Litro #130: Dystopia – Letter From The Editor

litro130_dystopia_singleDear Reader,

It’s been a fairly grim month of reading here in Litro’s Ivory Towers. But in a good way! We’ve toured cash-strapped theocracies and corporate caliphates, corrupt monarchies and primitive anarchies—and a galaxy of other dark worlds besides. But all have one thing in common—they’re not futures we’re look forward to. So what is it about dystopian fiction that fascinates us so much? What prompts our imaginations to gawk at the wreckage of speculative futures?

Naturally, it’s entirely possible that dystopian fiction reflect the fears of the times—and given today’s world of state-sponsored surveillance, religious fundamentalism, economic disparity, and overpopulation (I’m just flicking through the headlines, here), perhaps it’s not surprising this was a popular theme.

So in some ways, dystopias aren’t too much of an imaginative stretch. If you’re trying to predict the future, your best bet would have to be on things going wrong. You could even argue we’re living in a dystopia right now. Maybe we’re always living in a dystopia, or at least degrees of dystopia—the failure of a past’s promising, even utopian, vision—which is why they seem endlessly relevant, in all their scope and variety. We’re simply steeling ourselves for the shape of things to come.

This month’s stories deal with a number of different future societies—and in different stages of deterioration. Some, like David Simpson’s deliberately endless Eternal Vigilance, are set in a world in which the characters are immersed in a system they accept, though as readers, we can see the darkness that lies ahead. Other worlds, like the very familiar setting of The Beasts Below by Jade Moulds, show characters entirely at the mercy of the changes going on around them—at odds with a society they can no longer understand. In Katie Lumsden’s A Survivor, we meet a character whose world is reduced to the most essential truth in the wake of nuclear disaster, enduring a very personal dystopia.

By the time we reach Staircase by Reece Choules, we are witness to a lost society—one in which memories have become currency. This world has long since failed—it has become a black hole of a society, gradually consuming itself.

But a dystopia does not necessarily imply an end. In some worlds, we find characters fighting back—Enter the Hacienda by Guy Lucas offers us a character struggling to understand his environment, trying to engage with it, and acting according to his beliefs. And perhaps most optimistically, Xenia Taiga’s wonderfully imaginative vision of Dress World hints at a brighter future, a ray of hope cutting through the dystopian clouds.

And perhaps that’s ultimately why dystopias are so popular in the creative imagination. The grim view of the road ahead is as much a warning sign as a forecast. Every dystopia is effectively a call to action—not because we think this is the way the world is headed, but because we want to make sure it isn’t.

On a personal note, after a year in the post I’ll be stepping aside as Magazine Fiction Editor to concentrate on my own writing—but I’ll be continuing as Contributing Editor of Litro, developing some exciting plans we have here in the USA. It’s been a blast—thanks, guys!

Andrew Lloyd-Jones

Editor

 




Litro #128: Youth – Letter from the Editor

litro128_youth_singleI have a two-year-old nephew, and he’s already somewhat disappointed with the world. He stands in front of televisions and microwaves and ovens, jabbing at the screens and doors with his little fingers, expecting something to happen. And there’s a good reason for that. It’s because he has grown up in a world with iPads and smart phones and VTech Learning Tablets, so to him, touchscreen technology is just a given. I’d actually feel sorry for him if it wasn’t so funny to watch.

The stories in this month’s Litro all, in some respects, deal with the adjustments we make when we’re growing up. They are filled with on the one hand with excitement and hope and dreams, but on the other, doubt, disappointment, and the revelation of a more mundane life ahead. The characters in these stories are between two spaces – in a liminal world of change, some just entering that stage, some closer to the edge.

The young Narrator of Gianna De Persiis Vona’s Disco Dave is literally speechless as she attempts to make sense of the adult world she’s fast growing up in; and while on the face of it, Tara Campbell’s How to Eat a Hot Dog is a witty take on childhood habits, I think its humor masks something darker – a sense of helpless inevitability. C Haigh MacNeil’s story, How To Be, is a beautifully quiet portrait of a young girl on the cusp of adulthood – whilst on holiday with her parents she finds herself pulled between two lives, only comfortable when she’s somewhere in between, floating between the waves. By way of contrast, in The Gypsum Paths, by David Mohan, a young man is driven to create his own space, free from the confines of the bikes trails he finds himself stuck on, as though the physical escape will somehow help him discover himself. Nick Kocz’s Golem Dust sees a young couple apparently creating something fantastic in the playground – though there is the suggestion that a far less magical future lies ahead; while in Faith and Flight by Tom Weller, an altar boy tries to convince his parents that he has witnessed a miracle, finding it a harder task than he had imagined. Finally, we bring you Shaun McMichael’s The Deepest Lake in All the World, the story of a young woman who finds herself lost in all senses of the word while on a road trip. And it’s this story that offers more in the way of light at the end of the tunnel – a knowledge that for all the expectations and limitations of this world, you are always your own person, and there is always more to discover.

