Monday, January 31, 2011

Magazine Review: GUD Magazine #6

Disclosure: The publisher sent a review copy for the purposes of this review.

This was originally going to be "just" a review of GUD's sixth issue, but I want to get something off my chest. Some readers--and writers--might have complaints with the more popular genre magazines yet indie publications like GUD is often overlooked. As far as content goes, with every issue, GUD delivers quality fiction, poetry, and artwork/photos, a combination that's slowly becoming a rare breed. When it comes to its contributors, from gender division to cultural diversity, GUD has been quite inclusive. Which isn't to say that each issue is a home run, or that I'm qualified to critically judge poetry and art (I'm more of a prose person), but GUD is doing a lot of things right. On the business end of things, between electronic submissions and a generous eBook system (you get an additional copy to send to a friend), it's a model worth emulating.

Having said that, how does the current issue fare? Since I tend to be a short story reader, it's the fiction that remains memorable for me, even if it's three weeks since I last read the magazine. "As the Wheel Turns" by Aliette de Bodard is a fine choice for opening the publication as it's easily one of the best stories in the issue. Bodard convincingly creates her own myth, the story of a female protagonist and her never-ending clash with two opposing ideologies. The tone and the language sell the story, but it's the characterization by the author that makes me genuinely curious what happens next.

Another story that's impressive is "The Naming Braid" by Lindsey Duncan. Like Bodard, the author convinces us that this is a fairy tale due to her language and tone. Duncan however takes a different route from Bodard; the latter had a simple cast while the former employs a large ensemble. And yet Duncan manages to give each one their proper voice and personality, an Epic and Romance compressed into a short story. This is easily my favorite story in the magazine.

One of the more interesting science fiction pieces I've encountered is "What Happens in Vegas" by Caroline M. Yoachim. While there are some flaws in technique (the story feels too much like the author is explicitly explaining everything), Yoachim nonetheless conveys to the reader the shocking horror of her premise. This is shown through the lenses of her characters and if we didn't come to care for them--or more specifically, sympathize with a crucial key character--the story wouldn't work. But as it is, the division between reader knowledge and character knowledge is integral to appreciating the piece.

There's around half a dozen illustrations here, some are paintings, some photographs, and others somewhere in between. A striking photo for me is "The Smoke" by Bob Evans. The details of this close-up convey the editorial. "Thought Process" by Andy B. Clarkson leaves one with a lot to ponder, while "Generation Gap" by Arthur Wang is brilliant when it comes to the caption.

I'll admit, evaluating poetry is my least-honed skill. This issue of GUD has a diverse set, each one catering to different sensibilities. Yet after re-reading the poems, what impressed me is how narrative poetry is vastly different from the short story, whether it's the compression, the sensibilities, or what it manages to get away with its sparsity. Some have a clear agenda, such as "Crumpled Receipts" by Bryan C. Murray yet due to its form and presentation, it's palatable, entertaining, yet still drilling home its point.

At other times, it's the imagery that wins you over. "Whale on the Roof" by Rose Lemberg, at first glance, seems to include elements that you wouldn't ordinarily combine, yet the poet makes it work and flows organically. It works on multiple levels, giving the reader much to deliberate on.

My favorite poem is "Bridging" by Shweta Narayan. Aside from the very apt title, it's a poem that succeeds in utilizing and combining several techniques quite effectively. Because of its lyricism, this is one of those poems that begs to be read out loud. There is also the fusion of anachronistic elements that conjure a vast setting and cosmology, yet could also be interpreted as a metaphor for our current politics.  Whether we're reading in on a literal level or something deeper, it's enjoyable and poignant.

Overall this is a fairly balanced issue; while there are some pieces that are simply ho-hum or even flawed, there's enough gems to make GUD stand out.

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