The journal Fiction International provokes fantastic response in its “Real Time / Virtual” edition. On the one hand, the crime fantasy of Michael Hemmingson’s “Tranquility” evokes Kafka in an astute commentary of family law in American jurisprudence: it presents content (the nature of freedom) and framework (idea of cyber-cognitive implementation of punishment). On the other hand, Robert Hamburger’s “The Michelangelo Massacre” is too convincing to be of the fantasy genre, but it is fantastic in the second sense of the word—superlative. The journal is uniformly excellent in its focus and quality of execution and exemplifies its mission to marry formal innovation and social activism.
Tyrone Nagai’s “Apps & Tags” is the first story in the volume and represents a “treated” version of a review of telephone applications. It’s a great way to open because it captures so many of the essential elements of the journal that was, after all, founded in the 1970s to help promote social justice. The story is succinct, specific, and somehow still experimental. Nagai notes “I dedicate this to the C.E.O. with a law degree and an MBA who laid off my friends and outsourced their jobs to India, the Philippines, and China. You know who you are.” Forward on, Mr. Nagai, with copies to the press.
J.S. Kierland’s “ROBOTS” is a systematic approach to a similar problem—the powerlessness of a soldier (or in Nagai’s case, a corporate soldier) against authority. But what’s brilliant about Kierland’s piece is how the protagonist tries to sever levels of authority to achieve redemption. The Major answers to God and Country and is an essentially moral man. And yet, as such, he remains a nation divided. The moral crux is clear, the military description and reality expertly captured, and the Catholic winter that comes from knowing the Gospel and having to subvert it is portrayed precisely. Kierland demonstrates a mastery of the experience of the military aviator but takes reality further—it is so exceptionally real that one wonders if Kierland is merely acknowledging a reality already in place. (Per an ASME SmartBrief dated 1/7/2013, the Pentagon predicts a “largely robotic military future.”)
Ryan Francis Kelly’s short story “face time” is easier to follow in condensed minimalism (and is more interesting) than reading the love story as it happens in a live story. He uses a framework that is similar to following a social media thread, which achieves two aims: 1) preserves a crucial new medium, and 2) documents a less traveled road in a suitable format.
The stories that are highly experimental in a manner of textual organization are balanced with the more conventionally organized narratives that tend to experiment in the tradition of 1960s science fiction and the fabulists. If fiction is to evolve, it must mutate like any other bio-organism. Compare Paul Forristal’s “What Happens” with John Edward Lawson’s “Playing the Long Game,” for example. Lawson’s story is framed as an interrogation of a former president, but functions as a political commentary in a surreal format where a machine approximates God in omniscience, omnipotence, and essential judgment. Conversely, Forristal’s story employs graphics, fonts, and pacing in close simulation of an interface and riffs off of a variety of forms and structures to spell out his narrative. Both create a feeling of experiencing the future and transform time and the experience of reading. And while one might seek out the more traditional forms, the experiments in this journal are not too far from the canon.
The most challenging story in this magazine, for me, was Michael Filas’s “The Lyrica Cantos XI-XIII.” We experience Ezra Pound and the advertisements of Pfizer in a merging of genres and outlooks and annotated sources. It is efficient and at times beautiful and sardonic simultaneously. It is a strong forerunner to the essay between Harold Jaffe and Gary Lain titled “Real Time/Virtual: A Dialogue.”
In the dialogue, Jaffe and Lain deconstruct “degradation of the actual (or, for our purposes, the degradation of real time) in the service of the virtual.” The dialogue is pitch-perfect—references to “social conditioning and control, ‘Twitter revolutions’ to the contrary” are examined in depth, and the portrait of the most significant external impact on my generation is carefully dissected. It is not a knell to anything, but rather a very important discussion for those of us who signal our futures with our fortunes. As Jaffe concludes with immeasurable elegance: “The paradox is that the debauched culture is a fertile feeding ground for resourceful writers and artists. But then who will read our books? Who will view our visuals?” That is your invitation, reader, and mine.