Sybil’s Garage Honorable Mentions

Sybil's Garage No. 6In his yearly Bibliophile Stalker Awards, Charles Tan gives Sybil’s Garage No. 6 an honorable mention for “Best Single-Issue Magazine.”

In addition, Rich Horton says of Sybil’s Garage on his blog:

“I saw one issue of Sybil’s Garage this year … the sixth overall issue of this magazine, and the second I’ve seen. The editor is Matthew Kressel. It’s a stylishly put together magazine, There’s plenty of poetry, art, and nonfiction in addition to the stories. There were 16 stories, all short, two short-shorts, for a bit under 50,000 words of fiction.

My favorites included Simon Petrie’s “Downdraft”, set on another planet with intelligent zeppelins and flying human-like people. This story is about a young flyer’s ill-advised attack on one of the zeppelins — a story really about misunderstanding, with no bad guys. Also, Becca de la Rosa’s “Not the West Wind”, about, variously, and among other things: a woman in love with a guitar, the west wind, Ireland, and a foundling girl; and Sean Markey’s “Waiting for the Green Woman”, about a man with a tree for a daughter. Other strong work came from Eric Del Carlo, Genevieve Valentine, and Stephanie Campisi.”

Lastly but not leastly, Sybil’s Garage No. 7 is opening to submissions this Friday.  We hope to see work from you!

The Update Post

A few updates this morning:

  • For those who haven’t heard, Sybil’s Garage will be opening to submissions for our 7th issue on January 15th.  Guidelines here.
  • The World-Fantasy award winning anthology Paper Cities is now only $12 for the holidays.  Get it now.
  • Altered Fluid, my writers group, will be appearing on Jim Freund’s Hour of the Wolf on January 16th.  We will be critiquing a story by the talented writer and amateur lepidopterist Paul Berger.
  • I’ve been toying with the idea of changing the trim size of Sybil’s Garage from 7″ x 8.5″ to 6″ x 9″.  (The latter size is a common trade paperback size in the U.S.) For issues two through six, we used the “half-legal” size, which I shamelessly borrowed from such great zines as Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Electric Velocipede. But there are problems with that .  Most notably, the size is not an industry standard.  The printing costs are higher.  Additionally, I’d like to start selling Sybil’s as a print-on-demand title.  This would allow it to be sold on Amazon and through bookstores via distrubution.  Previously, we only sold Sybil’s at conferences, through the Senses Five website, and at a few local bookstores.  So the pluses are: cheaper printing costs and greater potential distribution.  The negatives?  We will no longer be old-skool “zine” sized.  I’d like to hear opinions from people on this, as I’m not 100% convinced.  (More like 98%).
  • I saw Avatar with my girlfriend last night.  We both enjoyed it.  It’s a totally immersive experience.  The world is rich, beautifully rendered, full of life.  Pandora seems like a real place.  Exotic, colorful, a complete biosphere.  The plot is flawed, however.  It’s chock full of stock plotlines and easy stereotypes.  Many characters are no more than cardboard (how odd that in a 3d film the flattest things were the humans themselves).  But the world is so vibrant and alive that I was able to overlook the plot flaws and engross myself in the planet’s wonders.  I’d like to see what a good writer can do with this technology.
  • Generally, it is not a good idea to be a hallucinating hipster knocking on my door at 5:30 am on a Sunday morning and claim to live in my apartment.  Additionally, knocking again at 8:00 am and claiming to know  me will not solidify your case.
  • Have a happy holiday season.

Hal Duncan’s ESCAPE FROM HELL!

Escape From Hell I finished Hal Duncan’s Escape from Hell! last night.  A homeless man, a murderer, a junkie whore, and a gay man wake up on a ferry boat after dying.  But this boat is no dingy, nor a wooden raft with crooked Charon at the helm.  No, they find themselves on a New York-style commuter ferry with other confused passengers, and the city of the dead they are shuffling towards looks an awful lot like a blasted-out Manhattan.  Duncan’s hell is a police state, where cowardly cops inflict pain to escape their own weaknesses, where “Vox” news airs the city’s catastrophes 24/7 from ubiquitous televisions, where waterboarding and rape and electroshock and starvation are all part of daily life.  If you haven’t figured it out already, Duncan’s hell looks a lot like the United States of the past decade.

