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Tuesday, January 31

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Feature Wed Jan 24 2007

Tales from the Dim Unknown

Chicago has produced some of the finest names in science fiction, and no true sci-fi fan could claim their fanaticism without having made themselves familiar with these works. Lest local fans fear that all the good sci-fi hails from the past, a new light shines with the publication of the free literary magazine, Tales from the Dim Unknown. Born at Columbia College, the magazine currently has only their premiere, May 2006 issue in print, but the stories inside breed bright hope for many issues to come.

The most striking story in this issue is the comic "The Firefly Brigade." Written by the magazine's president and editor Brian Torney, the comic is split into three chapters, each one illustrated by a different artist. The story focuses on a Holocaust-like event in Poland that leaves the downtrodden gathered together in camps while individuals are executed for their physical injuries or other perceived faults. One strange night, the prisoners see fire streak through the sky as a rocket crashes in the distance. Each illustrator imparts a completely different feeling on their section of the story, going from the cold blues of distant memory to the firey red of lucidity and curiosity to the softer lines of aged regret for an adventure not taken. In a risky decision that could have left an otherwise interesting story feeling broken and disjointed, artists Rebecca Huston, Kristina Chlebowski and Sarah Becan together successfully heighten the visual interest of Torney's story.

The magazine's three short stories stand up just as nicely beside their comic counterparts. Patrick van Slee's "Sympathy for the Robot" is told from the viewpoint of a cocky, smart alec robot who saves Bob, the last man alive after the earth is destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes and melting ice caps. While the robot goes on about religious parables of world destruction, the rising price of oil and the technological advancements of humans, we learn that humanity may actually have been destroyed altogether. "No offense, buddy," the robot says, "but you're not exactly the best companion a guy shooting off into space could hope for. I have to tell you this, Bob, and don't get upset, but you're dead. But that's okay!" Both amusing and imaginative, the story turns an eye toward what may happen during the last human connection. In "Alien Johnny," Amanda Steiger brings a human, John Hooper, to the wreckage of a UFO and the corpse of a bleeding alien. John's anti-alien in the way that Americans are seen to be anti-immigration, proclaiming that the alien deserves his death for trying to come to his planet, but a small object from the wreckage unexpectedly piques his interest. Finally, in C.S.E. Cooney's "Mermaid from Mars," a happy birthday present results in a tragic situation for a family. This isn't Disney's little mermaid that Cooney gives us, but an animal held in captivity with a dragonhead and green eyes that glow with an emotion that is far from the cheery hopefulness of the animated version.

To be truthful, glossy pages and rich, saturated colors do well to convey the seriousness of a publication. Although there are plenty of worthwhile reads that appear in little more than Xeroxed black and white, the fact that Tales from the Dim Unknown comes to the reader in such a finished package, combined with the great reads inside, speaks well of the creators' ambitions. And though bookstores are rife with independent magazines filled with poetry, experimental fiction and creative nonfiction and essays, a magazine devoted to up and coming science fiction writers is a rare find. As Torney writes in the acknowledgements, Tales from the Dim Unknown was made possible through a grant from the Albert P. Weisman scholarship fund, which makes this group of writers very lucky to be able to see their work come to such gorgeous fruition. With May 2007 as the tentative date for issue two, one hopes there comes a time that readers will be treated to more frequent issues. But, even if this isn't the case, and even if the money isn't there, the inventive writing and vivid illustrations would be more than enough to keep this sci-fi fan wanting more, even if it were just black and white.


To learn more, visit Tales from the Dim Unknown on myspace.

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