REVIEW: “Giving In” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Giving In”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 24-26 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Suicide.

This brief story starts off dark and tremendously sad — Christmas night, a man contemplating suicide, awash with memories of committing his senile mother to care, how in the aftermath he lost not only his mother but his wife and son, too. The thread that runs through all the events and emotions, past and present, is a music box that once played on the man’s mother’s dresser, and which he hoped would one day play for his son. In the end, the song of the music box is, I think, intended to leave the reader with a sense of hope, but I’m not sure how successfully it did so: I just felt rather down after finishing it.

REVIEW: “Whispering Waters” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Whispering Waters”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 9 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story — at one page long — is over and done with before it even gets started. It was the story I started off with, and it probably wasn’t the best choice for me; it was too short to be satisfying, and I find the 2nd-person narration grating. However, the final line went a long way to turning around my initial impressions.

(Originally published in Apex Magazine 66).

REVIEW: Little Creepers by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, Little Creepers, (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This year, SFFReviews participated in #RevPit on twitter for the first time — where authors promote their books for review and reviewers indicate which books they’d be interested in reviewing — and that’s how we received a copy of Jessica Walsh’s short collection of horror stories. Two of the stories, “Whispering Waters” and “Lurking Status”, had previously been published, but the rest are new. Interspersed throughout the tales are interesting illustrations which lend a new dimension to the stories.

It is an eclectic collection, ranging from the single-page almost flash-fic story “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight” to the nearly-novellette 43-page story “My Life”. As a result, I read the stories out of order, rather than sequentially, so that I could pick a length that suited my reading desires at a given time. As is customary, we’ve listed the contents below (pretty much my only significant complaint is that I would’ve liked to have had a table of contents in the book itself!), and will review the stories individually and link the reviews back here as they are published:

  • “In the Pipes Below”
  • “Whispering Waters”
  • “Frostbite”
  • “Footprints”
  • “Giving In”
  • Limited Power”
  • “Toothache”
  • “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight”
  • “White Noise”
  • “Lurking Status”
  • “I Wake Up In Strange Places”
  • “My Life”
  • “Lovely Decisions”
  • “For Sale”

To speak to the collection as a whole: I often struggle with where “horror” fits into SFFReviews. It certainly can fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction”, especially in its psychological guises. Sometimes horror can be purely mundane, though; for instance, when it stems from physical violence and gore. It was hard to categorise these stories, some of which were definitely on the speculative end of things, while others (like “Giving In”) were so mundane as to be merely depressing rather than horrible. Good speculative horror that is well done I truly enjoy, and that’s what keeps me dipping back into the horror genre time and time again. In this collection, some of the stories lived up to my hopes and satisfied my desires; but unfortunately only some.

REVIEW: “All Votes Will Be Counted (We Promise)” by Paul Crenshaw

Review of Paul Crenshaw, “All Votes Will Be Counted (We Promise)”, Apex Magazine 119 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Take one part 1950’s aesthetic and one part friendly totalitarian government, mix them well, and you’ll get something similar to this wholesome American dystopia, reminiscent of “The Lottery.” Mr. Clausen is sick of being called to vote almost every evening after work, but this is the price of living in a direct democracy – the people must vote on every issue, from whether to launch more laser satellites, to issuing more war bonds. Mr. Clausen suspects that these votes do not really matter – after all, who could tally them so quickly? – and he’s about to learn the truth.

What struck me was how nobody takes the voting seriously. It’s mostly a social occasion, with the teens flirting and giggling, the women gossiping in the corner, and the men ribbing each other about their work days. Something that is ostensibly supposed to make people more engaged in the political process actually makes them less engaged. One person actually says that he just votes for everything. When Mr. Clausen starts to question what is going on, everyone keeps asking him why he can’t just go along with it like everybody else, as if voting doesn’t really matter.

The world and the government grow steadily more and more creepy as the story progresses, and as we and Mr. Clausen both learn more about what is happening. Eventually, he is forced to confront the worst of what can happen when “the will of people” is honored in word, but not deed, and conformity is all that matters. The conclusion is open-ended, but it is hard to imagine any resolution to the situation that could be described as happy. It’s a haunting picture, and one that I’m sure will stick with me.

REVIEW: “Two Monsters Down in the Dark” by E. H. Mann

Review of E. H. Mann, “Two Monsters Down in the Dark”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Ellie and Benji are ransacking a dragon’s lair, hoping for gold and money that will “keep us for years, if we’re careful.” Clever, quick-witted, little Benji is convinced the dragon is dead and the lair is empty of everything except treasure there for the taking. But “trollblood” Ellie, “big and strong and slow of thought and speech”, for the first time in her life refuses her brother.

What follows is a tense, tough, awkward, horribly sad story of the highs and lows of sibling relationships and familial ties, of greed and betrayal, of the monsters that live in the dark, a story that brought me to tears.

REVIEW: “Professor Strong and the Brass Boys” by Amal Singh

Review of Amal Singh, “Professor Strong and the Brass Boys”, Apex Magazine 119 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Lispector Strong seems fairly content with ris life as a history professor, until one of ris students ask what rhe does for leisure. Under the rules of their society, droids like Professor Strong are not allowed leisure. This leads rhim to a lot of soul searching, and eventually to music, and an understanding that droids are perhaps not treated fairly under the current laws.

This story deals with art and justice, two concepts that the people within it would argue apply only to humans. It is a surprisingly gentle story, because Professor Strong is, at heart, a gentle being. Logical, kind, yet determined, rhe senses that there must be a better way, and is determined to do what rhe can to get humans to see the other droids as something other than servants. Rhe does not go about this through battle, either verbal or physical, but through music.

The end is more ambiguous than I would have preferred, but I don’t know that any other ending would have felt genuine. This story is asking big questions, and a neat ending might imply an easy solution. I respect the emotional honesty of the ending, which leaves the consequences of Professor Strong’s actions still unknown. What matters – what makes the ending work – is that Professor Strong acted. Rhe made a decision, and accepted the risks.

REVIEW: “A Song for Hardy Connelly” by K. Noel Moore

Review of K. Noel Moore, “A Song for Hardy Connelly”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Moore’s “Song” is divided into three parts, telling the stories of Hardy, Saraid, and Moïra, all linked to each other through blood but separated by their experiences.

Hardy Connelly was born Deaf, and a childhood bout with Guillain-Barré Syndrome left her legs weak and in need of artificial support. Those who don’t know her pity her:

Poor thing, they said. Cursed she must be. That’s no worthwhile life she’s living.

But if Hardy is cursed, it’s not because of either her Deafness or her weak legs. It’s because she’s a Connelly, a descendent of the Ò Conghalaighs who

had meddled with something from the Other Place that wasn’t meant to be meddled with,

and as a result, both Hardy and her aunt, Moïra, have the same golden eyes that herald the second sight.

I found this story hard to follow and a bit disjointed. Saraid’s relationship with Hardy and Moïra is never made clear, and I didn’t understand how her central section related to the bookending sections of Hardy and Moïra. It was also not clear to me what the titular song was — whether it was a component of the stories, or whether the three rather prosaic sections were to be understood as being a song.

I liked the way the story engaged with Deafness, particularly the different communicative valences that came into play. I did find it a bit strange how the speech via sign language was depicted, though: Both Hardy’s (who is fluent in sign language) and Moïra’s (who is not) signed speech is rendered into written speech with an a-grammaticality and unexpected sentence structure. I wish I knew more about sign language to know if this is a mirroring of the syntax of sign language, or if Moore was trying to indicate something else with this technique.