Subterranean Magazine, Issue #7, guest edited by Ellen Datlow
Reviewed by Eugene Myers
This review was long in coming, one might even say overdue but hopefully not too late. It turns out that I’m not just a slow reader, but I’m an even slower reviewer.
Subterranean #7 is the penultimate print issue of Subterranean, which successfully transitioned to a fully online magazine last year. Their second print issue, themed “Science Fiction ClichÃ©s”, was guest edited by John Scalzi; the refreshing practice resumes in issue #7 with Ellen Datlow taking the reigns. Though this issue had no set theme, there are certainly several similarities threading through the selections.
I actually read this issue a while ago, but I needed some time to think about how to review it. What could I say about a magazine with so many good stories? “Buy it!” is my first and strongest inclination–any chance to read a collection of original fiction edited by Datlow is a treat. Maybe I should just stop there; you probably already know the quality and type of stories you’ll find in these pages if you’re at all familiar with any of her edited anthologies and, of course, her work at SCI FICTION. You may also think you know what to expect if you recognize the names in the table of contents: Lisa Tuttle, Richard Bowes, Jeffrey Ford,
My next thought was to simply mention what my favorite stories were in this issue, but when I looked over the magazine I realized that was more difficult than I imagined–I enjoyed each and every one. Every reader is going to vary in her opinions of course, but I can guarantee that there’s something here for everyone. Some of these stories will affect you very strongly; many of them will linger after you’ve read them, probably long after you’ve forgotten the authors or the titles, or even where you found them.
Despite the great diversity of these pieces, they seem to share some common themes. They’re often deeply personal reflections on terrible events, outside of the control of the protagonists or sometimes indirectly caused by their actions past and present. The stories that reached me most in this issue are those with less of a fantastic element, those that really could happen or perhaps already have–surely nothing is more troubling than horror that can touch us in our normal lives, without supernatural agency.
My favorite of the collection is “Holiday” by M. Rickert, the story of a man haunted by the ghost of a child star named
“The King of the Big Night Hours” by Richard Bowes similarly echoes actual events, exploring the aftermath of suicides at a
The lead story, Lisa Tuttle’s “Old Mr. Boudreaux” is another tale where someone remembers and then reinterprets her past, which then reshapes her identity. On her deathbed, the narrator’s mother asks her to take care of Mr. Boudreaux, a promise she makes lightly, thinking that the mysterious old man, her grandmother’s “fancy man”, is long dead. When she returns to her grandmother’s estate, she discovers that the old man is somehow still alive, and there’s far more to him than she knew. She has inherited this responsibility from her grandmother and her mother, but she discovers she needs him as much as he needs her. This is one of the weirder stories in the issue, but certainly one of the most engrossing and thought provoking. It’s about coming home and facing responsibility as much as it’s about being trapped in a role, unable to escape your past–about living for and defining yourself by others.
“Pirates of the
Jeffrey Ford’s “Under the Bottom of the
In “The Jeweller of Second-Hand Roe”, Anna Tambour offers a surreal period fantasy where some of the most surprising details–the concept of a second-hand food trade–are actually based in historical fact. “City of
The issue is rounded out by a novella from Lucius Shepard, “Vacancy”. Once again, a man is forced to confront his past: Cliff Coria is a washed up actor turned car salesman who is attempting to write his memoirs. He’s drawn into a supernatural plot for revenge when he witnesses what he thinks are crimes, a la Rear Window, and for the first time in his life tries to do the right thing. This is a despairing and dark story–sometimes it’s too late to make up for your mistakes, and we don’t always get a second chance. This story is also currently available for free in the Winter 2007 online issue of Subterranean.
Pick up Issue 7 of Subterranean while you can; it’s a fine send off to a quality print fiction magazine, one which leaves you wanting more. Fortunately there is plenty more to be found: issue 8, the last print issue, is available now, and every month you can read new selections for free in Subterranean Online.