The four characters, after suffering enormous torment in various ways, all come to the conclusion that they can’t take it anymore, and so stage a revolt against the forces of Hell, searching for the mythical “Key” which will unlock their freedom.  And so they venture through levels of Hell, down into ossified caverns and creature-infested halls to a room where Lucifer’s soul has been kept inches from his body for four thousand years.  It only takes one look for the adventurers to give Lucifer back his body.  Then the fun begins.  They blast themselves out of Hell using a flaming sword.

And the flaming sword is no coincidence.  It’s right out of William Blake.  Like Blake’s evil in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, evil in Duncan’s universe is self-inflicted pain, the self-flagellating confines of a belief system that, for instance, believes homosexuality to be a sin or that sends people to eternal damnation who have committed suicide.  The hero here, as in Blake’s work, is Lucifer, the light-bringer, who did not trick or tempt Eve in the Garden of Eden, Duncan says, but offered her knowledge of the lunacy of God and the hope that thereafter humankind would be free.  Instead of mankind rebelling against this absurdity (in this case, I believe Duncan is alluding to our blind-faith in the absurd tenants of modern faith), we clothed ourselves and hid in shame.  Hell then, Duncan says, is a creation of man, something from our nightmares, and heaven, if such a place exists, is freedom from shame.  God does exist in Duncan’s world, but he’s a crazy, sadistic bastard.

I really enjoyed this one.  My only complaint is that the typesetting was terrible.  I’m not sure if this was because I got my copy free at the World Fantasy Convention, and therefore it was an ARC with typos.  But there were hash-marks between every section, and too many spacing issues to count.  Regardless, it was a fun and quick read, and I highly recommend it.

Stargate Universe

I’ve watched all five episodes of Stargate Universe so far.  The show has bad acting, bad characterizations, racist, sexist, & stereotypical characters, and bad writing.  So why the hell am I watching?  Because it has its moments.  Like the scene where they aerobrake against a blue gas giant.  The observation deck is one of the most beautiful science fictional renderings I have yet seen on TV.  And Eli, the bumbling MIT dropout, though I’ve seen a thousand characters like him before, is redeemed by his on-screen schtick and charm.

The show also borrows heavily from Battlestar Galactica (some might say steal).  Both have a British-accented genius of questionable moral character responsible for the fate of everyone on board.   Both have a stoic captain forced to make the hard decisions.  Both are, incidentally, trying to get back to Earth.  And both shows are scored with ethereal and classical music.  And this last fact has pushed me in the direction of liking the show, if only because the music combined with the visuals are striking, so that I care less about the characters and more about where they are going.   Its like Farscape, but without Muppets (which, incidentally, I liked).

But its flaws are myriad.  The pacing is god-awful, which may be a carryover from the other two series, which were so slow moving I never watched them.  The characters all seem like cardboard cutouts to me.  And how do we get to know them?  Through a video-blog Eli is creating as a record of their journey.  Maybe the writers thought this would bring in the high-school demographic, the kind that post their daily gripes to Youtube.  But it’s a cheap way to build character, and mostly ineffective, as half of these characters we see are never shown again on camera in the first five episodes.  How about using some drama to build characters?

And the sexism and racism.  Consider that the only main black character we have seen so far, Ronald Greer, also happens to be a criminal who was first introduced to us from jail (he is also seen stealing food in a later episode).  There are several black characters on the ship, so why does the only one we meet have to be a criminal?  (At one point he says, in Eli’s video blog, that hurtling into the sun would be a great way to die.  “Going out in a blaze of glory.”  Christ almighty, can someone push the cliche button?)  And the heart-throb, Chloe, cries hysterically when her father dies, then inexplicably sleeps with the callow soldier, Matthew Scott. (Wait, they were in a relationship?  That must have been happening while Eli was filming his blog.)  And then, moments later, when Matthew is sent hurtling away from the ship to another planet to die, she cuddles with Eli.  Seriously, you could almost hear her saying, “Hold me, strong man, for I am fragile woman.”  Ugh.  Eli is the mathematical genius.  Chloe is the…sex object?  Christ, how hard would it be to give her character some strength, wit, or intelligence?  She is the senator’s daughter after all.  Instead, she’s the cute one.

