-Reviewed by Annabella Massey–
Fantastique Unfettered describes itself in its mission statement as a ‘Periodical of Liberated Literature [which exists] to provide well-written, compellingly readable, original stories of fantasist fiction to readers.’ This is a relatively new print magazine – just a year old – and ‘Ralewing’ is their landmark anniversary issue. Undeniably, the quality of the pieces in Fantastique Unfettered varies hugely, but this is often forgivable in such a young magazine, and the editors certainly seem to have the enthusiasm and commitment required to take this publication further. They already have large-scale plans drawn up for 2012: an issue titled ‘Shakespeare Unfettered’ is on the agenda, as is the launch of an Aether Age e-zine (www.aether-age.com).
The introductions inform us that death is the theme of ‘Ralewing’, although the significance of this doesn’t shine through in any distinctive way. The featured writers don’t fundamentally lack imagination, but many of the pieces would benefit from some strict rewriting. Some of the poems, in particular, feel like first drafts and they risk coming across as unnecessarily grandiose or even juvenile. For example, Dan Campbell’s ‘‘cubus’ begins in an understated enough manner (‘the eyes are all I have’), but the monologue grows more unsubtle and more unsurprising the longer the speaker waxes on:
and I will have.
they say, while I watch
them writhe, that I am tender,
that I yield when I ought
be firm, withhold
when I should pay.’
Like Campbell, many of these writers have a penchant for fairy-tale creatures, mythological beings and folklore-ish elements (see ‘Three Tales of the Devil’s Wife’ by Carmen Lau), but these figures and themes often feel underdeveloped and their implementation rather derivative. The genre hasn’t always been inverted, transcended or made new. Instead, it often seems to be a limitation in itself, and a number of these authors fall back on irregular archaisms or haphazardly inflated language: ‘“I can sell anything,” he said, the words a statement of fact, not remotely braggadocio or hubris.’ (Alma Alexander, ‘The Butterfly Collection of Miss Letitia Willoughby Forbes’). That said, the terse dystopia laid out in ‘The Bachorum Principal’ by Brenda Stokes Barron is economic and compelling:
‘Tenant #1: Numerica shall be a land of remembering and forgetting. […] I catalogue their sour kisses in my mind like our ancestors recorded dates of birth in moleskin journals and hand-me-down Bibles.’
Georgina Bruce’s short story, ‘Mr. White Umbrella’, also stands out—it’s direct, sharp and well edited, with an understated self-awareness that some of the other pieces can lack (though on a minor note, I’m not keen on the ‘Some time… One time… Another time… Lots of times…’ tags which begin each new section of the story):
‘The problem with Kiko is she thinks she’s some kind of a hero, with her big spiky black pigtails, enormous desert boots and stripey Alice tights.’
In this issue of Fantastique Unfettered, it’s the interviews and discussions that are conducted with particular flair. Alexandra Seidel speaks to three writers (Hal Duncan, Brent Weeks and Mike Allen) in depth, displaying a very real and comprehensive knowledge of their works and always asking focused and pertinent questions. The editors made an excellent decision in retaining the length of the responses instead of condensing them down into clichéd sound-bites: the authors give personable, entertaining and perceptive replies, and this section of the magazine is certainly worth a close read. Duncan’s standpoints may not be to everyone’s liking, but he is undeniably incisive and wonderfully eloquent:
‘[A] poet is anyone who writes poems, and a poem is any linguistic construct presented as a poem, exploiting potential import effects besides those covered under the rubric of semantics. That should allow for even the most experimental and conceptual approaches; and if it doesn’t I’m more than happy to broaden it.’
In Duncan’s own short story, ‘Sons of the Law’, the opening narrator pieces together a fragmented saloon tale out of scraps he finds in his grandfather’s old manuscripts and journalistic notes: ‘The Wild West was born where fact ends and fantasy begins’. Different voices then take up the telling: the showgirl, the slave, the drifter, the killer, and so on. For Duncan, ‘The Wild West is the pre-eminent mythscape of the modern era […] Every wandering gunslinger is an angel in Sodom’, and his wry treatment of the genre and the way he dissects the construction of a legend is offbeat and a lot of gritty fun.
Ultimately, Fantastique Unfettered is a friendly and encouraging platform for authors who flirt with (or fully embrace) genre writing. Some of the contributors rely much more on the conventions of these genres than others, but the magazine will hopefully develop and improve the longer it stays in production. What’s more, it’s uniquely informative: the interviews are insightful, and one could come away with an extensive reading list after flicking through this publication. William Browning Spencer, Hope Mirrlees, Thomas Ligotti, Søren Kierkegaard and G.K.Chesterton, among others, are all alluded to at various points; Fantastique Unfettered knows its audience well and tailors its recommendations accordingly. If the overall quality of the creative content were to be brought up to scratch, this publication could easily become a valuable resource for both writers and fans of the fantastical.