A review of The Weather Man edited by Matt Ward

The Weather Man contains twenty-seven stories, and there’s a kind of similarity between them—nearly all of the stories contain a hard twist towards the end, and although there are a couple of exceptions, most are rooted in the psychological transformation of their characters. A large proportion of the stories are in the first person, with an immediate, confessional appeal. There are tales of technology gone wrong, of freak events, of epiphanies now past, of revenge, loss, pain, love and retribution.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Weather Man
The Best of the Skive Short Story Prize, 2006
Matthew Ward, Ed
Mockfrog Design Press
September 2006, $usd9.99 (print), e-book is available free from the Skive website, 153 pages

Since its inception in 2002, Matthew Ward’s Skive Magazine has quickly become the arbiter for excellence in electronic short story publishing. In addition to publishing a graphically attractive quarterly magazine full of innovative short stories, available as both a free .pdf and an inexpensive print publication, Skive has held two short story prizes. Both of these has resulted in a collection available free as a .pdf and inexpensively as a print publication. The second of these is the recently produced The Weather ManThe Weather Man contains twenty-seven stories, and there’s a kind of similarity between them—nearly all of the stories contain a hard twist towards the end, and although there are a couple of exceptions, most are rooted in the psychological transformation of their characters. A large proportion of the stories are in the first person, with an immediate, confessional appeal. There are tales of technology gone wrong, of freak events, of epiphanies now past, of revenge, loss, pain, love and retribution.

The title of the collection takes its name from the first prize winner, Keith Davidson’s story. The piece has a fascinating premise. A computer hacker manages to find a program that controls the weather. He has fun with it for a while, creating odd hurricanes, and doing a little good, but soon his overarching ennui gets the best of him:

At first, I used my power for the benefit of my fellow humans – I brought rain to large parts of Africa, giving their crops the chance to flourish for the first time in years; I brought relief from rain to areas in danger of flooding and ensured an unusually mild end to the coldest Russian winter for decades. I felt pleased with myself but ultimately hollow – being a weather saviour to the masses got boring after a while and so I reckoned it was time to spice things up.

Setting in train a hoax which will eventually prove fatal, the story progresses past the narrator’s declining relationship and then into his own personal decline. There are allegorical elements about the corrupting elements of power and perhaps about the nature of God and the ease at which our carefully controlled systems can be broken down, but ultimately, this is a fun, dark, but easy to read story.

Second prize winner Brian Child’s “Disappearing in South America” is a broody, but beautifully written memoir of a youthful experience in a foreign country. The haphazard, responsibility-free lifestyle is merged with a sensual experience of the setting:

The dusk spread slowly as the Sun set. Shadows of palm trees and cabañas grew until they took over the beach completely and all that was left of the day was the heat coming off the sand. I sat drinking beer, disappearing in the darkness as the beach shrunk under the tide. The first wave baptized me. Light filled up my eyes so I could hardly see and they glowed in my face like far away stars.

Although the ending is open to interpretation, one imagines this to be a melancholy look back at a moment in time which ultimately came and went in as fleeting a fashion as the sunset or a moment of alcoholic intoxication.

Similarly Adam Bunch’s “The Day it Snowed Feathers,” builds its plot on a simple freak occurrence of nature that comes, seems to change everything, but ultimately is lost to memory. The last sentence is an odd and jarring way to end the piece, “One of those things that happens that you can’t control, like death and taxes and the Vietcong.” But perhaps, at a pinch, the author is making a comment about the fickle frailty of human memory, able to discount the death of many children as easily as it was able to forget the atrocities of the Vietnam war.

Other stories in the collection are self-reflective, such as the Paul Alan Fahey’s cyclical “Close in Spirit,” Dierdre Oliver’s “The House on the Edge of the World,” which looks from a distance at the ending of a life. The cliché line ending the story—particularly for those readers who remember the band Kansas–is unfortunate, but the rest of the story is very powerful. Death figures in many of the stories too, like the Kurt Hoffman’s “The Repair Girl” which is one of the few stories in the third person, but so entrenched in the protagonists point of view that it gets right under the skin of the doomed girl, the almost unbearably depressing “Under the Mistletoe” by Jose Webber, the simple moment of death in the flash fiction “Run” by Joel S Goble, or the Twilight Zone evocativeness of R F Maraza’s “The Toast Family’s Magic Radio” with its powerful ending:

The radio lay silent, shattered, but the sound, lower now, came from her right. Arthur sat on the floor amid a clutter of crumpled bills, eyes wide and unseeing, mouth open. From that black hole came a mellifluous voice in Italian, and then Greek, and then Japanese, and marine weather forecasts and police calls and some of the most beautiful music Maureen had ever heard. So beautiful she wept to hear it.

There are many different perspectives, gremlins who appear in office refrigerators, the pain of growing up, life in the city, love lost, and even a few appearances by conjured demons, teen desperation, parental pain, paranoia, pop nostalgia (never mind Kansas, how about the Bay City Rollers and Supertramp), midlife crises, and even a hint of murder. The Weather Man is an enjoyable collection of engaging stories which tend to focus on the psychological realms of their protagonists. Readers can take them as intended, one at a time, a single story at a single bite. There’s much here of varying degrees of intensity to keep the reader awake at night, engaged while waiting in a queue, or just as an altered perspective in the midst of an ordinary day. For more information on The Weather Man visit: www.skivemagazine.com/sssp2006_book.html

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