REVIEW: “While it’s Still Beating” by Emma Grygotis

Review of Emma Grygotis, “While it’s Still Beating”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It’s hard to know whether to describe this story as SF or dystopian, though the unhappy future presented in it makes me lean towards the latter. Sometimes, future-oriented SF can just be so damn depressing.

Reading this, it feels like the tenses and temporal points are not mapped out correctly. There is a lot of past perfect, and a lot of present, and the “once, years ago, Alice could read Lenore’s moods by her eyes” – shouldn’t that really be “once, years ago, Alice had been able to…”? Because surely we are not talking about a single moment in time but rather an extended period. These shifts in tenses and the oblique way with which Grygotis approaches her story combine to make many aspects of the story unclear and uncertain. Both Lenore and Alice know why their insurance premiums are too high, but unfortunately, by the end of the story, I don’t, and the power that the ending might have had is lost on me.

REVIEW: “Evidence of a Storm” by Mollie Chandler

Review of Mollie Chandler, “Evidence of a Storm”, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #36 Early Autumn pp. 17-21. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This issue is the first I’ve read of LCRW, and it was this story that solidified the thought that I would probably be enjoying this publication for a long time. I have a soft spot for bleak stories, and while this is one that doesn’t smack you over the head with utter hopelessness until you’re curled up crying there is an underlying line of tension and sadness running through the whole thing.

The narrator has recurring dreams that their apartment is a ship lost at sea, filling with water and sea life. Their girlfriend visits them, a perky woman who the main character is clearly having some sort of disconnect from. They’re having trouble communicating, refusing intimacy, referring to the woman as “a collection of hinges and joists.” Over time the dream becomes more real, and the world more surreal, with the water beginning to damage everything it touches while the narrator pushes their girlfriend away.

It’s easy to draw allegory and symbolism of depression and a doomed relationship from this piece: the trouble communicating, the pushing away of a loved one, the recurring dreams of a room filling with water. However, I feel it’s best to leave interpretations such as that to the reader. This piece is subtle in its grief, and it’s all so human. If it were only this story and the two preceding it in this magazine I’d still highly recommend giving a few dollars to purchase a copy, but there’s more in there, including a strange (though compelling) nonfiction piece and some poems. As for this story, like the previous two, highly recommended.

REVIEW: “The Summer Mask” by Karin Lowachee

Review of Karin Lowachee, “The Summer Mask”, Nightmare Magazine 62: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

The more horror I read, the more I get to ruminate on what it is that scares us. Sometimes it is the obvious things like spiders, death, or heights. However, some of the things that cause unease in us are not as obvious. Deformities, for example, seem to strike fear into us whether we recognize it as such. Perhaps it is a fear that such a thing will happen to us. Perhaps the ways we characterize monsters as grotesque leads us to apply that characterization to people who look different simply as a reflex. Whatever the reason, body horror like that in David Cronenberg’s movies puts many people off.

Karin Lowachee explores the nature of deformity and humanity in “The Summer Mask”. David, an artist, is commissioned to make a mask for Matthew whose face has been irrevocably altered by war to the point of unrecognizable damage. He wears a crude leather mask during most of the year, but it is during the summer that he is able to walk freely to feel the sun though he cannot see. Before the war, he was classically handsome and the artist seeks to create a mask which recaptures this outside reflection of inner beauty.

During this process, a relationship is formed between the two which (on the artist’s side) was certainly romantic in nature. The artist ruminates on ugliness and beauty and how one must justify its existence but not the other. His love for his subject leads him to give a sacrifice to his artistic work beyond what he is called upon to do. This short story is powerful as it examines love and beauty and the projections we place upon others.

REVIEW: Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson

Review of Jessica Augustsson, ed., Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, (JayHenge Publications, 2017) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This wonderfully enticing collection is chock full of stories of all lengths and genres, as the listing of stories below indicates — more than 350 pages of monster stories. These are stories of

the bogey-men and devils who will eat you if you go out at night…the gods and demigods waiting to be offended…sinister mutations and imposters who try to fool us…the monsters we harbor deep in our own hearts (p. v).

The anthology is charmingly illustrated throughout, with a pen and ink picture for each tale, and sometimes a few small icons scattered within the story (depending on its length). Unfortunately, no information about the provenance of these images is provided — unfortunate, because whoever the artist(s) was (were), they should be credited!

