bizarre story, quick-paced and highly engaging with an initial tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted humor feel that gradually saddens as the story progresses, perhaps echoing the empty feeling that drives the city dwellers to seek fulfilment and freedom from the soul-deadening, enclosed monotony of their lives.

Although written from a distant perspective, I enjoyed this story. Sakmyster delivers a few beautiful turns of phrase, and subtly and quietly pops the underpinning tragedy - that very likely gives Lang his relentless drive to retrieve people from the ladders - near the end, rounding him off as sympathetic and understandable.

It's possible to view this as a modern update of the Tower of Babel, in a sense, or just a plain good old-fashioned critique of what we lose by wrapping ourselves within city, and to what extent the construct has become the master of the people it was meant to serve. There are certainly suspicions here of metaphors waiting to be extrapolated, or attempted at.

Whatever; none of those elements stood out strongly enough for me and I simply enjoyed at face value what is one of the most off-kilter, wildly inventive tales of the year. Fun to read, and a wonder to wonder at. Don't think I'll be reading another one of its kind soon.

Liked it.

Favorites - Sadanand and Sakmyster.

With the exception of Sadanand - and I may also be biased here since I had a story in the previous ChiZine issue - it still feels to me as if the previous two issues were stronger, and as if this one had more of an experimental nature to the tales. I'd be curious to know if it's just me who feels that the tone overall was somewhat different than the previous two issues of this year.

Shipp, Tremblay, Sanborn Smith and Walker were some powerful -and hard to follow - writing.

Having said that - this is still a good, worthwhile issue to read. Inventive, strong and some of the most genuine unique storytelling around, not likely to be seen in many other places.

I love this zine.