Review: “Litro” Literary Magazine (Issue 134: “Augmented Reality”)

Litro Magazine

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The one-hundred-and-thirty-fourth issue of Litro (published in May 2014) is a slim volume, but manages to pack a great deal of writing into its forty-four narrow pages. As well as fiction and poetry, the magazine is home to a variety of articles, interviews and features, all of them adhering to the issue’s theme of “Augmented Reality”.

The question of what “Augmented Reality” actually means is answered admirably by the content of the magazine. We open with a Q&A with Bruce Sterling, celebrated author of ten science-fiction novels and a contributing editor of WIRED magazine. The discussion revolves around the advance of technology, from the more sinister applications of Google Glass to the wonder that is the Xbox Kinect. The interviewer manages to slip in a few questions about Sterling’s writing too, but the meat of the conversation is Sterling’s fascinating vision of the near future.

The fiction and poetry on offer is varied. “Cascade” by Iain Robinson is a simple, well-told story about a man disconnecting from the constant stream of information known – in the world of the story – as the Cascade. It’s a thinly-veiled critique of our current obsession with technology, and the author’s views on the matter are made abundantly clear. It’s a compelling read though, and comes to a satisfying and oddly-moving conclusion.

Peter Vilbig’s “Pathway” is a rather more confusing tale. It has some wonderful stream-of-consciousness descriptions, but also long thickets of dense and impenetrable phrasing:

“The detective who handled my case showed me how theorization is the illimitable erasure and re-engraving of standpoint and by its nature fails to account for exploitation, even when its subject is exploitation.”

It’s an enjoyable read just for the elaborately-wrought language, but the meaning of the piece as a whole was out of my grasp.

Meaning is, however, at the very centre of the third story in the issue, Thomas Darby’s “Loud And Clear”. In this piece an unknown narrator dissects and examines a short text message in forensic detail. The identity of the sender is never revealed, but the story speculates and hints at a number of different possibilities. It’s an intriguing and original concept, and executed with impressive deftness.

There’s not much poetry present, but the two pieces by Eveline Pye are well-chosen, simple and relevant. Also supplementing the fiction you will find an essay by James Miller entitled “Micro-Narratives Of The Everyday”. As well as giving a brief history of the novel as a form, Miller also examines the challenges posed by new technology and changing attitudes towards the written word. His proclamation that social media could mean the end of “serious art” is perhaps somewhat panicky, but the piece ends on a hopeful note, and is worthy reading for anyone who has even a passing interest in the impact of new technology on existing forms.

There’s also an extract from Alice Through The Looking Glass, Jake Fior’s remix of the classic tale by Lewis Carroll. It captures the whimsical tone of the original, but shifts the story to a contemporary setting. There’s not much that will surprise you in the published extract, but the contextualising note promises a dark, musical retelling of Alice’s well-known story, and the short section featured in Litro was enough to pique my interest.

The magazine as a whole is a solid selection, well-presented, with a good balance between fiction, poetry, article and interview. Although the theme of this particular issue might appeal to readers of science-fiction, I get the sense that Litro is pitched much more at a general audience. It was a swift but diverting read – nothing leaped off the page and hit me between the eyes – but it nevertheless kept me thoroughly occupied for several enjoyable hours.

Litro is, or course, much more than a magazine. Few other literary publications are so engaged with contemporary culture – as well as its own book club and boutique literary agency, Litro runs a series of (mostly London-based) events. You’ll find details of these in the magazine itself (which can be picked up from an impressive number of stockists) or on the website, where there is also a plethora of extra writing that wouldn’t fit in the printed magazine. The whole enterprise strikes me as something that is very much worth sampling a part of.

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Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England. He works as a copywriter for a charity, and in his spare time writes book reviews.