Taking the plunge into GUD (Greatest Uncommon Denominator) Issue 3 is a bit like being invited to an enormous buffet dinner — but not the sort of $14.99 all-you-can eat cafeteria pork-fest where kids eat free on on Tuesdays. Oh no, GUD is more like a potluck affair thrown by an international organization, as diverse and surprising as it is copious. Which means there is something here for everyone and, even if every dish on the table isn’t to every reader’s taste, the effect of the whole sumptuous package makes for an eclectic smorgasbord of flavors: from surreal and slipstream, to scifi and fantasy, through contemporary and literary, GUD features many voices and styles.
GUD is a multi-media experience without the electricity — art, poetry, and fiction in surprising forms and generous portions. Issue 3 is loosely tied together by the theme of mechanical flight, though not every element of the magazine seems wedded to this, but my favorite pieces certainly were. I could talk about the illustrations or poetry I enjoyed but I know my limits — fiction is my thing and GUD has plenty of it worth talking about.
The first piece of fiction in Issue 3, Darja Malcolm-Clarke’s ‘A Song, A Prayer, An Empty Space,’ starts the volume off with a look at an alternate earth where ancient technological breakthroughs merged with Near Eastern religions to create a Church-dominated world different than our own history. Set in North Africa and centering on a monk, a man addicted to communing with God via machine, who must defeat a threat to his Church and discover a new process of approaching the divine, Malcolm-Clarke’s story moves with the sure logic of a dream through a world that almost feels like it could have been ours. Another strong piece of alternate history (or future) is ‘Night Bird Soaring’ by T.L. Morganfield, a story following the life of a man designated at birth for sacrifice to the gods in a world dominated by a vigorous Aztec Empire. But Totyoalli is determined to live what life he can before his twenty-ninth birthday, and pushes hard to follow his dreams of being a part of the Aztec space program. A story about fate and about the choices we make, told with a smooth confidence that renders Morganfield’s alternate earth, in which aeronautics and astrophysics exist alongside blood sacrifice, completely believable.
In ‘Forgetting,’ one of my favorite stories in the magazine, Nicole Kornher-Stace builds a piece around one of those simple, immediately appealing ideas that can create real emotional resonance when done well. In begins with a stunt pilot, a man attempting to write in the air with the contrail of a stunt plane for the first time, who wants to carve Forget Me in the sky as the last, personal message of his planned suicide. He gets the ‘Forget‘ out, inexpertly, and then the story veers into the minds of those who see the message on the ground and act upon it — each seeing something different such as Fortune or Forgive, and each experiencing their messages as a kind of epiphany. An elegantly simple little story that stays with the reader as only the best stories can.
‘Soon You Will Be Gone and Possibly Eaten’ by Nick Antosca is my other personal favorite of the issue. It essentially transplants the sort of jealousies and insecurities of a young couple against the emotionally threatening presence of mysterious alien visitors — aliens that take the beautiful and the enchanting among us for an intimate form of communion. A great example of how genre elements can be melded to arrive at a fresh thematic synthesis, ‘Soon You Will Be Gone’ takes the concept of the unknowable alien other from science fiction and combines it with a literary narrative of personal insecurity and loss to say something fresh about both forms.
But GUD contains its share of laughs as well, in ‘Benkelstein and the Time Warp’ (by one ‘Evil Editor,’ a tautology if ever there was one) a husband and wife on a deserted highway bicker creatively, and with amusing references to Star Trek Voyager, over whether they did or did not just drive into the future. Tania Hershman’s ‘Splitting the Atom’ gives us a man with the necessary scientific curiosity, if not an iota of sense, attempt to tackle particle physics with a circular saw. And special quirky mention should be made of Zak Jarvis’ Steam Bat illustration — directions are included so you can cut in out, assemble it and, perhaps, even fly it around your room as you enjoy your copy of GUD.
With so much content it’s difficult to cover all the strong stories in Issue 3. But the issue contains other fine pieces such as Michael Greenhut’s ‘Think Fast,’ that has a man with the ability to project his thoughts into the past altering his own life, ‘Measurements’ by Chad Brian Henry manages to successfully combine the illicit construction of a flying machine and marital divisions over weight gain and divergent trajectories of interest, and ‘Flower as Big as the Sky,’ in which Matt Dennison presents a Bradburyian small town with the enigma of a man’s mysterious backyard construction — which may or may not be what he tells the story’s narrator. There’s more here that I liked, but all of these stories were my favorites.
Quirky, smartly-crafted, and unexpected — GUD is for those with big appetites and adventurous palates, and I heartily recommend it.