Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #55 Edited by Howard Watts. Zine review

Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #55 edited by Howard Watts (again). Published by Theaker’s Paperback Library, July 2016. £5.07 p/b, 99p Kindle

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

You can always tell when people a having fun as a type of indulgent anarchy breaks out. The title page is altered as an act of mock subversion and what are obviously in-jokes pop-up from time to time. With a publication the important thing is to do this in a way that elevates rather than undermines. Howard Watts has achieved that balance, but from time to time has managed to just avoid falling off the cliff. He openly admits to being drunk in charge of a magazine.  He qualifies for one of those congratulatory letters which carry a polite warning in the ultimate sentence. The fact is TQF #55 manages to carry off its mission in that here are a group of folks having a great time which they want the reader to share.

Published commentary on previous TQF publications goes from surreal to indescribable via absurdist. In many ways this is unfair as TQF is where the outer boundaries of imagination are being explored. To this old phenomenologist someone has to do it somewhere and at least here it is safe. No need for pepper spray, vomit gas and the B Specials. The six short fiction tales are challenging attempts to storm the reality studio.

`The Departure’ by Mark Lewis breaks the reader in gently. In order to remove an old corrupt elite from government they are encouraged to abandon the planet as it is exhausted and due to die. This is a trick by honest people to start over again without the bullying and the lies. The joke is who has the moral high ground?

`Our Sad Triangle’ by Len Saculla is about three folks terraforming Altabran Three with its two moons to make it fit for humans. They have switched to shell-forms from human cadavers to be more in accord with local conditions. What the third does not know is that he is the child of the other two. This is one of those nice tight little tales best read before switching off the light.

`The Little Shop that Stole My Heart’ by Howard Philips is a continuation of the fascination of Howard for the presumed poet Pierre Samuel where the poet has opened a little shop that sells Green Ties and Green Jam.  The shop is a success as an expression but a commercial disaster. It is also a gateway to somewhere else.

`This Alien I’ by the delightfully named Antonella Coriander allows the reader to enter the mind of an alien who has spent six weeks within a human consciousness, supposedly gathering information about a presumed attack by humans on its home planet which is governed by the Great Egg. The home world is a nice warm, wet, muddy home much loved by the scaly creatures that live there. The alien is aware it suffers disorientation as a consequence of its mission. It realises that the Great Egg requires it in order for the Egg to understand the human thought process.

`The Stone Gods of Superspace’ by Howard Philips is a mash-up that starts in the little shop that sells Green Ties and Green Jam and links with minds from `This Alien I’. I have often remarked that mash-ups are risky things to try as disaster can easily strike. This is where Howard nearly loses his footing. At one point he just about avoids becoming tedious. Superspace is described as the travelling dimension. The Stone Gods are from a jam label and suck humans onto the planet Omnobisia where they come into a conflict of belief with the natives. The Gods tramp their way across the planet leaving huge footprints and burning people up with their blazing gaze. Our heroes end up at the Space University Trent which has foolishly followed the interests of the Archaeology Department which is searching for an elder civilisation that was destroyed by a cataclysm. There is always an elder civilisation that was destroyed by a cataclysm as this is what they do! The reappearance of Professor Challenger may or may not have something to do with the latter’s role as Conan Doyle’s fictional spokesman for spiritualism post-Great War.

`My Place’ by Anthony Thompson is a bit like reading my own nightmare. Many years ago I was in a seaside town surrounded by visitors, as they were known to the natives, and I had a bizarre vision that none of these visitors were real. Obviously I am not alone in this. The tale is about an artist who realises that a popular seaside town does not actually exist. It is an abomination with no reality except in the minds of the visitors who may or may not actually be what they appear to be. The post cards are endless and the teashops forever. Our artist tries to comprehend it but goes mad. This is an interesting exercise in objective and subjective realities. A very disturbing story that draws you in to a place where insanity is the mundane norm.

The audio review by Jacob Edwards of Douglas Adam’s `Life, the Universe and Everything’ read by Martin Freeman is a gentle description and expression of Adam’s sadly short oeuvre which I first heard on the wireless more years ago than I now wish to recall.

The several book reviews are of works I would not usually associate myself with today. Perhaps they are too mainstream for my quirky taste which sucked the life-blood from the Seventies and earlier mainstream. The human individual evolves differently from the tribe and the species. It is good that there are those who can look beyond their immediate taste.

The comic reviews reminded me that when I was very young I adored comics. Then not so much later I enjoyed the format as a means of communication of which I could never get into being part. I should have done well but I couldn’t. The genre did not work for me then and still doesn’t.

The film reviews largely written by Douglas J Ogurek are frank and incontestably valid. Film and acting are preferences my good lady enjoys. She tells me I expect too much from a film. It is entertainment she says. The same welcome wisdom applies here.

I know nothing about games so I cannot comment.

The television reviews partly written by Stephen Theaker and Rafe Mcgregor possess the same solid validity as the film reviews.

It must be hard work constantly maintaining the standard of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction and it is only proper for the rest of us to stand back in some admiration at its consistency and sense of humour. We can be reasonably confident that the quality won’t decline as the first to notice it will be the team who produce it.