For those not in the know, Machete Girl has been around for a long time, and though this was my first time reading an issue, I was quite pleased with the aesthetic. Like razor-girl image the title evokes, I was met with an aesthetically pleasing zine; it looks beautiful from cover to cover, tinged with a hard-edged, punky vibe throughout. I commend Sara Elizabeth Joyce (or, as she styles herself, “The-Fucking-Editor”), as it’s difficult to pique my interest. The photography and digital art is also nice and very fitting of the genre, and it’s very apparent that there was care when organising/editing the zine, which is a definite plus. I would’ve enjoyed a little more artwork, photos, etc., but that’s more of a personal preference as opposed to criticism.
The column-styled zine, however, isn’t very easy on the eyes, but seeing as this is meant for true cyberpunks, it may be that I’m not fully augmented to enjoy the experience. Someday maybe, but as a cheap student, I can’t afford mecha eyes…currently.
For a short story issue, I also feel as if the issue would’ve greatly benefited from a single page format as it would’ve made following the stories a lot simpler, without breaking my flow. But this was only a minor quibble, and only affects those who read using Adobe Reader.
The real meat and potatoes (or krill and soy if we’re to continue using the cyberpunk theme) of this review will be to focus on the quality of the submissions, and for that I feel that it’s quite hit and miss. Aesthetically and stylistically, every single submission hits the mark of attempting to meld with the 80’s canon of cyberpunk (I think that was the point of the anthology), which to the cyberpunk enthusiast, should be fine. More than fine, maybe even great. But I’m a tougher critic than most people give me credit for, and for me, some of the submissions read as near carbon copies of cyberpunk from the 80’s. Again, in many cases this may be fine for some readers (don’t let me stand in your way of enjoying whatever you enjoy), but for me, I want to feel something else; perhaps a flair or signature of the artist, writer, etc.
Those with flair standout from the carbon, the primary standouts from the issue; Daniel Moore’s Private Sector and Isaac Wheeler’s Whisper. Both clearly understand the genre they love so dearly, and I especially enjoyed the vivid details in which went into their world building. My favourite line goes to Wheeler’s ‘I’d like the Black Opal’ (Wheeler, I 2016, pp. 11) which to me established a darkly imbued culture that existed within his writing. The reason reading is such a powerful medium often comes down to these one lines that evoke such lucid imagery; and both Moore and Wheeler are wonderful at using this medium to their advantage.
I also don’t want to overlook Alex Chase’s debut short, Deficient, which was another very enjoyable read, and kept me hooked from start to finish. Nicely formatted with decent pacing, I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.
The other stories were fun, but were mostly littered with copious amounts of swearing, grammatical issues and undesirable descriptive terms such as ‘at the local corporate military police station’ (Joyce, S 2016, pp. 8). Some may call me pedantic for these niggling thoughts, and even a prude for my not enjoying the alleged “punky swearing” aesthetic many deem is aligned with the genre; but I assure you, just because you’re writing cyberpunk, a genre renowned for it’s style over substance ethos, doesn’t mean you need to follow it to a tee. Swearing, even if it’s only two to three “fucks” in a paragraph, renders the writing juvenile is some cases, even if the characters are hard-core punkers.
But I want to stress that I come from a very different background when it comes to reading and writing. I come from an academic and analytical school of thought, and though I may appaer stand-offish, I really did have a lot of fun when reading; that being the main point to take away from this review. For those interested in cyberiffic tales full of augmented humans, A.I., sprawls and a bleak Reaganised corporate hegemony, then this issue of Machete Girl will be perfect for you.
You can also read through past issues here, a definite recommendation for the artwork and photography alone.