CLUBHOUSE: Review: Fusion Fragment Magazine #4

This publication features a Q&A with each author following their fiction.

OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.

FUSION FRAGMENT #4 – January 2021.

Publisher: Fusion Fragment, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Editor: Cavan Terrill

Cover Art: Kenjay Reyes

FICTION:

Sailing to Byzantium – by Jennifer R. Donahue

Premise:

Maggie gets a call from her mom. Dad has begun building a ship. Oh. No! It’s too soon! He’s too young! The inevitable isn’t supposed to come till later.

Review:

 So, on reading the title I immediately thought of the Robert Silverberg novel of 1985. That, in turn, was perhaps inspired by the William Butler Yeats poem of 1928. (I had to look up the dates). Well, titles aren’t copyrighted, but the works in question could serve as a guide to theme, except that these aren’t academic-minded reviews, just my personal reaction to what I’ve read. So, I’m going to treat the story as a standalone. Besides, I can’t remember reading the novel (I assume I did), and though I glanced at the poem on Wikipedia, I’ll just ignore it.

By the way, I had not known about this magazine until recently. It has a Q&A session with the author after each story. Don’t think I’ve run into that before. Adds interest for the reader. For review purposes, however, I’m going to skip over them. That way, ignoring the instant hindsight, I can be a test case for the authors to determine if readers, this reader at least, was able to “get” the their story. We’ll see.

To be fair, a quick perusal of Yeats’ poem made me think “Ah, a sophisticated form of male menopause.” So much for thoughtful, intelligent critiquing. Like I say, I give personal reactions.

First of all, the story might be some sort of Urban Realism Fantasy. Seems to take place more or less in modern times. A kind of alternate reality, perhaps. Everything seems normal. Thing is “normal” includes the fact that every man sooner or later builds his ship and “sails” away, never to return. This is taken absolutely for granted. There are social customs in place for the send-off, and government aid is routine. It’s quite ordinary, a universal fate, like death. Always a shock to friends and relatives when it comes unexpectedly early in life.

It’s a very melancholy tale, rather sad. Maggie’s Mom can’t cope and is in a state of denial. Both Maggie and her father know nothing can be done. He’s cheerful enough, in the circumstances. Maggie’s torn, conflicted. What to do? Can anything be done?

Death may be too simplistic an explanation. This is a family coping, or not coping, with loss before the loss takes place. Yet, if it refers to a middle aged man’s last desire for a “fling,” or the estrangement mere years can bring about in a marriage, the growing divide as people change, it seems to me those sort of crises don’t seem universal enough, given that all men go through this, according to the story.

Maybe it is essentially a lesson on impermanence, the transience  of life, and how best to deal with the shifting sand under our feet. You know, the kind of thing philosophers have been arguing about for centuries.

Overall, it felt like I was reading a newly discovered lost work by Ray Bradbury. The sense of longing to escape is palpable, yet calm and unhurried. Personal dignity is implied. Makes for a memorable story.

Wormwood – by Edward Ashton

Premise:  

CNN says it’s the end of the world. They’ve got the stats and scientists to prove it. Greg and Elena and their daughter Kate want to spend their last moments together, right? Nope. They’d rather face oblivion separately.

Review:

This is a refreshingly original story. It takes a cliché situation and explores all manner of implications in subtle and complex ways. Can’t really explain anything without giving away too much, but it has much to say about the difficulties of facing oneself, never mind death. Consequently I enjoyed the twists and turns of people’s reactions as danger loomed. The story suggests there’s a healthy fatalism buried in all of us.

Also, it reminds me of the Cuban Missile Crisis when I asked my Dad, a serving officer in the R.C.A.F., what he’d do if he was home when the bombs fell. He replied something like “Send you guys to the basement, grab a bottle of whiskey, and go up on the roof and watch.” Seems far-fetched, but this story is a bit of childhood nostalgia for me.

The Imitation Sea – by Lora Gray

Premise:

What do you do when you find a dead angel on the beach? Especially when it’s your personal angel?

Review:

This is a multi-level story. On the one hand it’s about a young man regretting numerous aspects of his first homosexual love affair. There are undertones of parental and societal control. And a startlingly original approach to questions of robotic companions and the evolution of A.I. Not to mention religious interpretations when, realistically speaking, there should be none. Yet con-artists and mercenary community leaders are quick to take advantage. Lot of things to unpack in this story.

Reduced to its essentials it’s all about resisting fate and fighting back, if only to regain a sense of control over one’s own life. The imitation sea is Lake Eerie. As a child the protagonist imagined it a magical ocean filled with wonders. Turned out to be merely a lake, and a poisonous, dirty lake at that. Disappointment all around. A metaphor for life. How depressing.

And yet … and yet … there’s something charming about the young man’s efforts to find something living amid the decay. A determined optimism, a delirious optimism, like someone absolutely hellbent on enjoying a funeral. Not so much disturbing as impressive.

And, like I say, this story offers an interpretation of angels I consider highly original and quite fascinating. As a piece of technological prediction, I suspect it’s bang on. Alexa with wings, so to speak, only worse than what you’re thinking. A remarkable story. Depressing, yes, but also a pleasure to read.

In a Village Without Dogs – by Eileen Gunnell Lee

Premise:

The first mass-colonization ship to leave Earth wasn’t motivated by high motives of exploration and progress. Not at all. It was a successful effort to purge the planet of unwanted Romany. They, alone, explored and exploited the resources of the outer Solar System. Now they were being recalled to Earth. Why?

Review:

The exploration of space has traditionally been portrayed, until recently, as the purview of white, European-based civilization. In this story it is the final purging of European societies of the dreaded Romany outsiders, i.e. what were called Gypsies in the old days, which sends humanity into space on a large scale. For reasons of their own, probably failing economies and a failing environment, the rest of the humanity is unable or unwilling to follow. Now the Earth needs help?

It’s like the forced penal colonists of Australia being called back to Britain to save it from some unnamed fate. Would people go? If so, why? What would they stand to gain by it? Not as if they’re paying off a debt. Yet, perhaps some would see opportunity, all sorts of opportunity, and some might seek revenge. How on Earth (or “off”) can a consensus be reached? What to do?

Just the depiction of space-faring Romany society adapted to their new life is fascinating in itself. Then there are the moral questions around persecution and racial purging. Of course it’s wrong, but why does it happen? And how do its victims cope? These questions more relevant than ever, one fears to think. The story addresses these concerns in a science fictional setting, but also on a very personal level through the characters and their memories.

It appears the Romany have been in space for many decades, yet most adults retain memories of the final round-up and forced exit. Something to do with travel time in suspended cryo-status. It’s been a long time for the inhabitants of Earth, but still within living memory for most Romany. I haven’t quite figured it out, but the precise details don’t matter. In a sense the question of how much of the humane remains in humanity applies first to these fictional Romany, then to the fictional inhabitants of a future Earth, and finally, most importantly, to us.

The resolution of the story isn’t exactly satisfying. Somewhat of a downer, in fact. Yet not without hope. Perhaps the lesson is to carry on as best you can no matter what happens. Reasonably practical, that. Better than giving up. For all the “romance” of the Romany, this is psychologically a realistic story. Definitely something to think about.

The Ten Thousand Lives of Luciana Kim – by Maria Dong

Premise:

Luciana is happy she succeeded in killing herself. The afterlife doesn’t seem so bad, rather nice in fact. Until she gets stabbed and dies again. She’s a bit more cautious in the next afterlife.

Review:

Well, hmmm. My initial, superficial impression is that the story is well written, with some vivid description, but the basic premise of finding oneself within a video game-like reality is something I, as an editor (for Polar Borealis Magazine), would normally reject. Too common a cliché. Not much opportunity to rely on character interaction to bond the reader with the main character. The fact that the reader figures out what’s going on long before the character does is another handicap. There’s a certain amount of suspense in wondering what happens next, but the fact that the outcome can be taken for granted in each case makes the story repetitious to the point of boredom. I kept waiting for bits of humorous situational-awareness on the part of Luciana, but no, there was nothing there as far as I could see. Even a cliché plot can be amusing or exciting if a fresh approach is taken, but all I felt was a dogged determination on the part of Luciana to finally figure out how to stay alive and that wasn’t enough to engage me in the story. The ending was too open-ended to provide any sort of satisfactory conclusion. I felt disappointed.

Still, I sensed there had to be “something” behind the story, some motivating factor which compelled the author to write the story, so I broke my arbitrary rule and read the Q&A session which followed.

Aha! Now it made perfect sense. The situation is deeply personal and has to do with the Asian-American cultural stigma against acknowledging mental illness. It’s not a cry for help. These days Maria is fully in control of her life and thoughts , and thank goodness for that. Rather, it is literally an object lesson based on personal experience about the worth of self-worth and the ongoing struggle to maintain same no matter what comes your way.

This is a curious case of a story that has a rugged power if the context is fully understood, but seems weak if the reader is unaware what it is really about. I can’t quite figure out what to suggest. However, now that I know the point and purpose of the story, I feel this should be made clearer within the body of the text. As is, the subtleties are overridden by the cliché action of the plot. For that reason, speaking with an editor’s hat on, it’s not quite a finished draft. It needs one more revision. Something to tear away the sense of cliché and emphasize the original and uniquely personal aspects. The opening paragraphs worked well, until the “Oh, no, now I know where to slot this story” decision sprung to mind and my interest fell away. This needs to be prevented.

