Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 4: Ideomancer Speculative Fiction

Today, in the fourth installment of this project,we turn our attention to Ideomancer.  Or more correctly Ideomancer Speculative Fiction.  This one has received a bit of critical acclaim if my memory is serving me correctly.  I don't recall where all I've seen the acclaim, so I might be getting two different sites confused.

Anyway, there were three stories in this issue, along with some poetry and features such as reviews.  One of the stories was science fiction and the other two were fantasy.  Since science fiction and poetry isn't really the focus of Seven Days of Online Fiction, I'll look at the two of the stories which are fantasy.  Both of them are short.

One of the nice things about this site is a box (I'm not sure what you call it) at the top of the ToC which rotates the first few lines of each item in the ToC.  This allowed me to quickly realize that one of the stories was science fiction, and so I didn't need to read it for the purpose of this series.  It also showed enough profanity in just a few lines that I knew I wouldn't be reading it period.  But I digress.  I think is a cool idea.  It allowed me to sample the first paragraph (or the first few lines in the case of the poetry) and get an idea of whether or not I would want to read the rest of the story.

The first story I read was "Just Be" by Sandra M. Odell.  It was a short and melancholy piece, almost a vignette, without a great deal of plot.  Most of the conflict and tension revolved around the two characters discussing the fact that the second of them had to take the other's place on the job while the first took his turn on vacation.  The fact that the two people involved, the first initially a man and the second initially a boy, are taking turns being Satan was what made this a fantasy. 

The story takes place in the rural South. It was written in a down-home, Southern voice that bordered on stereotype.  Since my family comes from the South originally, I could have chosen to be offended.  What kept me from being offended was that I know that there is a basis in fact for many of the stereotypes of life in the South.  Not all of them but many of them.  (I am NOT talking about racial stereotypes here, but stereotypes of diction, diet, etc..)  The stereotype of Southern dialect does have some basis in fact.  I've known people who've talked that way.  This story reminded me of them.

The story had a bittersweet almost nostalgic tone somewhat reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, which to me was a point in its favor.  Still, not a lot happened in the story.  If the author had made the conversation between the boy and the man longer and more confrontational, I think it would have made the story stronger.

The second story was "Ascension" by Su-Yee Lin and is more magic realism than straight fantasy.  It concerns a parent and daughter who continue to make trips to the park after things have begun to fall into the sky.  At first it was the birds.  When the story opens, it's the leaves.  They're all falling up.  By the end of the story, it's the little girl.  Not the parent.  As a parent myself, I know I wouldn't be so calm about such an event and neither would my wife.  Or any of the other parents we know.

I guess I assumed the parent narrating the story, whose gender is  never stated, was the girl's mother because the two of them spend their days in the park, and even with many mothers working full time these days, they are still the majority of stay-at-home parents.

The author bio at the end of the story says Ms. Lin is a student in fiction in an MFA program.  This story reads like something that might come out of an MFA program.  It's all mood and imagery.  There's not a lot of plot, and frankly I didn't find the character of the parent very well done.  Just not believable enough.  I know a lot of people like this kind of thing, but it's not what I read fiction for.  At least not fantasy.

From the perspective of the Seven Days, one of the annoying things about this issue of Idoemancer was that there was a link to a very long story published last year which appears, at least at a glance, to be a much more traditional fantasy than either of the stories I've looked at from the current issue.  Unfortunately one of the rules of this project is to only consider stories first published in the current issue of an online magazine, not reprints.  Also, length could possibly be a factor if I'm going to stay on schedule.  It's one I'll probably come back to.

I've always been a little leery about the term "speculative fiction."  It seems to be used a lot by people who act as those they are ashamed to be reading fantasy or science fiction and seem to think that by calling genre fiction "speculative fiction" they are giving it some sort of literary respectability.  I'll not get into that here.  It's off topic and would make this post too long.  "Ascension" certainly had fantastic elements, but I wouldn't call it core fantasy.  The fantastic elements merely served to provide a mood.

So, in terms of quality:  These stories were well written, but neither of them had much in the way of story, at least as far as characters and plot are concerned, although "Just Be" wasn't far off.  While some people prefer this kind of thing, I suspect most of the regular readers of this blog do not.  This is the second venue I've looked at that I haven't read before.  Using the same criteria as previously, would I read more of Ideomancer based on what I've read here?  Sadly, no.  While I liked "Just Be",  "Ascension" more than offset its appeal.  However, I will probably come back and take another look, to read the reprint story if for no other reason.  Every publication, whether print or electronic, can have an off issue, so I'll might check some of the other stories as well.

For the purposes of this project, total quality count (high, low), Day 4:  5-2

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