Monday, March 28, 2011

Crossed Genres Quarterly #1 (2011)

Crossed Genres Quarterly #1 (January 2011). Pp. 114. ISBN 978-0615443713. $11.99.

Reviewed by Keith Lawrence

Crossed Genres, a monthly speculative fiction magazine, spells out in its name its unique premise—although I think a strong argument can be made that it does not necessarily spell it correctly. Each issue of the magazine collects stories that combine the month’s “Current Genre” with Science Fiction or Fantasy. I would describe the genres in Crossed Genres Quarterly (CGQ) #1 as themes instead; CGQ#1 collects issues 25 (“Celebrations”), 26 (“Opposites”), and 27 (“Tragedy”), and the collection examines these themes through the lenses of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism and even an old-fashioned Ghost story. Semantic nit-picking aside (and I do accept that Stories Written in Various Genres Concerning a Common Theme would have made an unneccesarily Victorian title for a magazine), as a premise it works nicely, giving each of the three issues a centre from which the stories can blossom without constraining them too strictly.

“Celebrations”, the first issue in the collection, was also for me the weakest—despite containing by far my favourite story: ‘Prudence and the Dragon’, by Zen Cho, in which an oriental dragon woos a Malaysian student in modern-day London. The heroine Prudence is a gratifyingly solid character, headstrong and somewhat oblivious but in a sympathetic way—a fish out of water antidote to the Bella Swans of this world. I was also pleased by the dialogue: the idiosyncratic English as spoken by Prudence and her friend Angela is rendered very neatly, making it sound exotic without falling into the common practise of making part of a story’s dialogue into a comprehension test. I also liked Christie Yant’s Christmas-themed story ‘The Gift’, the shortest piece in the issue, which was both simple and fun. It does require the reader not to think through the premise too thoroughly, but fortunately the brevity of the story meant that I had read and been pleased by it and was well into the next issue by the time I noticed. Jaymee Goh’s ‘Lunar Year’s End’, an alternate-history vignette of the crew of a trading ship was well written but felt like more of a mood piece rather than a story—not necessarily a minus point in my book, but I know that I’m in the minority in that respect.

The theme of issue 26, “Opposites”, was best realised in Shelly Li and Ken Liu’s ‘Saving Face’, a story in documentary form with a familiar theme (computer programs do not understand human behaviour) deftly handled by the authors. The opposites in this case are an American scrap metal merchant and a Chinese businesswoman attempting to strike a deal, and their story is told in the form of interviews with the two of them and with the computer programs attempting to broker the agreement. The interviews with the humans are believable and make their motives seem very solid, transforming what could have been rather a pedestrian story into something interesting and engaging. ‘Love in the Atacama, Or the Poetry of Fleas’, by Angela Rega, is a desert fairy-tale love story in the magical realism vein concerning a young woman who flees into the Chilean desert to escape a violent suitor. Full of detail and colour, and a whimsical foreground over rather a dark back-story. Jacob Edwards, who also has a story in the first issue, provides ‘The Failed Redemption of Michael Ostrog’, which I’m afraid fell a bit flat for me. The dialogue in his earlier story (Issue 25’s “Desert Tango”) seemed unremarkable but transparent to the story, possibly because it was set in a future Australia. ‘Failed Redemption’, a Ripper story set in London, seems hobbled by dodgy Londonisms.

Issue 27 is the “Tragedy” issue. The tragedy of Ada Milenkovic Brown’s heroine in ‘Nadirah Sends Her Love’ is helplessness in the face of religious beliefs in an alternate universe. Told in the form of a series of letters in a medical log, the story lacks any twist beyond the historical inversion of its setting, but relentlessly follows the chain of events to their awful conclusion, embodying the theme fully. ‘They Gather In The Green’, by Michelle Muenzler, is a simple fairy-tale with a simple fairy-tale tragic end, but an equally simple overtone of horror. At first I didn’t quite understand why I liked it so much, but on reflection I realise that it’s because it adopts, again, a “less is more” approach to the background. The last decade or so (following Terry Pratchett’s lead, perhaps) has seen a great number of stories about the danger of dealing with fairies and similar creatures, generally filled with exposition. Muenzler’s story isn’t quite that, but it treads a similar path and does it without making any of the details too explicit. Corinne Duyvis’s ‘Rule of Threes’, a survival horror story set in Australia, showcases awkward decisions made by a flawed heroine. It seems to run on rails throughout much of the body of the story, but the end, although in some ways expected, leaves a hint of ambiguity which matches the theme well (even, arguably, twists it slightly).

Although not without a couple of lemons, I found CGQ#1 to be an enjoyable collection of short stories from a diverse set of authors. Although not quite creating hybrid genres, the issue themes all stimulated a wide range of settings and styles or story, particularly pleasing in their global coverage. Indeed, the more localised the story, the better they seemed to be—the most disappointing stories were those set in rather generic futures. CGQ#1 will, I think, appeal more to fans of fantasy or magical realism than science-fiction, but the gems of the issues I would recommend to anyone.

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