Let’s not get started on the captain, who decides, when his crew is in mortal danger, to use a body-swapping device to travel back to Earth, get in a car, drive who knows how far from the military base, to his wife’s house in the suburbs, to tell her he probably won’t be coming home.  It’s supposed to make him human, this moment of weakness, but it made me cringe thinking that this man who everyone is supposed to rely on took a personal day in the middle of a crisis.  Captain Adama he is not.

But I suspect, that in spite of these flaws, I’ll keep watching, perhaps for the stellar vistas, or the music, or to see if they can inspsire another blog post or two.

Shadows of the Emerald City Review by Greer Woodward

Shadows of the Emerald CityDarkness Gathers, Yet Oz Remains Undaunted

Shadows of the Emerald City
Edited by JW Schnarr
Published by Northern Frights
Reviewed by Greer Woodward

When I originally read L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, two things struck me about the magical kingdom, its breadth – that there were always new characters, communities, and challenges around the bend – and that I very much wanted to go there.  Now I’m far away from those bountiful days of childhood, but I’m pleased to report that Shadows of the Emerald City, JW Schnarr’s 19-story anthology about the dark side of Oz, offers a sense of Oz’s continuing expansiveness as well as a satisfying number of characters that yearn to be part of the enchanted land.

The anthology is a mix of stories featuring well-known characters from The Wizard of Oz – Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Wizard, and Witches; lesser-known personalities from the later series – Jack Pumpkinhead, Mr. Yoop, the China People, and Fuddles; several new relations – Dorothy’s father, Dorothy’s husband, and the Scarecrow’s son; and new creations altogether – good-looking gumshoe Captain Jo Guard, botanical specialist Linnaea, and the heroic warrior Trewis and his decaying nemesis Ozymandias.

The range of characters combined with a variety of approaches and themes does well to suggest Oz’s unlimited landscape.  Alternate mythologies, noir takes, origin stories, second chances, and absurdist directions smoothly and effectively link with traditional horror themes – greed, murder, the quest for power, and cannibalism, especially in witches with a taste for children.

One of the most successful alternate mythology pieces, “The Utility of Love” by David Steffen, chronicles the relationship between Dorothy and Tin Man, in this incarnation a heartless assassin.  Tin Man wants Dorothy to teach him about love, a request which juxtaposes Dorothy’s simple thoughts about affection for friends and parents with complex moral situations: lying, killing, the intentional death of a beloved companion, and a deal with the dark side.  The qualities of love spin and sputter, shifting from meaning to nothingness to meaning again as events swiftly change.

For noir takes, Shadows offers an entertaining trio.  Jack Bates’ “Emerald City Confidential” features a reluctant sleuth, double-dealing over-the-top sirens, and a hidden power struggle of monumental proportions.  “Four AM at the Emerald City Windsor” by H.F. Gibbard examines a marriage gone bad, in this case, the union of Dorothy Gale and Bert Lister, formerly The Great Cagliostro, master of might and magic, now a hopeless and possibly murderous drunk.

Lori T. Strongin’s “Not in Kansas Anymore” is also about an older Dorothy, this one a stripper who calls herself “Kansas.”  In the opening paragraphs she regrets her youthful expectations, not knowing then that Oz was “the place where innocence went to die; where broken hearts met broken glass, and blood was just graffiti on emerald green walls.”  The narrative takes her through a garish replay of the events of The Wizard of Oz, with monstrous embodiments of her former friends, leading her to question the truth of what she is experiencing and the source of the horror.

But several of the stories I found most memorable looked at the disturbing implications of some of Oz’s quaint, distinct, and originally delightful notions, most in books following The Wizard.  Rajan Khanna’s skillful “Pumpkinhead” and Jason Rubis’ darkly amusing “A Chopper’s Tale” involve the magic Powder of Life, known for animating Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, and the Gump in Baum’s 1904 The Marvelous Land of Oz.  In “Pumpkinhead” the powder goes terribly wrong and in “A Chopper’s Tale” it goes terribly right, at least from the point of view of the narrator, a psychopathic axe.

