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Literary Journal Review: “Conjunctions: 67, Other Aliens”

Literary Journal Review: Conjunctions: 67, Other Aliens

by LeeAnn Adams

The alien and its varying definitions are irresistible topics for writers. Maybe that’s why the “Other Aliens” themed issue of Conjunctions is nearly four hundred pages thick. Poets and writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, Jessica Reed, Jeffrey Ford, and John Crowley offer up insightful and often chilling experiments about extraterrestrials, immigrants, zombies, the radioactive, and the subtly invasive. There are also interviews with heavy hitters such as Kelly Link and Samuel R. Delany. It’s a fascinating collection and weird in all the right ways.

Issue 67 starts out with Leena Krohn’s “In the Quiet of the Gardens,” which is translated from the Finnish version by Eva Buchwald. The short story follows Sylvia, a woman who retires from her job after being diagnosed with rheumatism. Her favorite past-time-turned-obsession consists of creating “miniature gardens,” or tiny scenes from the outside world. The cleverness of this particular fiction lies in its new take on the ideas and dangers of minimization. The reader will wonder long after the last word is read, what exactly is happening in these tiny gardens and, as a result, the surrounding world. That lingering feeling of unease and uncertainty is a perfect beginning to this collection. 

But beware: readers who venture further on will only grow more perturbed and intrigued. Teleport to Peter Straub’s chilling and vastly dissimilar short story, “The Process Is a Process All Its Own,” and you’ll wonder if you’ve landed in a different realm. Tillman Hayward, the serial killer who can smell spoken words, will have you wrinkling your nose in disgust. This horror story dives deep into the idea of “the other.” It centers on the odd Hayward and the victim that makes him see the world from a new angle. The prose is disturbingly effective—beginning with an unsettling excerpt from Hayward’s personal notebook and ending with a rather distressing image and idea. Read this short story during the daytime with your doors locked—I wish I had.

Laura Sims takes a less traditional approach to horror and “the other” with “Walking Dead Love Songs.” The writing is rhythmically pleasing and packed with engaging sensory details: “Two Drs. Jenner, and Jacqui,/who chose to explode. The way the wind/billows a motorbike cover. Stepping over a/tea bag squashed on the street.” Zombie fans and poetry lovers alike will find Sims’s writing deeply satisfying.

Wilder still than love songs to the world of the undead are James Tiptree, Jr.’s letters to Joanna Russ. Nicole Nyhan writes a fascinating introduction about James Tiptree, Jr.—the pen name and chosen alias of Dr. Alice Bradley Sheldon. Sheldon writes wonderful phrases such as “holy peanutbutter” and “I too have had deep friendships with rats” in her responses to Russ. This feminist collection of letters will force any woman writer to consider the price of assuming a male identity to acquire male privilege in the publishing industry. Overall, it’s an odd, lovely, and personal look into Sheldon’s assumed and ousted identities.

Conjunctions: 67, Other Aliens is a rousing success and an excellent addition to the progressive planet of published science fiction. I could gush for hours about the brilliant writings printed in this issue, but reading is believing. While the works may arguably be somewhat inaccessible to the casual reader, the narratives in this collection repay those inclined to stick with their literary subjects—that is to say, readers who are patient enough to read each paragraph and stanza until the poem or story’s strange and illuminating resolution.

LeeAnn Adams (pen name L. N. Holmes) is a Midwestern writer. Her writing has appeared in F(r)iction, Dually Noted, Vestal Review, STARK, GERM Magazine, Obra, and several other publications. She’s received the Katherine B. Rondthaler Award for Poetry, the President’s Prize for Creative Writing, and a first place nonfiction award from the North Carolina College Media Association. Currently, she’s a half-fellowship student in Creighton University’s MFA program for creative writing, where she serves as a fiction editor for Blue River. She hopes to one day publish a novel (or a series of novels).