Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #50


I have just received this bumper issue of TQF, celebrating their 50th issue and publishing since 2004.

Edited by Stephen Theaker and John Greenwood

Reviews and articles, plus stories by Rafe McGregor, David Tallerman, Howard Watts (who created most if not all of the marvellous TQF front covers and whose new novel I am about to start reviewing here), Michael Wyndham Thomas (whose diptych of a TQF novel I reviewed here), Douglas J. Ogurek, Mitchell Edgeworth, Matthew Amundsen, John Greenwood, Walt Brunston, Howard Phillips, Antonella Coriander.

All my previous reviews of TQF are linked from HERE.

**I intend to review all the fiction in the comment stream below as and when I read it.***

17 thoughts on “Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #50

  1. tqf50b…but before reading the fiction I have already skimmed through some of the other material in TQF#50 (324 pages in total of fiction, reviews and articles).
    As an elephant in the room or the spider past which one cannot see, I like to consider I have been at least a small part of the history of TQF, reading it from TQF #37 onward, which issue was also significant for other reasons (at least from my point of view and still is). I reviewed in detail the fiction published in eleven of these issues as well as TQF’s major publication of Michael Wyndham Thomas’s diptych novel. On one page in #50, TQF states they have had no regular readers, so they can’t tell whether reading TQF is good for a long life. I suppose at my age and current health, my example would only provide rogue data, anyway! Nor do TQF think they have any famous readers! Well, that bit’s probably true.
    I also noticed that Antonella Coriander is now publicly stated as another pseudonym of TQF’s eponymous editor. I suppose I should not be surprised by this revelation but I am.
    Later below I shall review the fiction…

  2. The Wrong Doctor by Rafe McGregor
    “He glanced at the copy of ‘The Hound’, which I had placed on a footstool.”
    I haven’t read ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ for many years, as opposed to ‘The Hound’ by HP Lovecraft that I read almost annually. So, I am not the best person to judge this cleverly witty and engagingly atmospheric sequel, featuring Dr Watson and a new solution to the mystery. All I know is that it seems a brilliant ‘coup de whodunnit-really’. If it is as good as it seems, this story should be read by all fans of Sherlock Holmes fiction. This is where such fiction uncannily assumes an entertaining feel of non-fiction, which, after all, is what the Sherlock Holmes world is all about.
    Serendipitously, the other Hound, the one by HPL, is also a ‘whodunnit-really’, according to this essay here.

  3. The House That Cordone Built by David Tallerman
    “Cordone was certainly iconoclastic and probably insane, but in the past there had always been a baffling pragmatism to his eccentricities.”
    Personally, I feel like Cordone being chased, by those aggrieved with him, into the labyrinth of my own Dreamcatchers. This is a hilarious tale of two clumsy agents chasing a universal anarchist called Cordone to another Earthen clone planet (no. 199) where he assists a Matter-Maker to make the most conceivably inconceivable Escher-like house, a masterstroke of crazy angles with ups that are downs and vice versa. But despite this, while the agents lose cerebral puff in chasing Cordone, even the Earth pioneers’ children adapt to the new house with their ball games. “…developed new and convoluted rules to accommodate their new surroundings.” It’s almost like turning a famous Sherlock Holmes novella into new angles of meaning, as the first story did. Child’s play, dear Watson.

  4. Dodge Sidestep’s Second Dastardly Plan by Howard Watts
    “Share buttons festoon everything. Even my coffee cup has one, so if I press it, my coffee cup’s contents are immediately analysed and shared with my friends…”
    I was looking forward to this one as a sequel to the previous Watts story that I reviewed here. And I am not disappointed. Ranging from Judas Priest type secret codes in songs to my view of the preterite of the preinternet brain having become a present tense of walking Facebooks like Charlie Brooker’s blocked people in so-called real-life, those prodding strollpersons. Or, to my mind, with real books slowly morphing into ebooks or masters of clouds. This is also a mind-stunning tale of deadly rivalry and revenge in the mix of real-life and internet posing, the state of being hounded by Dodge Sidestep or others like him and the outcome here is via an exponential music Ex-Con Factor: hilarious and highly provocative, all crazily-smooth as a Dr Wattson prose jamming with a feminised Warden. This line of thought reminds me of my recent Road to Damascus when reading Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Insanity of Jones’, as shown in my review of it here. There is much else in the Watts story to tickle the keys in the brain. A torus of madness. But remember, Dodge, there’s a rather lovely pier down in Clacton…

  5. One Is One by Michael Wyndham Thomas
    “It happens: you think you see what you want to see.”
    Thoughtful soliloquy on reverse-rapture of dystopia overdose. And cars auditioning, I guess, for Godard’s Weekend? This is what happens after the above world finally implodes and becomes preteritely preinternet again: survivalism, seeing what you want to see, the odd bird that can still fly, and the odd thought predictive of a Lawrencian world without people. Engaging zoo without people. It needs only one-is-one human survivor, however, for that survivor’s memories to become retrocausally physical again…? And that maybe is the Wattsonian trophy or torus of post-internet madness after all? Or Cordone’s House?