 So I hope my nephew isn’t too disappointed when he grows up. Because there will be countless other experiences and people and discoveries to surprise and delight him. And if I could just stop laughing, I’d tell him that.

Andrew Lloyd-Jones

Editor

 




Litro #127: Victoriana – Letter from the Editor

litro127_victoriana_singeDear Reader,

Once again I find myself in a most absorbing, and, I confess, somewhat indulgent state of contemplation. I am fortunate indeed in my position! And so I sit at my desk and look out my window, with rooftops and water-towers and chimneys and spires and the assorted aerial architecture of the city as my companion. This day is a fine one indeed, and I fancy my spirits are lifted even more by the sun as it beats down on millionaire and pauper alike. The weather is perhaps the only natural democracy! I wonder what our politicians would have to say about that. Much bluster, I should think.

But in truth, Dear Reader, I have much better company than this city in these few tales you now hold in your hand. Stories are a force of nature too, perhaps – much like the wind, and the rain, and the sun. Wherever you might find yourself reading these words, whether on a bus, or a park bench, in your club, or in the scullery, you and I share in the ideas contained herein, ideas that nestle in our minds and give rise to thought, and the comforting knowledge of the existence of a Great Art in the world, one that we may all be a part of. It is a most fascinating subject of enquiry.

Take, for example, Ms. Eva Holland’s Life in Two Dimensions. A jewel of a narrative, as precisely and elegantly delineated as the narrator’s betrothed – a love story, but in Ms. Holland’s capable hands, something quite, quite different. Or the traditional house-tale, with which we are most familiar, but which Ms. Jane Roberts uses to most ingenious ends in The House Rules – suggesting that we, perhaps, are prisoners of our own imagination. Yes! Even you, Dear Reader! A most provoking conceit indeed!

And if you find that amusing, you must surely enjoy Mr. John Keating’s To The Reader – a story for you if ever there were one! Mr. Keating’s imagination takes us – dare I say it – to a place beyond the very pages you now hold in your hand. But perhaps you prefer a calmer, more soothing form of fiction? A gossipy, scandalous story, as one might find in The Cheltenham Looker-On. I’m afraid you will be most disappointed, in that case! For Mr. Steven Mace’s sinister The Legacy of Steeple Hill will give you no comfort, with its spectral presences and sleepless nights.

But we leave you, at least, with a tale of great pathos, and one from which a lesser periodical might shy away – Mr. Sam Carter’s Gammon and Spinach. For who would dare suggest the Great Novelist Himself were anything other than a saint? Well we do, Dear Reader. We do!

But I fear I have kept you too long. I do so yearn to discuss these tales with you some day. Will we ever meet, Dear Reader? I hope so, very much. But in the meantime, will you write? I would be most delighted to hear your thoughts on these stories, as well as any other matters you might care to discuss.

Yours truly, until our next number,

Andrew Lloyd-Jones

Editor




Litro #125: Germany – Letter from the Editor

litro125_germany_singleWillkommen! At the helm of European policy, champion of the Euro, home of the largest economy in the union, Germany would appear to be one of Europe’s biggest success stories, its eyes fixed firmly on a brighter, stable future for the continent.

But the submissions to this month’s issue of Litro would seem to tell a different story. The Germany they describe is haunted by its past. There is an air of uncertainty and at times, tension to each of these pieces—whether born of regret of past actions, fear of unresolved confrontation, or simply the frustration at not being able to leave history behind.

In Jeremy Tiang’s Schwellenangst, the central character is advised against visiting the abandoned Nazi resort of Prora on the island of Rügen—“Go to Binz instead,” she is told. “Nicer there. Not so much history.” We walk through the grounds of E.E. Mason’s beautiful desolate Blühende Landschaften, watching an indifferent nature reclaim layers of history—from affluent Berliners to German Wehrmacht to Soviet occupiers—Lenin is left, “abandoned to overlook the empty bramble-filled bowl of the fountain.” Heidelberg, A Beautiful Life, an extract from Florence Grenede’s memoir Out of Silence, tells the story of a family’s post-war success, but one which shrouded in mystery as thick as smoke from the cigarettes, while in Jim Ruland’s The Fall of Berlin (Oil on Canvas) the narrator recounts a tale of despair and deception, the consequences of which reach from the past to the present. Love by the Wall by Robin Wyatt Dunn offers us a slightly different view of Berlin—regrets already forming in the city’s marshy foundations; and Pippa Anais Gaubert’s Berlin Ghost Story finds the narrator literally becoming a ghost—a condition which gives her a way to relieve the pain of reality, but one for which there is, sadly, no cure.

