Review of Greatest Uncommon Denominator #6, Summer 2010, SF Site

Following reposting my review of GUD#5 here is my review of GUD#6. Following this I had interesting correspondence with Lou Antonelli and Jim Pascual Agustin

gud 6

Following my review of GUD Issue 5, it was a pleasure to receive the next volume to review. This edition of the high-quality, book-sized journal features Dave Migman’s “Flat Worm” on the cover, a darker image than MichaelO’s cover for GUD #5. “Flat Worm” shows what could best be described as a bronze skeleton of what looks like a trilobite with vertebrae (I am very very open to correction on this), on a stony background.

This cover image sets the tone for a somewhat darker collection this time. There seems to be a lot more poems (of higher quality generally, I especially liked Jim Pascual Agustin’s “Sand Clings To Me Toes, Daddy” with its capturing of one of those moments in childhood that are both magical and sad, presaging the inevitable passage of time), the stories seem to be longer, and there are none of the short comics of the previous volume. As well as being longer, I detected a darker tone to these stories.

One, Lavie Tidhar’s “The Last Butterfly,” deals with the darkest subject it is possible to tackle in fiction — the holocaust. In the last weeks of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, a young girl already forced into premature disillusionment with the world (interesting how anthologies provide counterpoints, in this case with the girl of Agustin’s poem) encounters a mysterious artist amidst the horror.

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “What Happens in Vegas” gives us a succession of points of view of a love quadrangle (of sorts) in a world in which a drug called munin, which induces a sort of Korsakoff syndrome in which memories cannot be laid down, and is used to facilitate orgies. This story is a portrait of a marriage in decline, under the stress of disease and disillusion, as well as an ironically entertaining portrait of the pursuit of controlled irresponsibility.

Lydia Ondrusek’s “Hateful” is another depiction of family life; this time a woman who dreams that those she hates will never die, while those she loves will. This is a touching vignette really of a self-sacrificing mother and her world.

The longest story here is Lou Antonelli’s “Dispatches From the Troubles,” which takes the form of a series of newspaper stories from an alternate history universe in which an American Irish Republic was established in 1850, between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River. New York born Eamon de Valera did not return to Ireland as a child but remained in America (as Edward de Valera) and became the universally beloved President of the AIR in the early to mid-twentieth century. There was no partition of Ireland into Free State and Northern Ireland in 1921, but the victorious IRA gave the Loyalist and Unionist communities in Ireland the choice of “the suitcase or the coffin,” leading to mass emigration to the AIR. The mock news stories discuss the descent of the AIR, which has a sizeable Loyalist (or “Orange”) minority, into sectarian strife that in some ways mirrors what happened in Northern Ireland from the late 60s.

It is interesting, as an Irish reader, to encounter this alternate history universe. There are lots of entertainingly tweaked versions of real life figures, from William F. Buckley (a sectarian Catholic rabble rouser here, with his loquacious use of language intact) to “John” Paisley (an Americanised Ian Paisley) and a lot of clever references to real events. I must say however that something about the whole conceit did not ring true; an odd thing to say about an alternate history, but after all one of the tests of good alt history is whether it feels like “this could have happened.” Certainly the ultimate outcome of the story (which I won’t reveal) does not reflect anything that happened in Northern Ireland. There were also some odd references to the Orange community being enthusiasts of “Irish football,” which if it is meant to be Gaelic Football seems unlikely. Perhaps it is some kind of AIR version of gridiron. Antonelli’s correspondents (who include R.W. Apple, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson) make a few solecisms with the real historical record; for instance Apple describes the Battle of the Boyne as “a famous victory over Catholic forces.” As William Of Orange’s supporters included the Pope, and you can’t get more Catholic than that, “Jacobite” would have been more accurate.

In any case, the story is diverting and, as with the previous GUD issue, this is a collection worth reading.

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