Literary Journal Review: Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) Magazine Issue 5

Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) Magazine: Issue 5, Winter 2009

Editors: Kaolin Fire, Debbie Moorhouse, Julia Bernd, J. Dale Humphries, Sal Coraccio, Sue Miller, & Michael Ellsworth

The advance copy of GUD Issue 5 for today’s review was provided by the editors at GUD Magazine.

Read GUD 5 Contributor Bios here.

Follow @GUDmagazine on Twitter

Most literary journals that I enjoy possess just a few jewels which I treasure – the stories and poems that draw me back to the shelf to reread over the years. What makes GUD Magazine different is that I can’t pick “just a few” favorite jewels to share with you today – the contents are really that good.*

Whenever I pickup a lit journal, I always flip to a poem first. Usually I scan the index by title, or pick through the pages until the shape of a stanza attracts my eye. My introduction to GUD was the poem “Suggestions for Distributing Your Poems” by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming. For me, her piece sets the tone for the entire issue: playful, thoughtful, passionate… reaching. In this poem, and in all the works selected for GUD Issue 5, I find authors seeking connection and affirmation, casting their bottled messages out upon the purple sea.

Why a purple sea? Well why not? GUD Magazine offers a delicious buffet of speculative fiction, and so much more. Where else could you pick à la carte between a “Deadman on the Titanic” (Alicia Adams) or “a self-made billionaire, a man who had spent his childhood in poverty, the son of a Martian pig farmer” (Andrew N. Tisbert) served side by side with the birth of the PC and “the mother of all demos” (Paul Spinrad) ? I don’t use the metaphor of limitless preferential dining lightly – there’s something to please every reader in GUD Issue 5, and there’s nothing that doesn’t warrant a second and third read.

Ready to visit another place? Another time? Start with Nature’s Children by T. F. Davenport, Aftermath by Isabel Cooper Kunkle, or Getting Yourself On by Andrew N. Tisbert. I admire writers like these who can strike that harmonious balance between confusion and clarity – I enjoy the puzzle of trying to figure out what’s going on, but I get frustrated if I can’t get some kind of foothold so that I can follow the story. These authors make you work – but not too hard – to imagine and create along with them. They succeed by inviting you to pour your own humanity into their seemingly-alien characters, and take a look around.

Of the many surprises I found in Issue 5, Sweet Melodrama by Tristan D’Agosta was one of the finest. I don’t know how the editors secured this piece, but I just want to say thank you all around. Lovers of all things Shakespearean will swoon over this tasty dessert. And for the logophiles, “The Grammar of Desire” by Paul J. Kocak offers choice, lusty locution.

Another great feature of GUD 5 is the selection of works which remove you only a tiny step from “normal reality.” These works are a little more insidious – they’re more apt to get under your skin and haunt you for a few days. The Tiger Man by Geordie Williams Flantz is light and tender, yet biting and saucy – a perfect example of seemingly “alien” characters who are rather quite close to home. Mirror close. I also appreciate how pieces like Lost Lying on Your Back by Steven J. Dines or Birthday Licks by Kevin Brown offer a counterbalance of redemption, or at least a broken beauty, to temper the sharp brutality of their contents.

I have to point out The Pearl Diver With the Gold Chain by Paul Hogan for a couple of reasons. Maybe it’s just because I lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania for three years, or maybe it’s because I have a soft spot in my heart for the wanderers of the world (the old wheels as much as the old feet), but whatever it might be, I have this message for Mr. Hogan: Sir, it’s all I could do not to run to my jewelry box and try to tune in too. (Maybe I’m failing my inner child by not having done so already? Note to self… find a nice quiet spot… remember to relax…)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer some words for the visual pleasures in GUD 5. If you’re the type who likes to start with the pictures in a mag, then flip to page 84 and whet your appetite with a helping of Ada Lovelace: The Origin! by Sydney Padua. Two words: EVIL and EXCELLENT! So what’s the fate of Ada Lovelace, “the only legitimate child of mad, bad, and dangerous to know poet and nutcase Lord Byron”? You’ll have to get your own copy to find out.

I’m new to GUD as of Issue 5, but I find it nonetheless appropriate that their cover image should draw our thoughts toward vision and perspective, the act and emotion of searching. Everything in GUD 5 is vivid, brilliant, and inquisitive. As the reader I found myself constantly asking, “what if?” and “would it be different?” and “what would we do?” and “what have we done?” This isn’t a journal you get bored with and never finish – you’re going to want to suck the marrow out of this journal until you’re left with the satisfying skeleton.

There’s another question I asked myself while reading GUD 5 – how did the editors find so much excellent work to dish up in one place? Take a look at the About page at GUD and the answer is summarized in elegant simplicity: GUD is for the writers, the readers, the editors, the world. This isn’t lip service – the GUD business model and editorial approach are clearly succeeding as evidenced by the cornucopia of work which entertains while it provokes. In Issue 5 I don’t find myself yawning over stale academic bread, but rather devouring literary delights with gusto, and savoring the discovery of so many talented artists.

My observation is that GUD seeks work which satisfies both editors and audience, and it attracts the zine-shy writer with cold, hard compensation. Most of us write for reasons other than money, but that doesn’t mean we writers don’t like to get paid. I want to applaud GUD for building their business to both compensate artists and demand excellence. The fruits of your labors, dear editors, are sweet indeed… like a wriggling dish of gagh, very fresh.**

* See: Change in Pronunciation – Please Comply! April 1, 2010

** See: Star Trek Library – Food – gagh

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6 Responses to Literary Journal Review: Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) Magazine Issue 5

  1. Here! Here!

    Complete agreement – I read it cover to cover in just two sittings. For the busy NYC lifestyle – that’s a near impossibility.

  2. Hi Joseph, thanks for stopping by! I’ve been truly impressed – this has been hands down the most engaging journal I’ve picked up in a while! Glad you enjoyed it too.

  3. Kaolin Fire says:

    I just wanted to thank you for this review. We’ve done our best to direct attention to it. :)

  4. Howdy Kaolin – thanks for dropping by. You’ve done a great job spreading the word – this post has received lots of traffic.

    Thanks again for the copy and the chance to review (and the opportunity to discover a bunch of awesome new writing).

  5. t says:

    Great review and thank you for mentioning my poem! I also want to say Kaolin is one of the best editors — extremely thoughtful.

  6. Paul Kocak says:

    Well, well. Surprised and pleased to find this. So affirming to receive such considered praise. Thanks!

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