REVIEW: “The Fox, Expatriate” by Emily Horner

Review of Emily Horner, “The Fox, Expatriate”, Syntax and Salt #5, December 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Tiffany Crystal

I can’t really say much about this work. It’s a bit of a mix between the mythologies of the nine-tailed fox and the selkie. There’s nothing in particular that stands out in one way or another. Fox woman falls in love with human man. Fox woman takes off fur to become a human woman. She moves in with the man. She gets tired of being a human, but the skin won’t fit anymore. She leaves anyway. That’s….it. That is the substance. It’s not bad, exactly, it’s just not something that grabs you by the face and drags you in. At the very least, it’s a good quick read-and-move-onto-the-next-thing story.

REVIEW: “Milk Teeth and Heartwood” by Kathryn McMahon

Review of Kathryn McMahon, “Milk Teeth and Heartwood”, Syntax and Salt #5, December 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Tiffany Crystal

This is another story I’m not really sure how I feel about. It has an interesting premise, but there isn’t enough substance. It feels like it could be so much better…almost like it was rushed. She put together this great idea, the bare bones of it, and then just…threw it out there for the world to see. It’s really disappointing. There’s so much more she could’ve delved into.

Like, why is it only the mother and daughter? If the trees protect them, what happened to the father? Did the mother leave like her daughter had, only to come back pregnant, and that’s why they’re alone? What does the girl’s lovers think of the red lace that covers her arms? Do they know about the trees, or is that a local thing? How long was she gone, for her mother to have tree trunks for legs? Did moving away do anything to slow the change? Did she buy the weedkiller to use on herself, or in case the trees tried to follow her?

The story isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It’s just…missing something.

REVIEW: “Mother Imago” by Henry Stanton

Review of Henry Stanton, “Mother Imago”, Syntax and Salt #5, December 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Tiffany Crystal

I didn’t understand this work at all. It has some beautiful lines in it, and I get the impression that the title is a play on words, “Mother, I’mma go (now)”, but other than that, I’m really not sure what the author was trying to play at.

What is the importance of those three guns? Did the shadow that appeared make the person walk further into the marsh? Or was it symbolic of them waking up to realizing that they didn’t mean anything to the world? They mention passing through “that circle of hell”, and shades, which gives the impression that they’re a ghost. Are they walking into the marsh because they’ve grown weary of their existence outside their mother’s shack? How did their mother summon them, anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, the writing is well done, I just wish for a bit more substance to the story.

REVIEW: “When We Sleep, We Kill the World” by Adam Lock

Review of Adam Lock, “When We Sleep, We Kill the World”, Syntax and Salt #5, December 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Tiffany Crystal

Here’s one that will get you thinking. Artificial Intelligence and the future of robots/robotics can be a bit of a hot button topic, especially with the news story of the robot who opened a door for a “friend.” You have the people who are convinced that robots are going to try and take over the world, and then you have people who will turn it into a debate over what makes a person real. The Turing Test only tests a machine’s ability to mimic human behaviour. What happens when it becomes less of a mimic, and more of a truth? That is – what happens when the emotions are no longer perceived to be fake – to the robot or the human observer? What is it that sets humans apart from an AI that advanced?

“When We Sleep, We Kill the World” hits on that debate like it’s a massive gong at the mouth of a valley – you will feel the questions it brings up in your bones and will stay with you many miles down the road. I cannot recommend it enough.

REVIEW: “Where’s the Rest of Me?” by Matthew Cheney

Review of Matthew Cheney, “Where’s the Rest of Me?”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 31-52. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

And I’m looking at you right now, Mr. Reagan, and I know you’re not a queer, so I have to ask myself, as any reasonable man would: If you don’t look like a queer, why do you write like one? This is perplexing to me.

The story is a collection of snapshot vignettes, from a few sentences to a few paragraphs long, each with their own title. The same characters populate the vignettes, but the snippets are not ordered in a way to make a plot or story manifest. The reader must build the story themself while they read the different pieces, figure out how to put them into order in order to understand why we’ve been given these pieces rather than other ones. What’s omitted from the snippets are the answers to the question asked in the title of the story.

I found the story alternatingly startlingly sad and very perplexing. it is full of names and dates, historical details and precise facts — so full, in fact, that half-way through I was no longer able to reconcile what I was being told with what I (thought I) already knew about history, and had to pause and look up various things in wikipedia. That confirmed my own knowledge, and left me then wondering why Cheney chose to change history so much; what was gained by taking real-world historic figures and changing their lives, that would not have been present if Cheney had made up his characters? I don’t know. But I’ve also decided I don’t care about not knowing; even without that, this was a good story.

(Originally appeared in Blood: Stories, 2016).

REVIEW: “In the Beginning, All Our Hands Are Cold” by Ephiny Gale

Review of Ephiny Gale, “In the Beginning, All Our Hands Are Cold”, Syntax and Salt #5, December 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Tiffany Crystal

By now, if you’ve been paying attention to my reviews, you know that I hate unanswered questions. I like knowing the whys and the wherefores, I like having an ending, even if it’s just a simple “and they lived happily ever after.” When a story leaves too many questions, it’s like drinking a glass of water and still being thirsty. Or an itch beneath the skin that you just can’t reach.

The only thing this story had, out of all that, was an ending.

We have no idea why kids are born without hands. We don’t know if this is something that only happens to kids in this village, or world wide. We don’t know why the children change to fit the hands, or how the magic that keeps them young works. We don’t know if the hands call to the people they would be the best fit, or if the person picks the hands and their personality changes to fit the hands.

There were just so many unanswered questions…and I loved it.

The questions In the Beginning leaves, are like a cold cup of fruit juice on a hot summer’s day. It tastes great going down, and it leaves you wanting more, but not in a “I have the Sahara in my mouth” kinda way. It has made its way into my (very) short list of favorite short stories, and I am looking forward to reading more from this author.

REVIEW: “Two Tails” by Ransom Noble

Review of Ransom Noble, “Two Tails”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 86-99 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story relies heavily on the standard tropes about twins (e.g., “their twin connection”, p. 97), unfortunately to its detriment, in my opinion. Landry and Bellamy are twins training to become professional mermaids when an accident befalls Landry, leaving Bellamy — who has always been the follower — behind. I found Bellamy to be rather flat and personless, primarily defined in relation to her twin, who exerts significant (and sometimes problematic) control over her. I’ve read enough twin stories for the tropes to be familiar, but reading them again here it makes me wonder how much is trope and how much is real, and also how much the story needs Landry and Bellamy to be twins — could it have worked if Landry and Bellamy were merely sisters rather than twins? I think it could have.

This was a story that I found, personally, merely “fine”. In the context of this anthology, it seemed a bit out of place; it was not clear to me what was the place that had been abandoned.