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Short Fiction Review: Cinema Spec
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Cinema Spec, Tales of Hollywood and Fantasy
Karen A. Romanko, Editor
Raven Electrick Ink ISBN 978-0-9819643-0-0 $13.95



Full disclosure: my own submission to the slush pile was rejected.

Cinema Spec is the second in editor Karen A. Romanko’s anthologies featuring themed flash and poetry (the first, Sporty Spec, contains a flash by me. She is currently reading submissions for the third, Retro Spec.)

The theme for this anthology is “moving pictures,” which morphed into stories about Hollywood. You’d think the idea would have been done to death, from “Sunset Boulevard” to “Day of the Locusts” to “A Star Is Born.” Still, editor Romanko put out the call and the specfic community responded with 32 contributions of flash, short, and poetry that embraced and expanded on Hollywood glitz and glam with a twist of fantastic speculation.

Connor Moran, "Lori," fiction/fantasy-noir/gossip in old Hollywood.

This somewhat rough story reads like a 20s detective fiction crossed with inevitable horror. I love both genres and appreciate the mash-up here; still, the siren-song of Hollywood is an antiqued theme and the treatment could have been freshened. A good read but not boggling; placement at the start of the anthology set my expectations lower than I hoped.

J. E. Stanley, "The Precinct of Night," poem/sf-noir/detective movies.
The anthology’s first poem and here let me admit that I am not a poetry editor. My reactions to poetry, as a result, are visceral rather than studied. This poem puzzled me in its use of ordinary imagery for CSI type procedural, involving speculative trope only at the last moment. A nice read but somehow I expected more.

Simon Logan, "Nuclear Shadows," fiction/science fiction/paparazzi.
This story pulled me along without letting me know exactly where it was going. The growing disgust with the main character leads to a reversal/reveal about the nature of love and obsession. Nicely done.

* Gregory L. Norris, "Creature Double-Feature," fiction/horror/classic films.
A short story that manages to include reference to every horrifying bit of 50s Hollywood junk celluloid in such a loving and terrifying manner. Yes! That is how it feels to live in Bluebeard’s castle with temptation within reach and caution slowing the inevitable revelations. What happens, what are the permanent affects, when you cross the line? A good squirmy read, sad and sweet and emotional. One of the best in this anthology.

G. O. Clark, "The Discovery in Roger Corman's Trunk," poem/sf-horror/Vincent Price.
Again, poetic imagery but this one made me laugh: how do you feel about Vincent Price?

Robert Borski, "War at the Bijou," fiction/science fiction/transmissions into space.
Dealing with the war between “Screenies, the chromatophores of which dance with the waveforms of Old Earth,” and “us,” a spacefaring race caught within the transmitted unrealities of movies and television. A freshened take on the prisoner-in-a-tv-set theme which begs the question of alien nightmares contaminated by Earthly projections. Short, intriguing read.

Rodello Santos, "Oracle in Chains," fiction/high fantasy/movies as prophecy.
Perhaps the furthest from the stated theme of Hollywood (though it does take a slantwise swipe at the idea of a holy wood; a theme that arises in several of this anthology’s stories) this longer story plays with the idea of entertainment. A second-world setting and fantasy culture takes a sacred rite and profanes it with irrelevancies and exposure; a possible condemnation of the triteness of broadcast television and the shallowness of summer blockbuster movies. Nicely done.

Ruth Berman, "TV Tea," poem/speculative/TV shows.
This poem presents an interesting scifi idea: freeze-dried entertainment; and gives it a fantasy appeal, almost oracular in thrust. The last line, “I think the tea was jasmine,” is too precious for my taste, but still, an effective poem in that it gave me wings to speculate.

Daniel R. Robichaud, "Bootleg Images," fiction/science fiction/banned movies.
Oh, yes. Good hard scifi idea I would not be surprised to find in Analog’s pages. And yet somehow predictable and perhaps a bit hopeless. Perhaps a bit too reminiscent of Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic,” and I am still waiting for something new from that genre (which I love, in limited doses.) Switching the action to a different culture/country does not change the basic thrust here: the Chinese government cracks down on interdicted films carried in user’s brains, with usual unpleasant results.

