Magazine Monday: Lackington’s, Issue One

Lackington'sIssue One of Lackington’s begins with “A Long Foreword with a Long Title to Introduce Our Fond New Venture.” There’s a good reason for such a foreword: Lackington’s contains prose that is unlike that to be found in any other speculative fiction magazine. The magazine isn’t interested in telling stories, as such, but in beautiful prose with a speculative bent. “[Y]ou may find the odd slice-of-life vignette in these pages, or the odd meandering reflection, and you will find a lot of prose poetry, or at least prose written by those who are poetically inclined, because aesthetics matter here,” writes the editor, Ranylt Richildis, as if prose and aesthetics are of no concern to those who are interested in plots. Perhaps I should have taken the foreword as a warning and ceased reading immediately, for I found the offerings largely opaque and far too precious for my taste.

Richildis also mentions in her foreword that the pieces are to be read in order. The first prose piece is “Their Dead So Near” by Kate Heartfield, a tale told from the point of view of bones decaying beneath the earth in a long-abandoned cemetery. The bones have been forgotten, left behind when the cemetery was moved to accommodate the growth of the city of Ottowa; the earth above them is now a dog park. Occasionally the bones move to the surface, and children find skulls and scare one another with them. This isn’t a story, exactly, and it’s not quite a prose poem either, though the prose is fine and even breaks into actual poetry from time to time. There’s no plot, and nothing really happens. Perhaps it is intended as a meditation on how the long-dead are long-forgotten. It can be gently admired for its craft, but it seems more a contemplative piece than a conventional story.

“Mon pays c’est l’hiver” (which I believe translates as “My Winter Country,” though no translation is provided) by Amal El-Mohtar is even more poetic: “In a land of noon-darkness and damp, of mornings that sway between syrup-bright and pigeon-grey and evenings of thick velvet, a traveler feels a tug at the hook in her heart.” That’s a lovely sentence, and it’s a good opening to a piece about the nature of “home.” I found this piece beautiful, though again, it is not really a story because nothing happens.

Alex Dally MacFarlane’s “An Orange Tree Framed Your Body” has more story to it. This piece is set in Tolté, where orange trees bloom profusely. A group of revolutionaries plots against the emperor by targeting the Museum of Glass at which the emperor’s nephew is a frequent visitor. Four centuries of art are featured in this museum, art that will be destroyed in the attack, though this fact seems to give the leaders of the dissident group no cause for hesitation (though the subordinate members seem less certain). The narrator is chosen to set the explosives in place, whose decisions we judge, whose life we mourn. It is a sharp piece at its heart; the round edges given to it by the beautiful writing cannot disguise the anguish it contains.

“Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta” by Helen Marshall has a sense of humor, even as it portrays a young woman’s romance with Death, who goes by the name David. Carissa falls in love with Death almost at first sight, charmed by his laugh: “It is cool and soft. It has the texture of velvet. It is intelligent laughter, and Carissa feels charmed by it, by its simplicity, its brevity, the way it sounds nothing like church gates yawning, the way it doesn’t smack of eternity.” He warns her not to eat the lemon squares, which is a fine start to their relationship. It’s an unexpected story, a fairy tale without a fairy tale ending, until it ends a second time. It’s my favorite story in this issue.

“Balloons” by Christine Miscione opens with Callie’s ovarian cancer and the puppy she finds while she is mourning her fertility. It’s a gorgeous word picture of a woman who finds new meaning in a simple love for a pet, though it is perhaps a bit too lush in its portrayal to be entirely believable.

Rose Lemberg continues the magazine’s theme of death in “A City on Its Tentacles.” Luba is Maya’s mother, and Maya is dying. Luba is able to find medicine to treat Luba by traveling to a world that only she can reach, and only through the trapdoor underneath the rug, where she hears the sea, a trip that Luba must make every two or three months. But there is more to this trip than is immediately apparent, and Luba has more to her than a mother’s love. The story is mysterious and odd, reminiscent of tales of magic realism.

Erik Amundsen’s “On Every Boy’s Skin (All the Stars Ever, Also Bones)” is more science fictional than any of the other pieces in the magazine, dealing initially with a planet and its geology and biology, but then reverting to the more human concerns of sex and maternity. It becomes difficult to tell what is metaphor and what is reality as planetary exploration is mashed up with love, war and death; I suspect that the author was striving for this confusion, reaching for poetry thereby but only achieving bewilderment.

Lackington’s induced in me a terrible hunger for plot, for tales written by those with things to say and stories to tell. I love a well-written tale, a story with prose that makes me linger on a sentence, but not mood pieces or passages that are written for their beauty alone — and Lackington’s contains a superfluity of the latter. This is too much, like a meal comprised only of sweets. The MacFarlane and the Marshall stories are nicely done; would that the entire issue had been comprised of such fine writing combined with interesting ideas and plots.


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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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