I’d thought I’d just about exhausted my repertoire of short stories. I contemplated a mad dash to the library for some of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s collections, or bribing a librarian to put an emergency no-holds-barred ILL on Firebirds Soaring (ed. Sharyn November), which I haven’t read yet, or searching for the anthologies I studied in high school, or digging through my shelves to find Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters (ed. Kevin Anderson). Hey, don’t knock the Star Wars books, I ate them up when I was twelve or so, particularly the Young Jedi Knights series.
Fortunately, before I was forced to resort to any or all of the above situations, a mysterious parcel arrived in the mail.
Yes, the third issue of Pulp Literature had arrived, and I was saved!
My first reaction was to admire this issue’s cover, which features one of Tais Teng’s pieces of photographic wizardry: “Youth Hostels of Faery.” In this case, a young man peers at a carved door complete with glass panes and embedded lamp that emerges from a tree trunk. The greens and yellows of the waving grasses and leaves are reminiscent of both stained glass and oil paintings, in contrast to the backpacker, who appears almost precisely as you might stumble across him at a street corner.
Hm. The colours don’t appear as bright onscreen as they do on paper. You’ll just have to take my word for it, or acquire your own copy. But back to what I was going to say. As I had reviewed the first issue, it seemed only fair to leave subsequent issues for the other Book Warriors, until this stroke of good timing. Or, more honestly, I should say, until I read the contents. Some authors I knew to expect good things from. So what stood out, what grabbed me by the collar, actually, were the unknowns – stories whose excellence I had not anticipated because I had not heard of the authors. And then I couldn’t resist. (*Guilt grins directed toward Yash, Nafiza, and Steph*)
There’s a lot to admire in here. Diane Tucker’s poem “The Monkey Heart” does what so many poets have attempted and failed since Walt Whitman and describes poetry and the human soul (whether that soul resides within a poet, painter, composer, police officer, nurse, or computer programmer) with loving clarity, depicting the intimacy of yearning within one human heart and the vast sweep of eternity beyond time in stunningly beautiful language. “Love For Sale” by Conan Powers-Smith had me on edge the until the final lines. Powers-Smith does precisely what Aaron Bushkowsky (My Chernobyl) admonished my undergrad class to learn to do: give out information sparingly so that readers have just enough and always want more. The ideas created in this short story are mind-boggling in their enormity,*and the writing lives up to the world it creates. “Dragon Rock,” a short story by Sylvia Stopforth adapted for this anthology into graphic form by Mel Anastasiou, is both philosophical and immensely satisfying. Allaigna “learns to illuminate the ordinary” (source) in the latest installment of JM Landels’ fantasy novel Allaigna’s Song, and Stella gets into more trouble with Mrs.
Warden Warren as a result of her investigations in Fairmount Manor in Melanie Anastasiou’s “Stella Ryman and the Poison Pen Affair” – both ongoing narratives in Pulp Literature, and ones which I look forward to immensely.
And here’s “Youth Hostels of Faery” in full by Tais Teng.
* Yes, I do use enormity correctly; the technologies and social norms in this short story are a horrific crime against human nature and individual/cultural potential for change, in my opinion, even though they can be used for good.
Okay, I’ll succumb and name two other short stories: “Wager” by Bob Thurber, a gritty, dark glimpse of love and sacrifice with an edge of bleak humour; and “Invisible” by Susan Pieters, which lingers in the mind, disturbing complacency and demanding reflection.