Monday, October 19, 2009

Book/Magazine Review: Farrago's Wainscot October 2009

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

It's my first (and unfortunately last) time encountering Farrago's Wainscot, a quarterly webzine with a unique voice and flavor. I mention the last part because not a lot of speculative magazines include poetry in their selection--or at least not regularly. Farrago's Wainscot joins the ranks of Lone Star Stories in the sense that it's a fiction-poetry hybrid that released its last issue this year.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the magazine. On one hand, the content is fresh and doesn't follow the tropes of science fiction or fantasy that I'm familiar with. There's a literary quality to it, whether it's focused on characterization, lyricism, or a combination of both. There's also a larger space to experiment. On the other hand, while the strangeness is entertaining, it's also not necessarily the type of fiction I prefer, although I can appreciate the technique and the skill that went into them.

First up is the nonfiction, "Telling Stories in the Wake of Postmodernism" by Jonathan Wood. Wood has a concise summary of the implications of postmodernism--some of which I'm not even aware of--and eventually gets to discuss the options in telling interactive stories. It's the latter which catches my attention, and Wood cites mediums like video games and hypertext as one of the viable forms. It's an interesting discourse and take on the subject, with the references remaining unobtrusive.

Unique to the magazine is Experimental Wordforms and in this case, Susan Thorpe delivers a rhyming poem using aptronyms--people's names that are related to their profession. Thorpe bases her selection on real people and the theme revolves around dentistry, with names like J.A.W. Dobson or Dr Les Plack. A novelty, but not something that's in demand.

Then there's the poetry, and at least for this issue, there's less of a focus on lyricism and more on the narrative. "In the Event John Ashbery Walks into this All-You-Can-Eat Buffet" by Jared Walls speaks for itself in the title. Competent but otherwise unremarkable. "Search for Bride Suspended" by Elizabeth Kerlikowske uses a simple three-line stanza but is quite effective and presses the right buttons to produce a different kind of horror. "in the monastery of electromagnetic love" by Lynn Pattison is this fun and enjoyable tribute to Tesla, and the reader is very much aware of the constraints of the poet. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Vulture" by Bruce Boston is interesting at first but it peters off for me by the time you reach the end. Despite its brevity, it's overextended in my opinion.

Last is the fiction: "Sublimity in Turquoise Blue" by Rae Bryant is impressive in its use of juxtaposition and the framing device of an artist's perspective. There are elements of magic-realism which heighten the story and while it's not as tight as I want it to be (there's the unnecessary inclusion of the professor for example), overall it's commendable.

"A Backwards Look" by Becca De La Rosa uses some sleight of hand as the narrative appears beautiful initially but soon descends into perverse horror. The dialogue between the characters is delightful and it's actually too bad that there's not a lot of it by the time we approach the latter half of the story. A bit challenging to read and I'm not quite sure if it could be improved had it been presented in a different manner, but it's decent enough.

"The House at the End of the World" by Paul Jessup is easily the most accessible story with its plain language. It succeeds in developing at atmosphere that's weird, preparing readers for the horror that comes at the end. For me however, Jessup throws in too many elements--the giants, the song--and while these facts are resolved, it's not as punchy as the core ending.

"The Committee" by Eden Robins is a bit too experimental for my tastes. Like "The House at the End of the World", Robins immediately sets up the bizarre setting. There's this mishmash of zombies/robots, but it's all a fugue to me. Too many strange things happen and too little explanations.

There's a horror vibe to "Shantih Shantih Shantih" by S. Boyd Taylor but ultimately it feels like a punchline story--not that it's bad but this one didn't really work for me. There are some good moments, such as the sense of isolation, but overall elicits a mere meh.

"Ephemera" by Jonathan Wood can be challenging to read and it's an interesting combination of mystery along with your horror and fantasy. Overall however, I got confused as there are two plots taking place, and while the discourse is an interesting technique, isn't exactly the most accessible. Yet this confusion is also perfect for the story as it captures the clash and fusion of minds of its main character. While some readers might appreciate this form-function synthesis--and it takes great skill for Wood to pull it off--I'm not fond of this format.

Farrago Wainscot has a unique voice and atmosphere so it's a tragedy that this is its last issue.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for reading, Charles.

Alan said...

If you liked Jonathan Wood's book you might be interested in my Digimodernism, which covers related ground: