Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #26 (2010)

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #26 (December 2010). Pp. 64. $5.00.

Reviewed by Keith Lawrence

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, now in its fifteenth year, is just as eccentric a publication as its name suggests; possibly a genre magazine which does not claim to represent any particular genre, possibly a literary magazine without a dogmatic attachment to the trappings of high art. The pieces in LCRW #26 range in length from limericks to full-length short stories, and form a constellation of points somewhere within the square whose corners are SF, Fantasy, Slipstream and Magical Realism.

In general I liked the longer works best. Patty Houston’s ‘Elite Institute for the Study of Arc Welders’ Flash Fever’ is an intriguing story, simply written and set in a solid world of metalwork, bureaucracy and unrequited love. Similarly, Rahul Kanakia’s ‘The Other Realms Were Built With Trash’ gives us a deftly-imagined tale harvested from the details of fairy lore. ‘Three Hats’ by Jenny Terpsichore Abeles and ‘Death’s Shed’ by J. M. McDermott are low key but enjoyable short stories in the magical realism vein, and Sean Melican provides a historical novel about the pioneer military submariners in ‘Absence of Water’. This last is both interesting and educational, although I found the way its narrative jumps frequently and erratically between dates made the story much harder to follow than I thought it could have been and did not add a great deal. A minor caveat, though.

The highlight of LCRW #26 for me was ‘The Cruel Ship’s Captain’ by Harvey Welles and Philip Raines. It is an excellent example of writing which would be terribly belittled by assignment to a genre—a fantastical story of captives in a magical pirate ship which is crafted in beautifully intricate language. The setting and prose work together to make an entrancing tale. As a fantasy world Welles and Raines’ construction is original and thoughtful, a place that could easily provide a backdrop for a much longer work. In fact the only real problem with it was that as the first story in the issue it sets quite a challenging standard for the remaining pieces to live up to.

On the other hand I found ‘Alice: A Fantasia’ by Veronica Shanoes to be artistry taken a little far. I must admit I became slightly wary of this story when I realised after the first few paragraphs that the Alice of the title is that Alice (who must surely be one of the most overworked characters in literary history). It was the last third of the story, however, that really cemented my opinion—the prose gives way to a meticulous filigree stream-of-consciousness sort of thing which I found both bewildering and amazing. It is technically so clever that one cannot help but be impressed by how much careful work it must have taken, but at the same time it is an incomprehensible end to an otherwise straightforward tale.

The non-prose pieces I found similarly unsatisfying, if only because the better stories are so poetically written that they render the poems almost superfluous. In fact, this effect can be seen in the work of a single person: Lindsay Vella, who contributes five poems—three short ones (‘The way to the sea’, ‘Spit out the Seeds’, and ‘Thirst’), and two longer, more prose-style pieces (‘The Seamstress’ and ‘Poor summer, she doesn’t know she’s dying’). The two long pieces are works of straightforward but engaging imagery. The shorter poems, on the other hand, are linguistically pretty but for me too opaque to be truly satisfying. Poetry can (and should) leave room for personal interpretation, but a poem too open is like a blank sheet of paper—sometimes too daunting to project upon. Of course, preference in poetry is such a personal thing that one reader’s opinion will be quite unlike another’s, but I suspect I may not be alone in my opinion here. A similarly polarizing inclusion might be Darrell Schweitzer’s twin limericks: ‘Dueling Trilogies’, which were... well, not bad, but they did seem a little out of place with the rest of the issue (and I was not convinced that they can be spoken in the correct rhythm).

The only non-fiction piece—a version of Ted Chiang’s lecture ‘Reasoning about the Body’, was pleasant to read and thought-provoking, although it did invoke in me the odd sensation of agreeing completely with someone’s conclusion (that SF writers rely a bit heavily on certain tropes and would benefit from casting their net further) while being wildly ambiguous about the process by which they reach it—in particular, he relies on the argument which I have heard more than once recently, that every age reasons about the human brain in terms of their existing technology. It may be (since this lecture was given in May of this year) that the reason I have heard this before is that other people have taken his idea and run with it. But I have heard it enough times now to start to question how true it is—did Freud really think of the brain as operating in some way like a steam engine? We do, after all, now know a lot more about how the brain works, so perhaps our view of it as a computer is more reasonable and much closer to the truth. At any rate an interesting article, well worth the read.

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 26 also contains work by Carlea Holl-Jensen and Gwenda Bond. Overall I both enjoyed and was impressed by it, and would recommend anyone with a taste for poetical prose to give it a look. It is not without faults, but with every dubious piece surrounded by at least two good ones the reader will not be disappointed.

Technical Addendum: In writing this review I had access both to the PDF and EPUB versions of LCRW #26. The magazine is published in its electronic form by Weightless Books (an ebook-only publisher run by some of the same team that produce LCRW that provides a variety of books and magazines in EPUB and PDF formats). The PDF edition replicates the print edition, and is therefore perfectly laid-out but not ideal for reading on all devices. The EPUB edition, although considerably more readable on electronic book than the PDF, was laid-out rather haphazardly—the advert images were spread at random, and some of the advert text was rather unfortunately placed—for instance, ‘Poor summer, she doesn’t know she’s dying’ appears at first to tail off into something about people moving couches, actually a section of a following advert. Since the producers of the ebook and the publishers are in this case the same people, I would have expected a little closer attention to the finished product.

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1 comment:

Steven Pirie said...

15th year? I guess it's doing something right!

I've never come across this magazine. I must look into it...