Magazine Monday: Riding the Electric Velocipede

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fantasy and science fiction book reviewsElectric Velocipede has intrigued me ever since I heard its name. I had to look up velocipede – it means any human-powered vehicle with one or more wheels, so usually it’s a bicycle. But an electric human-powered vehicle? How do those go together? Does that mean it’s a bicycle ridden by a robot? At any rate, what “Electric Velocipede” means for our purposes is “a quirky print magazine publishing science fiction and fantasy stories and poetry that won the 2009 Hugo for Best Fanzine.” It will go to an entirely electronic format in 2012.

Issue 20 (Winter 2010) of Electric Velocipede is the most recent edition available in print format. It contains a couple of genuinely stunning stories. “Daughters of Fortune” by Cyril Simsa, is such a beautifully written story about falling in love and living happily ever after that it will convert any cynic, and just in time for Valentine’s Day. Set in the 1920s and 1930s in Paris and Prague, “Daughters of Fortune” is about Zora Dienstbier, a poet and model – a sort of “It Girl” among expatriates in Paris who gets fed up with Hemingway and Joyce and Shakespeare & Co. She moves to Prague looking for something else, where she meets Frida Hroznysova, a folklorist, at a showing of Max Schreck’s movie “Nosferatu.” Their acquaintance moves into the realm of the odd quite soon, particularly through the realm of art. The warmth and richness of Simsa’s prose is apparent particularly in his description of the work of Toyen, a Czech surrealist of the period, as well as other photographs and paintings, but it also works to advantage in describing the physical act of love. Whether one of these two women is a vampire is never made explicit, which adds mystery to the lushness of this piece.

“T ME,” by A.H. Jennings, is an excellent story, the theme of which is “What comes after science?” Joan Ellen’s ten-year-old son Patrick is assigned to write an essay on this subject, which is so astonishing in its insight that his teacher wants to immediately put him in an accelerated learning program. But Patrick, it appears, has been learning way too fast ever since he was in the womb and his mother had played him a CD produced by Edutainment Unlimited for their Prenatal Head Start Kit. It sounded like white noise punctuated by bizarre clicks and squeaks to Joan Ellen, but it meant a lot more to Patrick. The precocious child develops strange and frightening abilities at an incredible pace. Where does it all lead? That’s what Patrick wants to know, and he’s going to make sure he finds out.

“Liminal” by Sean Melican is a fine hard science fiction story about an “avant” confronting “throwbacks” who do the dirty work of mining on a planet that is plainly not Earth. On its face, it is about using what one knows of science to survive extremity, but at its heart, it is a story about how humans act under that same extremity. It is also a story about how humans behave toward one another; and as is so often the case, that is not a happy story, especially when sex and violence intermix.

Lyn Battersby’s “The Mikarr Way” is a sad story of an interspecies family. How can two species who react so differently to their children, and approach childrearing so differently, possibly be happy together? What happens to a human father who finds his daughter fully grown only a year after birth? What is the proper way to raise her, with human love or as the Mikarr love their children? What a quandary! The story is a bit too short and even abrupt to fully explore its themes, but it is built on a challenging idea.

“Mile Zero” by Daniel Braum is another story that fails to fulfill the promise of its basic idea, but which nonetheless is intriguing. Set in an America at war with itself, one that seems to have lost its own notions of freedom, it is about a mother-to-be who is determined that her baby be born free.

Ian Shoebridge’s “The Lost Continent” is an odd fantasy involving UFOs, a home built of ice, a troll frolicking in the sunlight, and a dragon who loves the Fibonacci sequenced. It contains enough ideas to power a couple of novels, and reads in the same disjointed way one dreams. I wish there were more to it, that Shoebridge had played out some of his themes and explored some of his ideas in greater detail. It’s promising, and makes me want to read more of his work, but it isn’t an entirely successful story as it stands.

“And to My Wife…” is a short short story by Shira Lipkin that will make you smile. “Sampling the Aspic” is a story with recipes by Penelope O’Shea; I especially want to make the green chicken enchiladas.

Electric Velocipede also contains a fair bit of poetry. This issue contains four poems by Amy Mackiewicz, all about girls or women unable to act upon their environments. The powerlessness at work in these poems is irritating at best and depressing at worst. While Mackiewicz uses some good imagery, her poems ultimately don’t seem to add up to much besides women acted upon rather than acting.

I enjoyed Shira Lipkin’s poem, “Nine Things About Oracles,” much more. Dragging an oracle from the realm of myth and placing her in the modern age, translating her life from the ancient one of hanging around a cave to haunting darkened clubs, the poem is a wonderful story in nine stanzas that ends with the intriguing words, “Let me tell you a story.”

The issue is rounded out by a good interview with Paolo Bacigalupi; and “Blindfold Taste Test,” a sort of short form interview centered on food, with Laura Anne Gilman.

Electric Velocipede strikes me as a great market for new short story writers, a place for those who want to build a career in the science fiction and fantasy field to get their feet wet. The stories are a trifle amateurish, but that isn’t synonymous with “bad”; one can see potential in most of the stories, and the Simsa and Jennings stories would have been equally at home in more mainstream periodicals. Electric Velocipede is therefore a magazine to watch in order to catch emerging talents early on in their careers.


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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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2 comments

  1. Terry, “Daughters of Fortune” sounds like an intriguing tale! And I, too, love the image of an old-fashioned bicycle with the huge wheel in front, and a tiny battery pack. This sounds like a promising zine.

  2. I love the name “Electric Velocipede.” Sounds like something out of a Jack Vance story.

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