Although only the one mentions it explicitly, in many respects, all of this month’s stories are ghost stories. But while Germany may have a haunted past, it’s the way these stories confront it, the frisson of tragedy that runs through each of them, that makes them so compelling.

Viel Vergnügen

Andrew Lloyd-Jones
Editor
May 2013




Litro #124: Transgression – Letter from the Editor

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Welcome to Issue 124 of Litro

It’s difficult to define what we mean by transgression. That’s partly because transgression is a relative term – there are some acts and ideas an individual might call transgressions, while society might have a totally different opinion on the matter. And then even those opinions aren’t concrete, because what we (or society) might call transgressions don’t always stand the test of time.

Naturally, there are some transgressions we could argue are absolutes – murder, rape, incest. But there are those that become normalized – women’s suffrage, for example, or homosexuality; and others still that become taboo – slavery, child abuse, rape. (And if you ever thought rape wasn’t taboo, watch 1985’s adorable time-travel comedy Back to the Future and have your mind blown as you realise Marty McFly’s mother is victim of an attempted rape by the man who ends up happily running errands for her future family. Oh, that Biff. What a character!)

So bear in mind that this month’s issue of Litro is simply a time-capsule of sin – featuring sexual fetishes, cannibalism, rape, homosexuality, criminal trespass, and murder. In Amber Dodd’s Dark Matter, a young woman struggles not so much to come to terms with her own sexuality, as society’s reaction to it; in Duncan Taylor’s Jørgen Opdahl: Celebrity Burglar, we feature home invasions as entertainment, while in Shannon Bennett’s Visiting Rachel, breaking and entering takes on a more cathartic purpose. Ironing Night by Pauline Masurel is a traditional boy meets girl, boy irons girl’s clothes, boy is sexually aroused by ironing kind of a story; Matt McGee’s New Ground, Again finds us literally unearthing a transgression of the past, but without the same kind of due diligence we might expect from Waking the Dead; in Matthew Dexter’s The Bird in the Urn, we find ourselves in the company of a bereaved father enacting a distinctly Jacobean revenge in the American Southwest. Finally, we witness to a lifetime of transgressions in the confessions of a homeless drifter in Rhuar Dean’s Dinner for Two.

As you might expect from a theme like this, these stories will hopefully all provoke a reaction. But it may be that in twenty or thirty years’ time, some of the transgressions we feature in this month’s issue will seem quaint – and in some cases, I very much hope so (it’s heartening to know that even as I write this, the ban on gay marriage in California, and by extension, the rest of the USA, is being challenged in the US Supreme Court).

That said, I’m going to go ahead and throw my hat in the ring and say feeding your dead child to old people will never be considered an acceptable act under any circumstances. But hey. You never know.

Andrew Lloyd-Jones

Editor

March 2013




Litro #123: Mystery – Letter from the Editor

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I have a friend who loves mystery movies. For her, and I suspect many other fans of the genre, the appeal lies in the challenge – working out whodunit, whytheydunnit, and sometimes even whattheydun in the first place – as quickly as they can. And, evidently, letting me know at the first possible opportunity.

Personally, I’ve never really been a subscriber to this strategy. I’m fairly content to let my sleuths grind through the motives and the alibis and come to an eventual, inevitable conclusion on my behalf. I respect the process. ((Columbo would be a notable exception to this rule, since he always seems to know right from the start who’s responsible. It’s like he’s passively lording his superiority over us for the best part of each episode. I’m not a fan.))

Of course, it might be that I’m just lazy, but I think what appeals to me about mysteries is not so much the solutions as the questions, the gaps in our knowledge, the state of uncertainty. Mysteries are quantum events, occurring but only existing for a time, until they are resolved and disappear. Those gaps appear literally, too, as dark spaces – shadowy alleyways between buildings, secret gardens, misfiring amygdalae in amnesia victims. They are where mystery thrives – in novels, films, plays, and online, too, in mystery’s paranoid, internet-friendly offspring, conspiracy.

