PS Publishing’s Postscripts continues to prove that the genres really can embrace any topic at all. In this issue most of the authors are already published or just about to be published by PS themselves, and this gives the reader a good chance to sample stories before deciding whether or not to buy more. This edition is not quite as pert and consistently enjoyable as Postscripts #4 but it still maintains a high standard of writing.
Lawrence Person's "Starving Africans" story is a stark contrast to his gently humorous tale of Taoist magic in the previous issue. This time his setting is Mozambique and his main character is a journalist despairing in equal measures about the endless suffering around him and the Western World’s utter lack of interest. When the rebels turn up at the UN refugee camp, it’s not long before the journalist (and the others stationed with him) are the news. Written with warmth and frank emotion, this heart-rending story reads more like a documentary than fiction, but the journalist’s hallucinations provide the genre interest and result in a short story that lingers in the memory longer than many full-blown fantasy volumes.
In "A Signal from Earth", Stephen Baxter has penned one possible outcome for three of the characters in his novel Sunstorm (co-written with Arthur C Clarke). The electronic intelligences had been fleeing a solar disaster when they arrive at a planet where the main indigenous species is on the cusp of extinction. This isn’t a tale about the electronic personalities though; it’s a look at the evolution of a seal-like race whose history will end with the death of Witness, its final member. Not surprisingly, Baxter has managed to work huge timescales into this miniature tale as Witness recounts the history of her species. The stellar conditions and climatic issues are technically fascinating and the characterization is solid. It's an endearing little tale with an uplifting and optimistic ending.
Juliet McKenna's "Win Some, Lose Some" brings a flavor of adventure and risk to the Postscripts mix. A prequel to her first book, The Thief’s Gamble, this story addresses the reader’s curiosity about the incident ten years ago in Selerima that influenced Livak’s future life, and includes details about how Arle Cordainer was actually involved. There's a large cast of characters for such a short tale, but McKenna handles it with skill. The dialogue is excellent and the author has deftly avoided any major info-dumps. The result is a story that rattles along at pace and finishes way too soon.
The opposite can be said of "Gold Mountain" by Chris Roberson. This well-written tale features a young woman with unresolved family issues, interviewing an old man about his work on the construction of a 3,000 km-high tower in China. While the world Roberson creates is deeply detailed, there’s insufficient narrative drive in the wrap-around tale of redemption and confession to succeed as a short story. It will probably work well read as a background piece for Roberson’s upcoming PS Publishing book, The Voyage of Night Shining White, but as a standalone it’s a heavy read.
Also surprisingly slow was Zoran Živković's "The Hospital Room". Equally as intense as the first story in the sequence in Postscripts #4, this new tale focuses on a man stuck in a hospital bed being visited by patients from other wards. Each visitor tells the patient about their jobs in the circus and how they dreamed about him. There’s an imaginative array of tales and some entertaining moments. The underlying structure matches the previous story but somehow the forward momentum of the tale was lost. The other story delivered an ambiguous ending and this one sadly delivers the same. Perhaps when the final two stories in the series have been published, a re-assessment will be needed.
The humorous contribution in this issue is Joe Hill’s story from the set of a George Romero zombie movie. Bobby Conroy was a budding stand-up comic who lost his way and his girl long ago. Meeting Harriet years later when they are both under full zombie make-up as extras on the film-set seems like a second chance to Bobby. Until he meets Harriet’s son and husband. Hill likes exploiting pop culture for his horror stories (for another example see "Best New Horror" in his collection 20th Century Ghosts) and he does it very successfully. More lighthearted than "Best New Horror", "Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead" examines bittersweet relationships and the wrong turns taken in life that can only be seen with hindsight. A delightful read.
The non-fiction offering in this edition features Iain Emsley’s interview with China Miéville and Matthew Rossi’s article about Palenque. Emsley and Miéville take an interesting tour around politics and genres, and Rossi takes us on a spiritual journey through the deserted corridors of the Mayan city of Palenque. Both articles feature rather abrupt openings that leave the reader trying to get up to speed but do offer some thoughtful comments for consideration.
Overall there is a feel of hit and miss with the stories in this issue but there’s no denying that some hefty themes are put under the magnifying glass. Fiction has the breadth of scope to be everything from light and fun to dark and terrifying, and thought-provoking genre fiction that leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth is something that should be published — if only to keep us all in touch with our sense of humanity.