  6. Save the Dog by Douglas J. Ogurek
    “This pivorting is an intriguing concept. It seems to be a kind of 22nd century version of Twitter that replaces vocal conversation and enables instant absorption…”
    That seems to meld with the foregoing stories. You know, I like this one, like I somehow seem to like the manic obnoxious Perez on the current Celebrity Big Brother. A love hate relationship. You can do that with fiction and reality, as long as the reality is a reality show. Since I started reading TQF fiction, I have admired their experimental approach, with the stories radically different from each other but linking up in some preternatural or oulipo way. Some more traditional than others. This self-referential cruelty-fest in Save the Dog is like Finnegans Wake, with real words inserted here and there to help. My recent review of Finnegans Wake is shown here as further compost. Save the Dog is also an ogurekky satire on writing for magazines (like this one) interspersed with that Charlie Brooker blocking and muting and damaging from electronica to flesh, each word a bodily disfigurement. What’s a cinnamon for Ilovedit? One day when we see the words Save the Dog we will think of the experience we once had with this story. STD like HCE for Here Comes Everyone, which was Joyce’s prediction in FW for the Internet.

  7. HERITAGE – Black Swan #6 by Mitchell Edgeworth
    “The truth of a myth lies not in what we believe, but what we want to believe.”
    …which make an interesting bracket with the quote I chose from ‘One is One’, as that story title is wonderfully relevant to the Heritage here of Art as History, a transcendence of the physical, that One is always One, even in its (re)fabrication or reincarnation (cf ‘The Insanity of Jones’). Meanwhile, this Edgeworth story in itself is a welcome return for the Black Swan crew of semi-official salvage-converters from the far future, captained by a moral inconsistency that latches into that very heritage theme I just adumbrated. This work, based on my memory, is the best Black Swan story yet, and THAT is saying a helluva lot. It is a smoothly, page-turning narrative, steeped in provocative ideas, well-characterised, with commerce and sex…. It starts spectacularly with a flying space city that resonates with Cordone’s House earlier in this book-magazine, then a sort of dream archipelago scenario and ends with thoughts of a moral labyrinth that echoes those very Escherine concepts of physical construction. It even has a meaningful glimpse at humanity’s precariousness itself, later tempered by earlier ideas of the reincarnation of objects (as well as of people?) –> “Nothing between you and sudden death but the skin-hugging membrane of the second-hand spacesuit you bought on sale at an army surplus store.”

  8. A Murder in Heaven by Matthew Amundsen
    Pages 137 – 165
    “…not everyone who dies on your world remains in Bardopolis or is reincarnated. There are rare beings who join the One in transcendence.”
    In this first half of a novella, I’m not kidding, as some of the characters say, that the main protagonist (a Detective in Heaven not in Hell as the forthcoming Simon Kurt Unsworth novel has his detective, I’m told) is killed by a kid in our world, and the victim’s heaven turns out to be a recognisable, slightly off-kilter, familiarly populated, dream-like, purgatory-like Bardopolis, which is so couched by the text it actually impels a definite belief that such a place exists, diminishing a fear of death by means of some One-is-One reincarnative transport even while one’s body remains, say, in a deadly coma back where the reader lives, to which source one can return from time to time, and on one such occasion the detective protagonist’s wife is reading Sherlock Holmes fiction (!) to his comatose body. It really is convincing. And in Bardopolis he is tasked with detective work by the Enforcers who maintain the logic of the place… Already spiritually as well as humorously entrammelled by this narrative, I only broke off from it to write this and have lunch.

