Friday, April 29, 2011


The electronic edition of the new issue will be released to subscribers tonight. Others are invited to support future issues by buying for $2.00 a PDF copy of this great new issue using the Pay Pal button below. Within a day, you'll receive by email a link to download your copy. Such contributions make it possible to continue offering this zine each month. Further below, I will post my entire editor's notes from the new issue, introducing each of the authors and their stories. Annual subscriptions to electronic edition may be purchased at the M-Brane Press page. The contents of issue #27, along with those of issues #25 and #26, will be featured in print book, along with some bonus material, called M-Brane SF Quarterly #3 in June.

April has been a month of readjustment both in the M-Brane world and in my “real” life as I figure out how to organize my time and energy in the best way to get through the coming months. In my day job, as a chef with a local high-end catering and managed services company, “high season” is upon us. Our special events venues are heavily booked, and our restaurants are getting busier and busier. In the M-Brane world, it’s also been a sort of high season in that I have had to manage ongoing monthly issues of this zine, the launch of the second issue of our new sister zine Fantastique Unfettered (a gorgeous print periodical edited by Brandon Bell) and the completion and impending publication of the M-Brane SF Double. Also, we recently put out the second M-Brane SF Quarterly and have the third one coming very soon.

Every month for the last four months, I have seriously considered just deciding that the monthly zine is too much work and either putting it on hiatus, restructuring it, or bagging it altogether. Just a week before the time of this writing I nearly decided that there would be no April issue. But what made me get a grip and change my mind was the fact that I had some terrific stories sitting here that needed me to publish them. The selection of each issue’s content is by far the hardest part of this job. As much as fun as it can be, it can be also be very complicated and stressful. The actual work of compiling and formatting and publishing of the issue is nothing by comparison. After twenty-seven months of it, I can do that in my sleep. But after I finally knew what the stories would be this month, I fell back in love with the whole thing again and decided it was decided it was dumb to have ever considered not doing it. I went through that hate-love process last month, too, and may again next month. But there is now, and will be then, a new issue.

I have a simple system for story selection that works decently well, but where it gets stressful is when—as was the case this month—there are a huge number of stories that make it into the MAYBE folder. This usually just means that I was too easy-going during the initial cull and that I will quickly weed out a bunch more NOs in a few minutes. Stories usually make the MAYBE cut simply by displaying both good writing and some kind of hook that appeals to me on the first page or two, but a lot of them end up sent over to the NO folder later for various reasons when I read deeper into them. (If you have submitted a story to M-Brane SF and have waited much more than two weeks for a reply, it’s probably because your item is sitting in that MAYBE folder.) But there were just so many good ones to consider this time, enough to make the whole project rather discouraging. But, eventually, I sorted out the ones that were good but still weren’t quite M-Brane stories, and I ended up with six, these:

Joyce Chng’s “The Bones Shine Through With Light” mesmerizes with its language and imagery. A mysterious story of someone grappling with a legend of a “tiger demoness” and arriving at a life-changing revelation, it is probably not even science fiction in the way we usually define it, but it is nonetheless the correct keynote for this new issue. Chng appeared here last year, and I have been a fan since.

The most classic and expected element of military science fiction—the training and deployment of some kind of space-going infantry or marine force—was probably done best in the classics Starship Troopers (Heinlein) and The Forever War (Haldeman), and it has been re-done again and again, sometimes well and sometimes not. I like this subgenre in theory, but I see a lot of stories like that submitted here that do not work at all. But I like it enough that I have been puttering around off and on for about three years with a novel focused on a military unit in the future. The new military sf stories that I want to see (I have said to myself in despair), are either not being written at all or I just never see them. Ross Gresham delivered an antidote to this problem with his “Spending the Government’s 28.” I still don’t know exactly why this story scratches the itch so well, but it does, and I like it a lot. The writing itself and the voice that comes through it is perfect, and it’s also quite funny—something of an oddity around here in itself, a comical story.

The idea of “the city” as a sort of character in itself, an unconscious entity holding sway over human characters and their story has often, for some reason, appealed to me a lot. I always think of the puzzle of blighted Bellona, the city of Delany’s Dhalgren, that is almost as alive in its way as its human inhabitants. I’ve published a few stories over the run of M-Brane with city-as-enigma at their hearts, and I’ve noticed the development in my own recent work of an imaginary city that stands a bit outside even the stories’ own internal reality. Why I am talking about this will be clearer after reading Kaolin Fire’s strange, thoughtful story “Travelers Through Eternity.”

Court Merrigan’s offering, “The Patch,” is rather funny but also a little bit puzzling. What exactly is it about? Are we to take in stride, at face value, the rather preposterous circumstances depicted here, or is there an obvious layer of allegory and deliberate commentary that we are expected to contemplate? I am not going to offer any commentary of my own other than to say that it's an odd entry even in the long catalog of oddness that M-Brane has been. Also, I was mildly surprised to learn that this came from an American author, because it struck me as having some of the same sensibility as a lot of the quirky British stuff that I have published over the last couple of years (longtime readers may know that I have an affinity for such).

