Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jupiter XIV: Thebe

Jupiter was an unfamiliar publication to me, though it was clear enough that we would be in SF territory. I did think that two staples rather than one would make the magazine easier to handle; but of course it's the fiction that counts, so let's look at some (I must abstain from reviewing the poetry as I'm not confident about doing so).

First up is The Truth about Watermelon Seeds by Monte Davis (who also provides this issue's cover illustration), the delightfully odd tale of Vardiman Laneer, who lives out of his truck in the hope of finding a meteorite that he can sell on for enough money to patch things up with his beloved Birdie. His sole companion in this is his pet mouse, Gideon, who (unbeknownst to Vardiman) has been eating the seeds from a cosmic watermelon and undergoing a remarkable transformation. Davis writes engagingly and vividly (the atmosphere of Vardiman's truck is all too real!), and the result is a strange concoction that, nevertheless, works.

The Walking Distances by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith takes its protagonist (also a Tom Smith) to Canada, to visit an old writer friend, Kim, who has been hearing mysterious noises. Tom's speciality is writing about sounds that he has recorded; and Kim wants him to help her find out what's going on. What they discover is, naturally, rather unexpected... Actually, the solution to the 'whatdunnit' is probably less interesting than the character of Tom. Smith gives him a distinctive, jokey voice that does sometimes miss the mark ('They melted into the woods, like cheap margarine on hot corn-bread'), but, more often, hits it most effectively (as when Tom grabs something from the kitchen drawer and runs outside, only to find it wasn't a knife, as he was searching for).

Pretty much all the stories in the magazine are very good at creating an atmosphere through the unique viewpoints of their characters. In The Roots of Martian Civilisation, Robert Persons depicts an ancient Mars, where Trong, an archaeologist, is searching for evidence of the long-gone Sea Dogs. The author strikes a fine balance between alienness and familiarity; Trong isn't human, but we comprehend what he's doing well enough that his alien attributes become all the more striking (such as the way his species writes, 'a multimedia collage of up to a dozen sensual clues').

The final two stories in the magazine are also space operas, but more humorous – and, happily, both are genuinely amusing. In Jason Gaskell's Stranded, Jon Simmons is in a hurry to deliver his cargo to a client who doesn't like to be kept waiting; but a jobsworth guard won't let him through the wormhole, and Jon ends up – yes – stranded on a world he dubs 'Crapoid'. Gaskell's piece is daft, good-natured fun.

The title of Manda Benson's The Thirteenth Brigade refers to a bunch of cockroaches that have been engineered to aid humanity; they prove to be the ideal help to the crew of a spaceship who get into difficulties while trying to discover the cause of an earthquake that rocked their ship. Benson's story is perhaps not as consistently funny as Gaskell's; but it still has some good moments, and the ending is especially fine.

As I was coming to the end of this issue of Jupiter, I glanced back at Ian Redman's introduction; and something therein struck me as particularly apposite: 'put the kettle on, light the fire and snuggle into your favourite chair'. That sums up these stories: they may not break much new ground in science fiction, but they are superb entertainment.

Jupiter edited by Ian Redman, 19 Bedford Road, Yeovil, Somerset, BA21 4UG, UK. A5, 48pp, £2.75 or £10/4.

This review first appeared in Whispers of Wickedness.

Further links:

Jason Gaskell


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