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Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet No. 13

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet No. 13
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet
Copies are available by mail from:
Small Beer Press,
176 Prospect Avenue,
Northampton, MA 01060

From their website:
"We recommend you read Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet before submitting. You can procure a copy from us or from assorted book shops.

"We accept fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and black and white art. The fiction we publish most of tends toward the speculative. This does not mean only quietly desperate stories. We will consider items that fall out with regular categories. We do not publish gore, sword and sorcery or pornography. We can discuss these terms if you like. There are places for them all; this is not one of them."

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

This quirky magazine goes upscale (for at least this one issue) with its lucky thirteenth issue, replacing its chapbook-style 'zine look with a perfectly bound higher quality color cover and paper stock, while still remaining, well, quirky. The more professional look for this issue also comes with a slight price increase from $4 to $5 (they may still be quirky, but they're not stupid). For all the complaints about the supposed demise of genre magazine fiction, it's nice to note that the folks at Small Beer Press (primarily Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link) see an expanding market niche for their peculiar (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) tastes.

To be sure, this might not be the bill of fare for the typical Asimov's or Analog aficionado, or anyone else whose fictional horizons require either a space ship or a wise wizard. There's none of that to be had in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet; but there is, as the publication's name suggests, some definitely weird stuff.

One such staple of Lady Churchill's contents is the strange vignette, which, as such, suffers from the limitations of the form. David J. Schwarz's "The Icthyomancer Writes His Friend With an Account of the Yeti's Birthday Party" is as bizarre as the title suggests, yet if there was a point to the story beyond being bizarre, I missed it. Similarly, the five paragraphs of "Sidhe Tigers" by Sarah Monett strains for significance, and it shows. I'm not entirely sure what to make about "The Faith of Metal in Ghosts" by Richard Polney, a sort of nursery tale for androids, but it does have some nicely clever imagery. Also promising is "Salesman" by Philip Brewer that investigates the psychology of pick-up lines and how to exploit it. "Dear Aunt Gwenda: Advice from a Better Time & Place" is an attempt to satirize Ann Landers and her legion of imitators, but it has been done before and was funnier the first time. Maybe even the second. But not anymore.

Editor Grant's contribution, "Home and Security," depicts a John Ashcroft wet dream in which the government crack downs on domestic dissidents not marching in lockstep with the extreme right wing brand of unquestioning patriotism and Christian values. From the foundation of a presumably real event, a February New York City protest against the Iraq invasion he and his wife attended, Grant postulates the tracking and detaining of identified dissidents:

"...Email: Gavin, Dad here. Got a call from INS (IRS?) saying you had been held (under the Patriot Act?) after rally and asking re: marriage and so on.."
The short piece ends with Gavin looking into the mirror,
"...not sure who's there. There's a man with lines around his eyes, and a somewhat blank expression. What does he want? When does he want it? Not this President. Not this future."
Okay, so Grant's Dickian alternate reality warns us of the less-than-democratic inclinations and motivations of the Bush administration. To underline that, the story is filed under the non-fiction category. While I share Grant's desire for regime change here at home, I think this a tad hyperbolic. The fact remains that it's still quite safe and easy to be a dissident in this country. And our democratic system, for all its faults, is working. The courts are questioning the constitutionality of aspects of the Patriot Act. The administration is backing off, however reluctantly, on some of its perhaps more anti-civil liberties positions (though certainly not all of them, as the increasingly ridiculous "debate" about gay marriage indicates). The press is freely reporting the rising pile of Bush fauxes, and there is a rising and vigorous opposition to Bushian "fight the terrorists" demagoguery. So the problem I have with Grant's speculation is that "this future" he warns against is considerably less in the tradition of 1984 than I suppose he imagines.

Whatever shortcomings these pieces may have, they have the virtue of being, well, short. And any rough spots you might encounter are soon followed by some numerous gems. Case in point is "Kuka Boogie Moon" by Eliot Fintushel, which contemplates the nexuses emerging between consumerist and religious sentiments in setting a standard of common human decency regarding an unusual life preserving technology. To use the author's own words, this story is "yummilicious."

Turn the page and there's Leslie What's "The Changeling," another in a series of stories that apparently were inspired by the author's recent child birthing experience. In this case, an interracial couple is expecting, and there is some understandable anxiety about not only the responsibility of parenthood, but the complexities and insecurities of their own now radically redefined relationship to one another. The white female narrator comes up with a decidedly unusual way to get closer to her black lover (warning: do not try this at home).

"The Poor Man's Wife" by M. Thomas is a kind of East European fairy tale twist on Pygmalion and unrequited love. Tim Pratt's "Rowboats, Sacks of Gold" is another love story of sorts, possibly about giving in to your fate, once you've figured out what it might be. In "White Rabbit Triptych," E.L. Chen applies the Wonderland riff of the continually late rabbit concerning the implications of inappropriately timed death. Another Wonderland theme is wound through "Serpents" by Veronica Schanoes; suffice it to say that this punk/goth version makes the original Lewis Carroll invention look almost normal. F. Brett Cox gives a doomed love affair the Southern Gothic treatment in "Legacy." The inability to love at all concerns "A Last Taste of Sweetness" by Karina Sumner-Smith, while a photographer's fascination with dead things as subjects affects his own mortal relationships in "Pinned" by Hannah Wolf Bowen. "The Magnificanet Dachshund" is a fairy tale on the not always pleasant realizations of adulthood by Geoffrey H. Goodwin, while K.Z. Perry's "Mama's Special Rice Tin" presents a maturation of a more powerful sort rooted in the preservation of spirits.

The issue concludes with "The Meat and the Mushrooms" by Spencer Keralis. Here a pair of sibling witches step over the boundaries of friendly rivalry and reasonable amusements. Grant notes, perhaps half-facetiously, that "gentler readers beware the final story." My advice: don't be afraid, it's good to know what and where evil lurks.

There's also a number of poems and a film review by Lucy A. Snyder. All in all, a complete and attractive package well worth the extra buck for this issue.

Copyright © 2004 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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