Justin Howe, "Nightmare's Daughter," fiction/suspense/cult movies.
What a nice bit of obsessive horror! John Shroud finds that missing bit of footage he’s been hunting, and loses himself within. And the proprietor who sells it to him? She smiles. The interconnectedness here: she’s a spider and he’s fallen into the trap is a traditional way to go, though I would have been satisfied with Shroud’s loss of self. Another good read in an anthology that at this point is beginning to exceed my expectations.

* Greg Beatty, "eventual, i," poem/speculative/video stores.
My favorite piece in this anthology is, strangely, a poem. Regarding a failing neon sign. I know it’s my favorite as I keep thinking of these images over the week or two since I’ve read it.

Sarah Brandel, "A Life in Pictures," fiction/fantasy/movies as memoir.
A surreal take on a shipwrecked man. Somehow I kept envisioning Tom Hanks. One frequent meme asks what you’d take with you onto a desert island. I’d never considered taking film before. Notice I say “film,” not “movies.” DVDs are for mass consumption; film is still the medium of choice. After all, it contains silver and Dorian Gray imagery and magic. Nicely done.

Marlo Dianne, "Chiaroscuro," fiction/fantasy/pre-technology.
An interesting bit of magical fantasy that again examines what you’d do for love. The concept of the magic of Hollywood as a physical magic that imposes on viewers (rather than viewers taking the imagery of Hollywood and imbuing it with magic) and perhaps steals from and returns to the actors some physical give and take. Another marvelous thoughtful story.

J. S. Bangs, "Screening of a Silent Film," fiction/high fantasy/silent movies.
The ultimate passive experience where an audience observes the very real struggles of a ghost striving for freedom. An evening’s entertainment or a life-changing event? A wonderful bit of writing about the distancing effect of film. (Parenthetically, whenever I see the name “Bangs,” I think of Lester Bangs, rock critic.)

Paul Abbamondi, "Obmutescence," fiction/dark fantasy/Los Angeles.
Let me give it away: magic, silence, and cats. There. A cool 50s style story that I’ve cast with Kim Novak and an evil Jimmy Stewart (assuming Jimmy Stewart could be evil, ever.) Back when talkies took over, the silent film folk were suddenly unemployed and in some cases unemployable; if you’ve heard the joke “he has a great face for radio” you understand the joke “he has a great voice for silent film.”

Robert Borski, "Reel People: The Extra's Lament," poem/science fiction/CGI.
One of those poems that feels like a very short flash with random line breaks; still, this has some fascinating imagery in a tale of cgi/sfx sentience.

* Paul Milliken, "Sundowner," fiction/suspense/Hollywood ghosts.
Oh Judy Garland, would that you’d had the chance to grow old enough for senility: “Sundowner’s Syndrome.” A fantasy speculation on those ghost stories you’ve heard about The Wizard Of Oz, and yet another sad sweet caretaker’s story. Recommended.

Deborah P Kolodji, "Camera Obscura," poem/science fiction/life in Hollywood.
My favorite use of this old interesting technology occurred in the creepy love story, “Addicted To Love.” This poem shows a bit of the voyeur’s side of all things Hollywood.

Martha J. Allard, "End of an Era," fiction/dark fantasy/Hollywood earthquake.
After the end of the world, a shattered cemetery might be the logical place to conclude a quest. Is the legendary star alive somehow or a ghostly figment? Is the whiskey real? Is this the end or just a breather before a new beginning? Read the story. Another good entry.

Vylar Kaftan, "Starshow," fiction/science fiction/future technology.
Very short piece about a nature flick. It’s always hard to host a party, put your own tastes on hold, keep up with the current slangspeak. The star here is the technology. I wanted more.

Robert A. Desharnais, "Shadowdancer," fiction/speculative/pre-technology.
Talk about your police procedurals! Shadow mime has a long history but I hadn’t considered prehistoric shadow mime before I read this story. While not explored here, the potential for abuse if this were a system is enormous. Somewhat like taking Monk’s concepts for truth because he’s never wrong. Except that one time… . Of course that’s neither here nor there. A good story.

