Following on my reposting of my review of Aldebo 1 Issue 39, here is the first of my two reviews of issues of Greatest Uncommon Denominator magazine. The early paragraphs include my rather ponderous thoughts on genre. It is fashionable to decry genre boundaries as a form of snobbery – indeed, it is almost obligatory now. Yet I suspect that genre boundaries also reflect meaningful differences.
I am also interested to know what Paul Hogan, author of The Pearl Diver With The Gold Chain, in 2009 an 83 year old former playground designer and World War II merchant marineman, is up to now.
Greatest Uncommon Denominator is a substantial magazine, weighing in at a page count about the same as a medium length novel. Its cover features a striking image by the digital artists MichaelO of a lissom young lady in a white dress peering into the pupil of an enormous human (or humanoid) eye.
Greatest Uncommon Denominator #5 is a mix of prose, poetry, fiction, fact, art, comics and even drama. The good folks at GUD proclaim on their site to be unconstrained by genre or form — bringing the world sci-fi for the literary crowd and literary stuff for the sci-fi crowd. The dichotomy between sci-fi and “literature” is of course a false one, but it does reflect perhaps a divergence of interests among groups of readers who ultimately value originality and literary quality. One could crudely put it that some readers value originality of ideas and settings over literary craft per se, while others prefer originality and quality of literary expression. Curating an anthology that goes even some way to satisfying these different preferences is quite a task.
I enjoyed the very first piece, Rose Lemberg’s “Imperfect Verse,” with its evocation of Norse myth combined with an earthiness and forward momentum. For me, it possessed a winning blend of high-register epic discourse and fleshy concerns. Other stories that were particular highlights for me were Paul Hogan’s casually fantastic “The Pearl Diver With The Gold Chain” and Isabel Cooper Kunkle’s “Aftermath.” Hogan, whose bio informs us is 82 years old, spent time in the Merchant Marine in WWII and the Eleventh Airborne Division during the Korean War, and has designed and built over four hundred playgrounds, contributes a particularly engaging tale of a happily rootless wanderer who discovers an odd power in a mundane place.
On the comics front, we have Sydney Padua’s witty take on Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in “Ada Lovelace: The Origin!,”” and Joseph Calabrese and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj’s “Gunga Din,” a rendering of the Kipling ballad that firmly nails it as a sweaty, bloody, thirsty war story. “Gunga Din” is a short-spinoff of Calabrese and Chattoraj’s longer comic Her Majesty’s Bulldog Brigade, which I will be keeping an eye out for. We also have a funny Shakespearean parody from Tristan D’Agosta, “Sweet Melodrama,” which I would love to see actually performed. Non-fiction wise, we have Paul Spinrad’s “Prophet of Menlo Park,” about the personal computing pioneer Paul Engelbart.
An anthology such as this will have something for everyone, and also inevitably not everything will meet with everyone’s approval. Some of the stories were a little too much post-apocalyptic cliché for my liking. Most of the poetry left me largely cold both intellectually and emotionally, and left no lasting impression. However my favourite piece of any kind in Greatest Uncommon Denominator #5 is Zac Carter’s poem “desideratum” — a warm, poignant account of a session playing Risk that evokes much more.
Overall, Greatest Uncommon Denominator lives up to its promise as a high-quality forum for new voices