The theme for Issue 25 of Crossed Genres Magazine is “Indoctrinate,” but the theme is only loosely applicable to the first story, “Cabaret Obscura” by Julian Mortimer Smith. The first-person narrator, Truddla, once catered to the kinky sexuality (or, at least, sexual curiosity) of humans at the Rialto. Most of her audience left “titillated but embarrassed,” she tells us, but some send her marriage proposals, and the dangerous ones lie in wait for her after shows. She’s a hobgoblin. Whether that means she’s a creature from the fairy tale world or an alien to whom a handy word has been applied isn’t made clear — that’s the “crossing” of genres in this story, apparently, a melding of fantasy and science fiction so that we can’t really tell which is which. There isn’t much of a plot, but the story is full of atmosphere and weirdness that suggest Smith has a vibrant imagination. I’m looking forward to watching him use it as his experience grows, even if this story was not entirely successful.

“Distant Gates of Eden” by Brian Trent features James Porlock as a man new to an unusual job. He is to do whatever his boss, Lothian, tells him to do, using as references the Handbook for the New Illuminary, An Atlas of the World’s Fourteen Continents, and a thesaurus. His workplace is exceedingly odd: he is seated at a gorgeous desk seemingly made from rare woods, and it is situated in a circle of light surrounded by darkness. And the oddness doesn’t end there. A gorgeous coworker, Godiva, throws herself at him. His assigned tasks tend to include such things as causing a recession in Indiana, a power-plant failure in Connecticut, and a traffic jam in Florida that lasts three hours. Nothing he does is ever for the good of humankind, though it is plain that his employers could greatly improve the lot of the planet’s chief sentient species. Ultimately, Porlock makes some controversial decisions about how to do his job, which is where everything we’ve been told comes together in a climax that had me grinning ear to ear. There’s some very fine plotting going on here, with all the clues we need to figure out what Porlock is going to do scattered throughout.

Bengamin Blattberg’s “The Lion God” fits the theme of the issue most closely, as it concerns a regime that tries to indoctrinate its citizens into a belief in the titular character. That character bears a remarkable resemblance to C.S. Lewis’s Aslan, as Blattberg notes in the interview that follows the story. There is something about the lion that makes people love him, regardless of whatever cruelties he inflicts. But the narrator, a prisoner about to be interrogated by the Lion God, is part of a rebel movement who has prepared well for her capture and televised questioning. The story is bleak, funny, angry and memorable.

Issue 24 has the theme of “Destruction.” In the first story, “Fantaisie Impromptu No. 4 in C#min, Op. 66,” by Carlos Hernandez, the narrator is a reporter who is interviewing Consuela Balusek, the widow of Václav Balusek, a concert pianist of exceptional renown. Consuela denies that she is a widow, because she contends that her husband’s soul has migrated to the computer within his custom-built Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand Piano, the one with 97 keys instead of the usual 88. In order to demonstrate to the reporter that her husband actually resides in the piano, Consuela has her don an exoskeleton that resembles a black leather jacket with gloves, which allows her to “play” the piano — or, rather, allows Václav to play the piano using her fingers. Hernandez takes pains to explain how the technology that powers his story works, and equal pains to draw his characters well. The end to the story adds a twist that combines religion, philosophy, biology and computer science to deliver a significant punch.

“The Wolf and the Dragon” by Mary Thaler is a peculiar story that posits the sudden appearance of enormous monsters throughout the world, and the effect they have on one particular family that goes from losing electrical power to having their home destroyed. The story never explains the monsters, but focuses solely on the family and their neighbor, an older woman caught up in the devastation. The disaster seems little different from a hurricane or a flood in how it affects the family. Perhaps that’s the point of the story: humans can endure so little, and so much. Although the story is full of incidents, it is more of a description of events than a story, lacking an arc or climax. It’s well-written, but feels incomplete.

“Stoop Sale” by Evan Berkow is about a woman who lost her husband three years ago and is very short on funds. Her solution? She sells her memories from her doorstep. They command a high price in a time when one must buy space in which to store memories, as the species as a whole has “traded volume for clarity.” Memories are precise, not hazy, and they don’t dim over time. But disc space, so to speak, is expensive, so the protagonist sells many valuable memories to those who have none of their own. A busy businesswoman, for instance, buys the memories of a vacation in Aruba from her; a father purchases her childhood for his son, to show him how good he has it these days. The final buyer wants something even more substantial. It is a story about a world in which people are too busy to live, and it feels uncomfortably familiar. This is Berkow’s first published work of fiction; I’m looking forward to what he does next.

These were the first two issues of the relaunched Crossed Genres I’ve read (the magazine originally ran from 2008-2011, and was restarted in 2013). The fiction strikes me as good work from talented newcomers to the field, the sort who may produce excellent work as time goes on. It is especially gratifying to see that the editors reserve one spot in each issue for the first professionally published fiction by a new author. I must say, though, that I’m not convinced that “crossing” science fiction with the theme of an issue truly results in “crossed genres”; a theme is not a genre. Still, it’s a fine periodical, and I’m glad I’ve subscribed.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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