Lisa Morton, "The End," fiction/horror/cult movies.
Oh we love the horror tropes, we do indeed! This is a more-immediate version of “The Ring.”

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt, "Cineraku," fiction/science fiction/future-hybrid technology.
More shadow mime involving “The Trials of Crimson.” I’m embarrassed it took me so long to twig to what movie was being acted out here; I do love the idea of resurrecting old films in the future by acting out the uncertain bits. And frankly, Scarlett, I do give a damn.

Tony Pi, "The Shadow-Witch," fiction/dark fantasy/shadow plays.
I don’t like it when lyrics or poetry is inserted into a story; I generally skip that part and head straight for the prose. Here, the lyric composes a third of the tale, so that was impossible. But also ultimately irrelevant, as the story involved the telling of the tale and not the lyric itself. Wrenching story about choices and those we inflict them on.

Bill Ward, "After Sundown," fiction/science fiction/movie theaters.
A lovely wish-fulfillment story. We’ve all had favorite seedy neighborhood theatres close on us. We can feel for the owners, but money is tight and progress marches on. Just when things seem darkest… but no, I can’t tell you. Read this for yourself and envy the research projects of the future.

J. C. Runolfson, "Family Movie," fiction/dark fantasy/3-D movies.
3-d glasses, a death in the family, yearning, and horror movies. Toss into a pot, add some straightforward prose, and you’ve got a ghost story to remember. I appreciated the author’s light touch here.

Alex Dally MacFarlane, "Bright Square Flickering," poem/fantasy/movie screens.
Weird little poem in sections within sections. A full story here with haiku-sparse imagery and fun outcome. I liked it!

Craig Wolf, "Lost in the Fun Factory," fiction/dark fantasy/movie theaters.
This scary-in-situation ghost story reads like today’s headlines in both the mainstream papers and the tabloid press. I liked the use of the Hollywood nickname. What must kids feel like when they’re stuck in that fun place? What must they feel when they can finally connect with someone new? A good visceral piece.

Lyn C. A. Gardner, "House 5," poem/horror/movie theaters.
Another of those poems that feels like a short story. Quite a good story, at that. The haunted theatre is a staple of the Hollywood legend. The murderous theatre is a Stephen King take on same. How do people handle the threat? Ah now, that’s the story.

Matt Betts, "Something with Subtitles, Maybe," fiction/fantasy/movies as metaphor.
Considering the downbeat nature of the described film arc, I found this fun and perhaps even lighthearted. The self-involved drama-queen (king?) planning out each step of his reaction to a breakup as if using storyboard. A adult (so to speak) version of “They’ll miss me when I’m gone!” I liked this a lot.

Cliff Winnig, "Kraken's Wake," fiction/science fiction/exotic location shoots.
I’m enjoying Cliff Winnig’s work wherever I see it. This movie, reenacting a first contact and exploring depths of relationship, psychic and otherwise, is a plum deal for a newbie actress. Is she ready for the role of a lifetime? I sure hope so! Good job.

Daniel Ausema, "City of Facades," fiction/speculative/movie sets.
Another of the stories that mentions Hollywood in a literary allusion: Holy Glade. We worship there, we take our magic from it and let it give us its magic, even when, perhaps, the rest of the world has moved on. A good note on which to end this anthology.

In all, no false notes here, with stories ranging from good to excellent and poems ranging from good to discomfortingly bleak (yes, I enjoyed “eventual, i” quite a bit.) In depth, possibly better than the previous Spec volume, though with such a narrow focus (Hollywood stories) not quite as much variety. Worth the cover price.

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I'd just like to say, speaking as both a reader of and contributor to this anthology, that it's totally awesome to see an anthology review that treats each item individually. And this one does so thoughtfully as well.

LJ lends itself well to that level of detail in a way a print review doesn't, yet not everyone takes advantage of the medium this way.

As a reader I quite enjoyed this book, and it's nice to see A&A's reviewer did as well.

Thank you; and yes, I did.

I look forward to posting more reviews as they happen.

I look forward to posting more reviews as they happen.


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