Aldebo 1 Issue 39
A review by Seamus Sweeney
Produced in the North Dublin village of Lusk, Albedo One has, for a long time, borne the speculative fiction standard in Ireland. For a country with such a strong literary tradition, speculative fiction per se does not loom large in considerations of Irish literature. Of course, some of this is the same blend of snobbery and ignorance seen elsewhere, and some of this is due to the understandable but, to my mind, rather tiresome preoccupation with exploring the same themes of “Irishness” again and again. And Ireland is the land of Lord Dunsany and Flann O’Brien, authors of the fantastic and (in very different ways) the grotesque.
Albedo One is the kind of literary magazine I like; a few carefully selected, high-quality stories. I note from perusing the Wikipedia article on Albedo One that some sniff at its production values — personally I found the design and general look and feel of the magazine pleasing and approachable.
Albedo One 39 (having a number in the title of one’s publication does lend itself to some confusion) begins with an interview with Mike Resnick. This is an entertaining exploration of his journey from churning out “adult fiction” in the 60s to holding the record for the most award-winning short stories. Resnick makes several interesting and illuminating points. There is so much flim flam and general spoofery written and talked about the impact of the internet on publishing and writing that it’s refreshing to hear from an author who is just getting on with it. And Resnick also makes a point which I believe all fiction writers, no matter what genre, would do well to keep to the forefront of their minds: stories are about creating characters and events that the reader cares about, that there is an emotional connection. If you want to make some point about international relations or about the environment or whatever, by all means do so in story form; but without some emotional connection, you may as well just write an essay or an op-ed piece.
The stories in this issue of Albedo One all involve the readers emotions. For me, Mari Saario’s “The Horse Shoe Nail” and Annete Reader’s “Frogs on my Doorstep” were the two highlights of the magazine. Both share common themes of families under stress and unusual quirks in space-time. Sarrio, winner of the 2009 Atorox Prize for the best Finnish science fiction story, contributes a particularly moving tale. It begins with a young girl in the mid-80s, taking refuge from her abusive father in her deceased grandfather’s disused forge. Which isn’t, it turns out, as disused as that, as figures from some kind of medieval fantasy world visit the forge desperate for a blacksmith’s assistance. Saario weaves this into an intergenerational tale of magic and longing, one which I found an assured, moving story.
“Frogs On My Doorstop” won the 2009 Aeon Award for short fiction, and is another well-crafted story of a family torn apart by their young daughter’s mysterious disappearance, only to be revisited by her some time afterwards in a disturbingly altered incarnation. I liked this story very much also, although I did find some of the metaphors and phrasemaking a little awkward.
There are also fine stories by Uncle River and J.L. Abbott, as well as Resnick himself (this is a reprint from Asimov’s Magazine), and a short short story — nearly flashfiction length — by Martin McGrath called “Eskragh.” This too has a mid-80s milieu, and captures in a few unforced phrases the child’s perception of life in rural Northern Ireland in that time, at once somewhat removed from the intensity of “The Troubles” but with army helicopters hovering in the horizon. The story is described as a “dark fantasy” one in the introduction to the magazine, but really it functions just as well as a brief mainstream vignette on the loss of a friend in childhood and the aftermath.