DISCLAIMER: Thirteen O’Clock is managed by Alan Baxter, Felicity Dowker and Andrew McKiernan as Contributing Editors. While the Contributing Editors’ roles at Thirteen O’Clock are editorial and critique, all three are primarily writers. It is inevitable that their own work will form part of the Australian and international dark fiction publications which are Thirteen O’Clock’s focus, and as such it is also inevitable that their work will be reviewed at Thirteen O’Clock (to prohibit this would not only be unfortunate for Baxter, Dowker, and McKiernan themselves, but for their hardworking editors and publishers).
Thirteen O’Clock will always have a third party contributor review the Contributing Editors’ work. Such reviews will be unedited (aside from standard corrections to typos and grammar), posted in full (be they negative or positive), and will always be accompanied by full disclosure of Baxter, Dowker, and McKiernan’s place at Thirteen O’Clock. At no point will Baxter, Dowker or McKiernan review their own work.
Review by Andrew Kliem
Like Greg Chapman before me (who recently reviewed Cemetery Dance Issue 65), I’m new to the world of literary journals. They’re just underground enough to fly under the average person’s radar. But I have recently begun delving into the back catalogues of several prominent speculative fiction magazines and I’m amazed at what I’ve found.
For this review I’ll be looking at the latest issue of Midnight Echo, which is the official magazine of the Australia Horror Writers Association. It’s a quarterly publication packed full of fantastic horror fiction, as well as a smattering of interviews and local art. If you buy the e-book version it will only set you back two dollars, which is a ridiculously good buy given the quality and quantity of its contents.
This particular issue is dedicated to fiction that marries the genres of science fiction and horror, which leads to some truly wonderful and creepy tales. I’ve always felt those two genres go hand in hand; the future often seems bleak and a lot of sci-fi tends to venture into darker territory anyway. There’s something for everyone here, from dystopian futures to hard sci-fi to Lovecraftian mythology. I’ve decided to elaborate on a couple of my favourites and then touch on the rest.
The magazine opens strongly with Earthworms by Cody Goodfellow. Set in a desolate future where the world is on the brink of collapse it tells the tale of a man who is picked up by the aliens he always believed would come, only to have a terrible truth revealed. The language is beautiful and evocative and the story simple, yet scarily plausible.
Possibly my favourite piece is Joanne Anderton’s Out Hunting for Teeth. It’s inventive yet also deeply personal. Wype is a spell cast by The Witch to scavenge scrap metal and human remains from the bowels of a derelict space craft, but one day on a routine hunt, he discovers information that could change everything. It’s a touching story, despite the subject matter. You can’t help but become attached to the cybernetic main character and the boy’s mind he carries around inside him.
One thing that became clear when reading this issue is that Midnight Echo isn’t afraid to tackle confronting material if it’s handled intelligently, and Mark Farrugia’s Seeds is a perfect example of this. It explores a dystopian world where women are no longer born and the supplies of female seeds are beginning to run dry. Many men have turned to homosexuality, but Australia has become a brutal theocracy in all but name and crossing the church is a dangerous prospect. We follow two men, Royce and Grant, who are desperately trying to scrape together enough cash to buy some seeds and start a family, but both their methods and lifestyle go against everything the church stands for. It’s a gripping story, from the arresting opening scene to the chilling climax.
The other particularly confronting piece in this issue is Stephen Dedman’s More Matter, Less Art, which casts its lens into the mind of a paedophile and the tenuous balance he’s achieved.
In Cat Sparks’ Dead Low (which was recently nominated for an Aurealis Award), Clancy and her crew are scavenging for lost treasure in the depths of space, but they find more than they bargained for and nobody’s motivations are what they seem.
Surgeon Scalpelfingers by Helen Stubbs is short but terrifying story of a genderless protagonist who wakes up in pieces on a laboratory floor, while Graveyard Orbit by Shane Jiraiya Cummings tells the tale of a space crew on the edges of the known universe who stumble upon something inexplicable.
There are also two stories from Thirteen O’Clock staff members in this issue. Trawling The Void by Alan Baxter explores the depths of space paranoia and evokes a fantastic Event Horizon vibe. Meanwhile Andrew J. McKiernan’s The Wanderer in the Darkness is an excellent piece of Lovecraftian fiction with hints of hard sci-fi.
There’s one poem in the mix, Silver-Clean by Jenny Blackford. It’s an evocative, ominous little piece, and it’s accompanied by some very creepy art.
Rounding out the fiction are the two winners from the 2011 Australian Horror Writers Association Flash and Short Story Competition. In Duncan Checks Out by Nicholas Stella, a simple checkout worker, begins to learn some troubling secrets, while Winds of Nzambi by David Conyers and David Kernot is a unique and rather dark tale of Portuguese colonisation and gods brought to life.
The magazine also has two excellent interviews. The first is with Scottish author Charles Stross, whose latest novel, Rule 34, was recently nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award. He discusses growing up under the threat of nuclear war and the way he has melded that persistent paranoia with a love of crime fiction and Lovecraftian mythology.
The second interview is with renowned Science Fiction artist Chris Moore, who has drawn covers for such classics as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and We Can Build You. Covers are an often overlooked part of publishing and it’s great to hear the process a designer goes through. It’s particularly interesting to note that Chris says he has little contact with the actual author the majority of the time.
The thing I found most disappointing about the issue was the art, but I think this may be simply due to reading it in e-book form. I found that on my screen, the majority of it came across as pixelated and lacking clarity, but perhaps the printed issue would rectify this.
Still, that is a small blemish on an otherwise amazing publication. All in all I can’t recommend this issue of Midnight Echo enough. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to spend two dollars (and even the printed version is a steal at ten dollars). I have a feeling a subscription may be finding its way onto my credit card sometime soon.
Midnight Echo magazine is available in both print and e-book editions from http://midnightechomagazine.com/
Andrew Kliem is a journalist and freelance writer with a penchant for all things dark and speculative. When he’s not trying to carve the perfect sentence, he’s playing poker and consuming more coffee than a man should. He can be found lurking at his website http://www.andy-kay.com, where he posts a variety of rambles, reviews and miscellaneous thoughts.