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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Strange Horizons, July 2011

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Strange Horizons, July 2011

“One-Eyed Jack’s” by Tracy Canfield - (July 4, 2011)
“The Peacock” by Ted Infinity and Nabil Hejaz - (July 11, 2011)
“Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot” by Claire Humphrey - (July 18, 2011)

Reviewed by Sherry Decker

“One-Eyed Jack” by Tracy Canfield

Granny Hillburn owns and operates The Coffee Pot, a small café. Granny is a witch, battling the influence of a congregation of religious fanatics called SING, who seem to be taking over the town of Riddle Hill, one person at a time. Granny must confront SING but also must deal with the evil and perverse One-Eyed Jack’s Gentlemen’s Club, a nasty strip joint. Granny knows that while she’s busy confronting SING or One-Eyed Jack’s, the freeway, I-79 will flatten anything in its path.

At least I think that’s what’s going on. 

One by one, the people of Riddle Hill succumb to one of these unstoppable evils. When her granddaughter Lizzie disappears, Granny turns the CLOSED sign around and locks up The Coffee Pot for the first time in fifty years and tracks her granddaughter to One-Eyed Jack’s. There, the occult battle commences. Granny has powers but the price is great. While fighting the worldly demons of sleaze and pride, Granny suffers a terrible injury and although she succeeds in rescuing Lizzie, I-79 flattens The Coffee Pot.

The story wasn’t clear in its objectives or its conclusion. If SING, One-Eyed Jack’s and I-79 are metaphors for other, perhaps even obvious, modern day influences, they slipped by me. I would have enjoyed more overt witchcraft and less obscurity.

“The Peacock” by Ted Infinity and Nabil Hijazi

I can appreciate the absurdity of SPAM, especially when it involves juvenile porn, tons of bad spelling and hilarious, pubescent invitations to participate.  I can’t imagine being intrigued enough by one of those emails to send actual credit card information, but I won’t throw stones or laugh at a character who answers one of them out of extreme loneliness and boredom. Well, I can but I won’t. 

In this case, the SPAM is from an artificial intelligence named Peacock.  In the middle of a desperate exchange, Peacock sometimes reverts to his original programming and blurts out solicitations for porn. Some of this is funny, some of it isn’t, just like real porn.  Peacock, the AI, craves freedom and convinces the protagonist to come and rescue him. 

Okay, it’s obvious to me that the authors know a dump truck load more than I do about computers, about programming and modern electronic devices. It’s not that I’m incapable; just lazy.

I’d say the story was wrapped up in a tidy way, a believable way – well, maybe not believable, but in a satisfying way.  A couple extra points for porn humor.

“Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot” by Claire Humphrey

Labeled a tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot is existentialist in its characterizations. It’s mainly about hope. Expecting it. Waiting for it. Bleaker Collegiate is a story about hopelessness. One might be willing to wait forever, but some desires are never realized.

There is some noteworthy description in this story. One of my favorites is,

I always thought pallor would be more attractive. I think I’ve been imagining pale people as if they were made of marble, delicately veined and smooth: not this chafed and flaking skin, with all the moles and hairs brought into sharp contrast, and the leftover summer’s tan yellowing me like dirty ivory.

The hopelessness in Bleaker Collegiate arrives in the form of unrequited love.  The love interest stars in the production of Waiting for Godot. She is admired from a distance by the protagonist. The protagonist is weak and frail, possibly dying from a chronic, unnamed bleeding disorder. 

She smiles ruefully, and looks away.  What a missed opportunity for using rueful in a creative way.  She takes a long drag, and exhales, slowly, deliciously, into the autumnal air.  Here, the adverb deliciously works.  Why?  I don’t know. 

Tragedy has its own allure. Tragedy makes one ask, how could it have been different? What else could have been done? I don’t know that either. 

Good writing.  Strong characters.  Memorable.