  9. Pages 165 – 195

    “Bishop recognised the neighbourhood when he materialised in Bardopolis this time. The heritage museum, the alcohol crisis centre, a Polish deli and even the lousy pizza joint at the end of the street…”
    In hindsight, it was highly appropriate that I split the review of this novella where I did, and reported on the first half first, before reporting on the whole. It gives a whole new experience. The hopes I had there for obviating death by this vision of a bespoke heaven based on that Jimmy Stewart ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ phenomenon. Those hopes creep into this second half, with the human heartache of the protagonist’s backstory still set on healing, but the hopes eventually become here twisted versions of themselves, with echoes of entering that physical twitterzone prefigured by the previous stories, here navigated with a true Enforcer’s badge or avatar. An experience on its own in this second half that is about monsters and nightmares, bordering on the pulpish that emerges from the heartachingly familiar as well as the modernistically alien. One single monster in fact like an ouroboros… That monster never descends into the ridiculous but, in the light of the novella’s whole gestalt, remains quite disturbing and real. No mean feat.
    “‘Which is why they say an elephant never forgets,’ said Diaz, looking over his shoulder into the backyard.”

  10. A Mare’s Nest by John Greenwood
    “In my mind, my grandfather’s unified theory was incomplete,…”
    I am actually humbled by reading this story. No irony. It is a highly honed, deeply atmospheric piece of prose, setting familial loyalties against perception of dark eccentricities within a grandfather to whom one should show such loyalty, surrounded, I sense, by Ivy Compton-Burnett type cruelties of spoken and unspoken currents between family members. It is has a meaningful sense of a logical audit trail but set against Aickmanish intangibilities of trope, like the vole-like and the preyed upon. The thought of a forbidden book is linked with the grandfather’s meticulously kept pencillings in his own notebook, and much else in a relatively short work, so much that I cannot cover it here. This story is all aftermath, yet with tantalising incompletion. This is a story that deserves a big readership. As far as I can yet see, it stands outside any possible gestalt that the fiction in this magazine-book is otherwise forming.

  11. The Morning of Seventeen Suns (The Two Husbands #1) by Walt Brunston
    “‘Buck up, soldier!’ she shouts. ‘Who knows where those bullets will land?'”
    Appropriate as well as invigorating that I woke up with the early sun this morning and immediately read this brief story. It has the flavour of the fluid trail of otherwise disconnected conceits in a Rhys Hughes flash fiction or fable, but with a different authorial edge. Putting electronic tablets away, collateral damage of misfired bullets as well as twitterzones, a Lego-built Cordone House, a temporal labyrinth, too, to match the moral one in ‘Heritage’, and craft like those in Coriander might ride, a list-to-do this morning, trivialities of pizza, and a new mythos of Two Husbands started with an oblique nod or shake of the head to political correctness. The moral: always think outside the boxes the text makes.

  12. Love at First Sight (A Dim Star Is Born, Part 1) by Howard Phillips
    “I’ve been watching you, reading your idiotically grandstanding blog posts, laughing at the witless inanity of your Facebook updates, cringing at your leaden tweets…”
    This brief monologue to the reader (if that is not a contradiction in terms) fails to be among my favourites in the Howard Phillips canon. Meanwhile, I hope I am not its only reader! It’s about a year’s reprise on the Internet, a hitman stalking or being stalked, a Todash doorway, all sown with Brunston’s electronic and real bullets (leaden tweets?) as collateral damage. A bit mystified. I don’t intend to stay and get to the bottom of it.

  13. Crystal Castle Crashers (Les aventures fantastique de Beatrice et Veronique) by Antonella Coriander
    “A topaz tongue the length of Brighton Pier.”
    I thought the first two in this series of fictions were engagingly charming and imagination-provoking, but the third one, as I said here, did not seem to work as well, and, for me, this fourth one even less well. The authorial intrusions no longer seem right, the various calls to ‘imagine’ something and the Alice-like giant breakfast bowl etc. all just seemed wildly diffuse. And the appearance of its author as ‘Antonella Brandybake Coriander’ in the action seemed to jar. I often like wildness in my fiction and the above Ogurek is a case in point. All I can say as apology to the author is “It’s me not you.”
    (Shouldn’t that be ‘fantastiques’ in the subtitle?)

    It is in the public domain that the last three stories above use pseudonymous by-lines of the eponymous editor of this magazine-book.

    From my experience of now having detailedly reviewed the fiction in twelve TQF editions, I value the unique compositionally varied gestalt of each of them as well as the gestalt of gestalts of all of them, an output that deserves a much bigger audience than what appears to be the case from its publicly stating its belief that it has ‘no regular readers’.

    Congratulations on fifty issues. Many more to come, I trust.



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