To make the premise more intriguing and rise above cliché, perhaps the character should revel in each and every death and struggle to progress simply in order to experience further variations of death? Only to eventually reach an epiphany on the value of continuing to live for life’s sake? Something like that?

At any rate, I believe, after reading my comments, that you will find this a most interesting story. Do you agree with my observations? Or am I just an obtuse idiot who misunderstood and for you the power and purpose of the story comes through loud and strong? Maria has a very important lesson to impart, a vital, life-affirming lesson. I just happen to feel it needs to be a bit more obvious to be accessible. Only one reader’s opinion. I could be wrong.

You, Tearing Me Apart Onstage – by Matthew B. Hare

Premise:

Terry Weldon lives in meatspace but performs online as an avatar in cyberspace. He’s very successful, very rich, and very bored. Till he sees himself perform in a sleezy cyber-nightclub. How can there be two of him?

Review:

Virtual rock stars exist, I believe. In Japan. No longer the stuff of fiction. But living performers utilizing avatars in cyberspace, masquerading as virtual rock stars? I’m not sure about that. Seems an original touch.

Of course, rock star reality has always been somewhat blurred at the edges, what with fame, fortune, groupies, drugs, living up to the cliches, and so on. Can’t be a star without a tortured persona, not matter what you’re really like away from your public image. The “bad boy” persona is omni-present, it’s practically the definition of a rock star, one that many talented musicians seem compelled to live up to. Or rather, something that screenwriters and story and novel writers can’t resist. Hard for them to break away and be original in their treatment.

This story, however, feels original, innovative. The implications of near-magical technology are worked out so that the selfish, narcissistic tormented character is both familiar and yet transformed, as if representing the next step in a chain of pathetic evolution in a thoroughly convincing fashion. You thought being a success is horrible now, just you wait till the future drops on us. Then fame and fortune will be a curse well beyond the misery of today.

The lesson seems to be that the opportunities to be self-destructive, shallow, and meaningless can only expand as technology progresses. Something to look forward to.

In other words, not simply a fresh take on ennui and jaded expectations, but a warning about what to avoid. After all, there must be rock stars out there content and happy with their wealth and fame. Choose them as your role models. You’ll be much better off no matter what science throws at you. Above all, don’t let yourself be a victim of your success. Stay in charge. That be the point of this story, methinks.

Getaway  – by Jennifer Hudak

Premise:   

Lenna’s parents insist on taking her to the cottage at Greenpenny Lake. Her father insists she go swimming. The microorganisms in the lake insist on entering her body. There they flourish. Leena feels less inclined to spend time in her body. She prefers to float above it. But what is it the colony within her has in mind?

Review:

Society and peer pressure can shower heavy girls with shame. Weighing 226 pounds myself, I can readily identify with viewing gravity as an enemy and not being aesthetically pleased by the way my flesh drags on my bones. For young girls who are supposed to be lithe, graceful and sprightly (adjectives which definitely don’t apply to me at first glance, or even the hundredth glance) agony over one’s self image can be constant and ever-lasting. Being old and male, nobody feels sorry for me, not even me, and seldom are inclined to lecture (I guess because I’m given up as a lost cause), but young girls hypersensitive about their weight may well find being in public a terrifying ordeal. Like having to run the gauntlet every time they step outside.

In sum, this story is probably about self-loathing. Since the microorganisms trigger vomiting and the character, despite losing weight, continues to view her body with disgust, her predicament is a metaphor pertaining to anorexia and its destructive effects both mental and physical. Leena longs to detach herself from her body, literally, as if that would solve her problem.

In reality, to abandon your body is to abandon yourself. Not a good idea. That is the message being conveyed, but in a fantastical way with touches of science fiction that is vivid and attention-getting. I think every young woman who happens to be sensitive over their self-image would be gripped and swallowed into the emotions of this story. It would be simultaneously terrifying and inspiring. Something with immense personal meaning for them.

Parents would probably object if this were a High School text but, frankly, I think it would do young girls much good to read it. Something to identify with and discuss. Something genuinely relatable to their life and self-image difficulties. Something important on an intimate, personal level. Something they need to read. At least, I think so.

Potentially, an influential story all to the good, even if creepy and disturbing. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get people to reassess their lives and get back on an even keel. Yep, I’m impressed.

CONCLUSION:

Got to say, every story in this issue took me by surprise one way or another. All extremely interesting. All worthy of much thought. Nothing simple here. A collection of mature writing. Judging from this issue alone, Fusion Fragment is a must read magazine. I look forward to reviewing future issues.

Check it out at:  < Fusion Fragment >

 

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