Reviewed by Steven Pirie
It's marketed as a magazine, but the print edition of GUD, with no editorial, 190 pages in all and being the size of a paperback novel, looks and feels like an anthology. Still, what's in a name?
The cover artwork is stunning – Fools and Intellects by Cameron Gray – but why oh why must the publisher splash barcodes so prominently? Otherwise, such careful production bodes well for what’s within; an eclectic mix of prose and poetry, with a scattering of artwork for good measure. At a mere $10.00 it’s good value for money.
For the electronically entwined amongst us, GUD is also available as a downloadable PDF file at the cut down price of $3.50.
GUD – Greatest Uncommon Denominator – is a pretty good title for this magazine. Much of the fiction and poetry is unusual; some infuriating, some breathtaking, some experimental and one suspects deliberately vague.
The magazine opens with a somewhat whimsical tale El Alebrije by D. Richard Pearce. Being half a world away from Mexico, and not being gifted in Spanish, it felt as if at times the tale weaved around me. But this, in a way, was not an unpleasant experience. El Alebrije felt ‘butterflyish’, and my guess is that’s the effect Pearce is aiming for. Subsequent research reveals Alebrije are Mexican folk art of fantastical animal like creatures. Who says one can learn nothing from small press magazines?
Created with evocative language that swirls like the Alebrije itself, this tale is a strong opening to GUD.
Four Torments and a Judgement, by Erik Williams, is much more of a linear tale. The demon Yarsloth is sent to administer a rite of torments and judgement upon the Reverend Simms. It’s a demeaning task for a demon of Yarsloth’s standing, but all is not what it seems with the good reverend, and the demon learns not to underestimate the task in hand. A straightforward tale, well told and not without its moments of humour.
Painlessness, by Kirstyn McDermott, is one of the lengthier tales in the magazine. Faith is disturbed by sounds of domestic violence in the flat next door. When she investigates she discovers Mara, a prostitute ‘specialising’ in the whims of sadists by virtue of the fact she can’t feel pain. That these whims are sometimes brutal in the extreme, best described as ‘surgical’ even, adds an edge to this tale so the reader wonders just where it’s going to end up. That ending is open to a number of interpretations, both bleak and of hope, as indeed is the question of who or what Mara actually is. But it’s not a dissatisfying ending, and the tale in its entirety is an interesting one.
I struggled with The Disappearance of Juliana by John Walters, simply because of the structure of the writing. The story is told in alternating blocks of second person and third person point of view. I can’t suspend belief in second person, simply because I respond to every statement ‘you…do this’ with yells of ‘no I wouldn’t, that’s not what ‘I’d’ do at all!’ There’re also some typesetting shenanigans that frankly look something of a gimmick. All of which is a shame, really, because, the tale itself is decent and would benefit telling from a more regular viewpoint.
With Offworld Friends Are Best by Neal Blaikie, I’m sad to say I read a page and a half and gave up. Possibly it’s a British thing, but the tale is written in a kind of vernacular such that I couldn’t make a great deal of sense of what was happening. I had similar problems with Monkeyshine by Hugh Fox. Only this story lost me in that nothing seemed to be happening. You can’t win ’em all, I guess.
Baby Edward by Jeremy C Shipp tells the rather unusual tale of a ‘baby boy’ Edward locked in a VW bus in the back yard. That Edward can have your arm off should you choose to feed him is surreal in the least. The ending is surreal in the extreme. And throughout we’re left wondering just who is Edward. Given that the protagonist’s name is also Ed, possibly they’re one and the same.
Jamie Hawkins’ Muse by Vanessa Gebbie is one of the shorter tales but also one of the best in the book. Jamie Hawkins, one of life’s underdogs, who grew up ‘limping around his own island, analyser of little things, observer of single blades of grass…’, seeks to understand death after the demise of his mother. He finds a job in an undertaker’s shop, and dressing his first corpse – a young girl – finds wonder and poetry that one assumes only someone as simple and uncluttered as Jamie may do. ‘He knew he’d find her breath in the mists that lay flat and layered along the fields…’ A superb tale full of character and emotion. My only criticism is I’d have liked to have read more.
Freight by Joseph Love is another tale with a very colloquial feel. It’s ultimately a tale of chance friendship and trust and betrayal, but also left me scratching my head a little to truly understand the tale’s reason to be.
The Salivary Reflex by Tina Connolly is another favourite tale. ‘When Alison first had sex with Tom, she licked him carefully, covertly, as part of foreplay, as part of sex.’
It’s the word ‘covertly’ that drew me in. We learn Alison’s sense of taste is truly outstanding, and what follows is a story steeped in sensuousness so that even with the thought there are ‘Pinkies’, ‘weird, kinky aliens’, on the loose, the reader can’t fail to be drawn inside. Or maybe weird, kinky aliens do it for you?:)
‘Paul tasted like birthday cake…’, but what would weird, kinky aliens taste like (and would it be an incursion of galactic protocol to lick one?)? This is a fine story and very well written.
Nan by Scott Christian Carr, is a post apocalyptic tale, somewhat unusual in that it’s told from the point of view of a dog. It reads much more like a vignette than a developed story, interesting in its own right but leaving me wanting for a middle and an ending.
By Zombies: Eaten, by Christopher William Buecheler, is a rather grim story of folk caught up in a plague of Zombies. A battle-worn law man takes on a newly orphaned girl, and despite the near hopelessness of the situation Buecheler still manages to end on a positive note. Such stories have been done to death, I think, yet this one’s redeeming feature is it spends much more time upon the victims and their plight than on graphic scenes of the zombies themselves. Well worth a read.
The Festival of Colour, by Paul Haines, is a modern-day retelling of the Hindu festival of Holi (link here ) in which the changing of the seasons is celebrated and good health encouraged. I quite liked the exotic feel to this story, though it does become something of a free-for-all toward the end where it seems everybody is trying to kill everybody else. It’s a fair criticism, I think, that I understood the story more once I’d done my wikipedia research. Possibly the tale could have benefited from a little more careful explanation of the Hindu legend itself. But, an interesting read all the same.
In closer in my heart to thee, by Jeffrey Somers, Helen is dying of The Sweat, a viral plague that’s contagious and always deadly. Bobby and Helen have made a pact, that if one of them contracts the virus the other will lock them away, ignore their cries and attempt to live. This scenario has lots of promise in terms of being a poignant, emotive tale, but throughout I didn’t really feel either characters’ pain or torment. That, and with a somewhat predictable ending, the story probably doesn’t deliver. Which is a shame, because were it longer and allowed to delve a little more into the main characters’ thoughts and feelings, it could be something special.
The poetry had me the most flummoxed in GUD. I confess to not understanding poetry in general, so at least some of my lack of comprehension of GUD’s poetical offerings is likely down to my ignorance. Philistine, that’s what I am. That said, GUD’s poetry department can’t be filled with well people:). There are numerous poems and prose poems that would seem amongst the most experimental writing in the magazine, and truly I’m not worthy to try and interpret them with any degree of sense. Maybe no one is, and that’s the point. Make your own judgements on that.
Overall, a very enjoyable read. GUD is one to watch out for. In a world where small press offering are dropping like flies (alas Whispers included), long may GUD continue.
GUD Magazine #2. 5×8, 190pp, US$10/print and US$3.50/PDF (see website for other subscription rates and non-US prices). Website: www.gudmagazine.com
This review was originally published on 26 May 2008, on Whispers of Wickedness. Reproduced here with permission.