Monday, March 22, 2010

Reivew: Chizine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words.

Winner of a 2000 Bram Stoker award for editing ChiZine is an original, no frills quarterly webzine dedicated to unearthing stories and poetry that are left of the centre with a variety of subject matter. The stories featured in this selection were the winners of the contest The 11th CHIAROSCURO short story contest.

Author Cat Rambo gives credence to her name with a tale (involving a cat), entitled Grandmother's Road Trip. The predominant theme here is one of metaphor: A family of mother, daughter and grandmother are on an escort mission cross-country which will eventually see Grandma placed in a nursing home against her will. The road is long, and mirrors life's journey to reach old age. What works well here is not so much the supernatural undertones as sharing space with three generations of women and how they interact with each other. The prose is literate and at times funny , Grandmother's Road Trip is certainly one of the stand out's.

Sins of the Father by S.E Ward was the winner in the competition which saw 241 entries; this story left me with not only a looming question mark but also a furrowed brow. Delving into the often ambiguous lives of a small village of Muslims and Jews in France, Sins of the Father is a confusing mix; try as I might, I just couldn't get into it. Some would probably argue that it's intelligent and somehow thought provoking to mirror the world's current climate - but, in all truth, a short fiction piece hasn't bored me this much in a long time. The protagonist, Rashid, goes through a humbling metamorphosis (that of a vampire Ghulin), in which we see him rotting away , although this part has merit the rest of the story is unmitigated tripe.

Lastly, there's a highly unique story by Stephen M Wilson entitled Dream Caused By the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate. This one grows on you the more you read , a flight of fantasy that is at once entertaining and strangely educational. It's hard to coherently describe this story without giving certain elements away: suffice it to say bees are a big component and the prose is unlike anything you'll have come across before.

After going back into the vault and reading some of the earlier issues, my initial assumption that ChiZine sought out quirky, idiosyncratic tales and poetry was warranted. All issues contain a small amount of dark poetry as well as fiction , with book and film reviews thrown into the mix as well. Although this issue felt awkward and slow, Chizine is still a viable force in the dark fiction community.

For those interested in how such a webzine evolves into a powerhouse performer on the world stage, here is a short stanza from managing editor Brett Savory:

A fella named Vanace Fiddler and I had an online conversation about the dearth of dark fiction 'zines online back in mid-'97, and decided we'd start our own. Since I was the only one who knew HTML, I did the coding, and we hashed out the vague direction of the content together. Vanace and I kept in touch about it for the first couple of years, but then we lost touch and, since I was doing all the actual work of coding, etc., I just carried on without him. I started paying 1 cent for fiction around mid-'99, based on banner ads I created for small presses and various authors. Then I landed sponsorship from Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing) in 2001 in exchange for exclusive banner ads, enabling me to pay 3 cents per word for fiction and $5 per poem. It was around the same time that ChiZine received the Bram Stoker Award for editing from the Horror Writers Association. A couple of years later, I presented Leisure with our increased traffic status, and requested an increase in word rates; they obliged, and I was paying 5 cents per word for fiction and $7 per poem. A couple of years on and I was presented them with more increased traffic stats and asked for cents per word and $8 per poem. Again, they obliged. It's been a great partnership, and ChiZine would have folded ages ago if they hadn't stepped in to sponsor us, because I hated the hand-to-mouth status of trying to scrape by with whatever I could get from skint small presses and similarly broke authors.

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