I thought I recognized the name David Alexander Mulis when I saw it as the byline on “Standard Deviation.” I thought I might have published him before, but I haven’t. I checked old mail, and then remembered. He showed me two years ago a story that I didn’t feel was really science fictional enough, though I did think the quality of the writing was quite good. So I was glad to see another one from him and to be able to publish it this time. Readers may wonder well into his new story if this one is indeed a science fiction story. It is, I promise. I suspect that some readers might find the subject matter of this one to be uncomfortable. Its point-of-view character is a porn video director and he does not come off as the most sympathetic person, but it is not M-Brane’s mission to make things easy.

And, with that in mind, we end with “Silverfish.” Hobie Anthony has created a very damaged protagonist and placed him in a horrific world, under the control of one of the most heinous villains I have ever seen in an M-Brane story. Like the story preceding it, readers may wonder for a few pages if they are reading a science fiction story or an out-and-out horror story. It does have a science fictional underpinning that becomes apparent deeper into the narrative, but by the time it does, it almost seems beside the point because the point-of-view character cannot understand it anyway and it is very unclear whether anything can ever change for him.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Announcing M-BRANE #27 authors and stories

A touch late again, but if it comes out at least by the end of the month, I consider that good enough anymore. Busy around here! The new April issue will release by the 30th now that I have finally finished the painstaking task of selecting its contents. This was a tough one. I had a lot of compelling submissions to sort through. Stories moved back and forth from "maybe" to "yes" and back. Too many good ones didn't quite make it.

If you're looking for uplift and good cheer, April might not be your month on the Brane. But for some fine, perceptive writing, then this is just the right time. Here's the line-up:

Joyce Chng: "The Bones Shine Through With Light"
Ross Gresham: "Spending the Government's 28"
Kaolin Fire: "Travelers Through Eternity"
Court Merrigan: "The Patch"
David Alexander Mulis: "Standard Deviation"
Hobie Anthony: "Silverfish"

Joyce Chng has appeared once before in M-Brane, and is so very welcome back with this strange, lovely offering that I knew needed to lead the new issue as soon as I read it. It's a bit too brief, but absolutely delicious, a fine starter course to what follows. Ross Gresham gave me that rare piece of military sf that I've been looking for. I say all the time that I like the military subgenre, yet I seldom actually find that to be true when I read submissions that deal in it. But this one is nearly perfect. Kaolin Fire (of the great Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) Magazine) returns to our pages with a very evocative, mysterious and lovely item that I shan't say much about so as not to spoil it. He tends to produce stories a bit shorter than I usually want, but they are always thought-provoking and finely told. Court Merrigan's story is just plain weird, but also quite funny and quite pointed. I think people will find it offers a couple different layers of enjoyment. The last two items of this issue may have spent the longest time in the "maybe" box because I vacillated a lot about how dark I wanted to let April get. But the quality of their prose and their directness in dealing with their subject matter left no doubt that they are M-Brane stories even though their sf-nal elements are almost incidental, almost beside the point. David Alexander Mulis visits the dark thoughts of a jaded and tired pornographer during what's probably an important moment of realization and transition in his career, while Hobie Anthony takes us into the nearly unbearable world of a very special and profoundly damaged character under the thrall of a villain running a violent and bizarre conspiracy.

The new issue will be out in just a few days. News of such will post right here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New novel from M-Brane alum S.C. Hayden

Writer S.C. Hayden, whose fascinating short story "End Day" was a highlight of M-Brane SF #3 two years ago, has had a string of publications since, and his new novel, American Idol, is just out from Black Bed Sheet Books. Hayden describes it as a dark social satire that takes some swipes at religion, consumerism, and politics.  

In a twisted yet somehow familiar version of America where militias, doomsday cults and self proclaimed Prophets are as commonplace as gas stations and fast food restaurants, The American Idol Company is born. Their goal: resurrect Idolatry as a prominent religion and get rich manufacturing and selling Idols. They publicly promote their fledgling company as if it were a legitimate religion and they themselves Prophets. The company becomes quickly and wildly successful but outrages millions across the country and around the world. Operating under the belief that scandal and controversy will increase sales, Augustus and Desmond manage to insult everyone from the Pope to the Ayatollah, and come dangerously close to starting World War 3. Meanwhile, a shadowy group of religious fundamentalists manipulate a naive young man named Robert General. Robert, a repressed homosexual and member of the Sweethaven Chapter of the Righteous American Nazis, is used as a pawn in a plot to  destroy The American Idol Company. The looming threat of disaster comes to fruition in the city of Galapagos, Texas, when Rob General, confused and drug-addled, flies a small ,explosive laden airplane into The American Idol Company headquarters.

I have only read the first four chapters of this book, and so I cannot provide an actual review of it. But Hayden is a good writer with an engaging style. Very often, satirical speculative fiction that trades heavily in contemporary situations does not appeal to me because it is often too contemporaneous, too self-consciously about current affairs and often quite blunt in an inartful way. But I am not finding this to be the case at all with Hayden's book a few chapters in. Readers who are into this kind of story ought to check it out. It's also available at Amazon.

By the way, I like to offer plugs for M-Brane writers when they have a new book out, but I have probably missed a lot of such opportunities. So if you are a writer whom I've published in M-Brane SF or in one of our anthologies, and would like a shout-out for your current work, do let me know at mbranesf at gmail dot com. I cannot promise reviews because reading time is so precious nowadays but I'll do my best to help get the word out.


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