It’s these gaps that we celebrate in this month’s Mystery-themed issue of Litro. There’s the fantastically sinister tooth that appears in Mazin Saleem’s Meaningless Number, “tilted as though it belonged in the mouth of someone yawning or screaming”, just an ordinary tooth, but missing the mouth, head and body that we would otherwise expect to exist around it; there are a series of mundanely out of place objects in Working Techniques of the Amateur Detective by Thomas Binns, though the narrator is preoccupied throughout by a much more significant absence in his life; Across the Border by Anniken Blomberg contemplates not just a journey into one of those gaps, but the things you return with; Somebody Else’s Second Chance by Elishia Heiden deals with a frustrating gap of memory, and the stories that others are compelled to fill it with; and The Land & The Sea by Helen Jukes, which features a man caught not on one nor in the other, but somewhere between the two. Finally, Oli Belas, in his essay The Enduring Appeal of the Mystery Story, focuses on the figure of the detective – the character who steps into the shadowy spaces of the narrative, the character we willingly follow, some of us alongside, some of us behind.

Either way, we’re on the case. Care to join us?

Andrew Lloyd-Jones
Editor

March 2013




Litro #121: Magic — Letter from the Editor

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According to Arthur C. Clarke, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And by that token, these days we’re surrounded by the mystical – from particle accelerators underground to the smartphone in your pocket.

That could be why we’re so comfortable with the idea of magic, however inexplicable the situation – we had more submissions for this issue than we’ve ever had for any theme. Over the past month, we’ve met elves and changelings and witches and warlocks, experienced spells and potions, listened to myths and fairy tales, had conversations with stones and animals, worshipped gods and goddesses. There’s a lot of magic out there.

But there’s more to its popularity than familiarity. Magic offers chaos and darkness, mystery and fear, discovery and triumph. In a world of tax returns and shopping lists, financial crises and political divisions, reality TV and micro-celebs, perhaps we need magic more than ever. Perhaps magic actually offers us something science can’t.

In this month’s Litro, we bring you Into the Woods, a dark, subtle tale by Amelia Boldaji, at its heart one of the great motifs of European folklore: the forest – a magical place of transformation, danger, and adventure, which is also the setting for J.A. McCaroll’s fantastically fantastical Sniff – featuring the otherwise unlikely meeting between a man and a troll, or possibly, his destiny. Ruth Brandt on the other hand shows us a more scientific, yet no less delightful approach to the magical in Superstitions; while Jane Wright’s The Amazing Rain explores the all too-often hidden cost of magic – and the dangers of getting what you wish for. To round things off, we offer you Mike Scott Thompson’s The Real Miracle, a story of a stage magician learning the difference between magic and trickery.

Perhaps the one thing these, and many of the stories we read this month, have in common is the idea of escape – that magic can somehow take us away from that world of tax returns and shopping lists, financial crises and political divisions, reality TV and micro-celebs – into a world in which we are surprised, challenged, amazed.

So escape with us. And though any magician worth their salt never reveals the tricks of the trade, we’ll bend the rules this once and tell you how: give yourself a break, find a quiet place, clear your mind. Then turn the pages and start reading.

Hey presto.

Andrew Lloyd-Jones
Litro Magazine Editor

December 2012




Litro #120: Africa — Letter from the Editor

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How much do you know about Africa?

We tend to speak of it as though it’s one giant, inscrutable territory, and yet Africa contains 54 different countries, all with different cultures, geographies, and people, amongst which are some of the world’s fastest growing economies. For many of us, the only time Africa appears on our radar is when it’s in the news—Somali Pirates, KONY 2012, Darfur, email scammers, the World Cup. Most of our references are sadly negative.

It’s this perception that Ghanaian journalist and presenter of BBC Focus on Africa, Komla Dumor, tackles in his piece, “A New Focus on Africa”—in which he explores the very different reality of a continent that’s all too easy to write off in one way or another.

So the pieces we’ve chosen this month try to offer a vision that offers, to borrow Mr. Dumor’s phrase, a new focus on Africa. In Tracey Iceton’s atmospheric “Grass Wars”, a day job is anything but mundane; in Ailsa Thom’s delicately unsettling “Menengai”, tourism and everyday life collide; while Raoul Colvile examines the struggle between myths of the past and the reality of the present in his evocative “Harare Revisited”. We’re also thrilled to be featuring an extract from Alain Mabanckou’s touching and witty autobiographical novel, Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty, as well as poetry by award-winning performance artist and poet Inua Ellams.

We hope you enjoy this month’s issue of Litro. It’s rare to have a chance to explore unfamiliar territory. It’s even rarer to do so in such good company.

Andrew Lloyd-Jones
Litro Magazine Editor

November 2012