“Mr. Yoop’s Soup” and “The Fuddles of Oz” consider the downside of one of the most famous benefits of living in Oz: its citizens do not die.  Michael D. Turner’s soup story is very funny, but may not be for the queasy.  Mr. Yoop, a giant cannibal first appearing safely behind bars in 1913’s The Patchwork Girl of Oz, has escaped and appropriated an antique, two-handed cleaver.  Several subsequent scenes take place in the boiling meal between the disembodied – and chatty – heads of the King of the Munchkins, a goose girl, and a famous wrestler.

Baum devotes a chapter in his 1910 The Emerald City of Oz to the Fuddles, described as the most peculiar people in the Land of Oz.  Each Fuddle is a living puzzle made of wooden pieces.  Unfortunately when a visitor approaches, the pieces scatter and the Fuddles need the outsider to put them back together again.  In the Baum book, Dorothy and her friends spend several amusing hours reassembling the Fuddles, but in Mari Ness’ story, a not very bright Winkie is befuddled by the Fuddles with unhappy consequences.  It’s a beautifully structured little tragedy: the Fuddles are undone by their uniqueness and also by their obscurity – they are mere dots on the giant, continuously unfolding canvas of Oz.

And then there are the touching stories about finding a way into Oz – for the first time, or to return.  T.L. Barrett’s “The China People of Oz” centers on Ronie, an eight-year-old fan of the Oz books who is dying of leukemia. On a trip to Kansas from the Grant-A-Wish Foundation, she finds a set of figurines in a memorabilia shop and is convinced they are the actual China People from one of the final chapters of The Wizard.  Is Ronie a victim of her imagination or has she stumbled on something impossible, but nonetheless real?  The story tenderly and perceptively explores this delicate question.  Ronie’s feelings and actions ring true, as do those of her parents.

The first and last stories in the collection, Mark Onspaugh’s “Dr. Will Price and the Curious Case of Dorothy Gale” and Martin Rose’s “The King of Oz,” also consider the logistics of getting to Oz.  The first examines what is necessary for a successful return, and both suggest that the most profound horror of all is losing – forever – one’s only golden chance.

In contrast to the stories about reaching Oz, editor Schnarr’s superb “Dorothy of Kansas” begins with Tin Man and Scarecrow leaving the magical country, not because they are dissatisfied or have grander plans, but because they want to save their home.  Joy – and life – have left the land. The Emerald City is strewn with corpses; the sky is smoky, and acid snow falls constantly.

It’s a stark, absurdist journey, reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s classic Waiting for Godot.  Tin Man is covered with rust and crumbling, and nothing is left of Scarecrow but a stuffed head in a bucket.  They seek Kansas and Dorothy in the hope she can restore the kingdom.  What they discover is a bleak relationship between real and imaginary worlds.  Just as Baum’s Oz reflected the optimism and possibility of the early 1900’s, Schnarr’s work captures the unsettled, angst-ridden spirit of ours: maybe the apocalypse won’t happen this week, but it’s out there, lurking.

If you’ve read the Oz books, you’ll enjoy what this anthology adds to the canon.  If you’ve only seen the 1939 movie, there are enough red shoes, pink Glindas, and fragments of iconic dialogue to keep you interested.  In fact, my only criticism of the anthology is that so many images come from the film, not the books.  But perhaps that’s a sign of the times.  If you google “The Wizard of Oz,” the first listings will likely reference the film.  You’ll have to try “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” Baum’s original title, to find the book at the top of the heap.

Not that I mind, at least for long.  I’ve ordered the 70th Anniversary version of the film and by the time you are engrossed in the expansive landscape of this shadowy anthology, I will be singing along with Dorothy.  And both of us many wonder – even you on Schnarr’s considerably rockier pathway – if childhood wishes are so wrong, if it just might be possible somehow, someday to reach the Land of Oz.