The stories range from the quite short (a page and a half) to the quite decently long, such as Delilah Night’s “For the Love of Snow White” (just over thirty pages). The best way to get a sense for the variety of the stories told is to read the reviews of the individual contributions, which will be linked below as they are published:

  • “Company for Tea” by Kimber Camacho
  • “Adapt and Overcome” by Stephen R. Smith
  • “Too Generous” by N. R. M. Roshak
  • “Raw Material” by Brandon Nolta
  • “Waffles” by Ariel Ptak
  • “For Love of Snow White” by Delilah Night
  • Nephilia clavata” by G. Grim
  • “Going Forth By Day” by Andrew Johnson
  • “Trich” by Jay Knioum
  • “What Lies in the Ice” by P. A. Harland
  • “Sin” by Karl Egerton
  • “Katabasis” by Petter Skult
  • “Breach” by Niki Kools
  • “Demon in a Copper Case” by Damon L. Wakes
  • “Hansel and Gretel in the Wasteland” by Shondra Snodderly
  • “Töpflein, stehe” by G. Deyke
  • “Beauty Mortis” by Jaap Boekestein
  • “Silver Noir” by Ariel Ptak
  • “Penumbra” by Chris Brecheen
  • “Of Anger and Beauty” by Stephen R. Smith
  • “Robbie and the Birds” by A. R. Collins
  • “Onward Christian Soldiers” by G. H. Finn
  • “Reborn” by Petter Skult
  • “Gorgon’s Deep” by Mike Adamson
  • “Cuddles” by Ariel Ptak
  • “Picture Perfect” by Lori Tiron-Pandit
  • “A Helping Hand” by Samantha Trisken
  • “Bartleby & the Professors Solve the Riddle” by Shondra Snodderly
  • “Daughter” by Will Reierson
  • “Gristle” by Jay Knioum
  • “Camping” By J. D. Buffington
  • “Wasteland” by Stephen R. Smith
  • “Passive Aggressive” by Narrelle M. Harris
  • “Cinderevolution” by Shondra Snodderly
  • “Sometimes People are Monsters” by Kaleen Hird
  • “Skeletons in the Closet” by Susanne Hülsmann
  • “Memento Mori” by Charlotte Frankel
  • “Red Queen’s Lullaby” by Ariel Ptak
  • “Heirlooms” by Rosalind Alenko
  • “The Sphinx” by Petter Skult
  • “Demon of the Song” by Ville Meriläinen
  • “The Gilded Swan” by Damon L. Wakes
  • “Aliens and Old Gods” by Kimber Camacho
  • “A Taste of Freedom” by Thomas Webb

One general comment about the typesetting — the font used in the table of contents and in the headers/footers is maximally confusing, with many letter forms being only identifiable by looking at occurrences of the same form in words which are unambiguous, so I apologise in advance for misrepresenting any of the titles. (I went back and forth as to whether Ptak’s third story was “Cuddles” or “Puddles”). (I did, however, manage to not to interpret all the l’s as long s’s, even though I really wanted to.)

REVIEW: “Dead Men Tell Tales” by Dave D’Alessio

Review of Dave D’Alessio, “Dead Men Tell Tales”, Broadswords and Blasters 1 (2017): 11-19 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Yana Shepard.

It’s freezing this afternoon as I write this, snuggling my keyboard under my electric blanket as I try to stave off the shivers. The second story of Broadswords and Blasters kept me company when I was in one of my dark moods, a sign that D’Alessio is a skilled writer. It’s no easy feat to get me to enjoy anything when I’m unpredictable and feeling hostile to anyone brave enough to poke their head into my room.

Science fiction is near and dear to my heart, and this got it right. What I loved most was the technology. Nano machines? Love the little guys. There are others, of course, that D’Alessio describes but I refuse to spoil them. They made me smile in glee to read about them for the first time so it would be heartless of me to take the discovery away from others.

The ending felt abrupt to me, however. But, overall, I did enjoy this short story. A lot.

I highly recommend this if you are a SF fan. I also recommend this if you like noir. This being both, you might get a kick out of it.

REVIEW: “Failsafe” by Karen Bovenmyer

Review of Karen Bovenmyer, “Failsafe”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 195-238 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the longest of all the stories in the anthology, and makes for a stellar capping off of the collection. The pin is somewhere in the Caribbean, and the story is a classic creepy zombie story. It is totally not the sort of story that I would ordinarily seek out to read, because I’m not a zombie story person. I’m also not really a lonely-space-traveler-with-companion-AI story person either, or a horror story kind of person, and this story was all three of these. And yet, it was also exactly the sort of story I want, not because it was a horror-zombie-lonely-traveller story, but because of the way it was these things, because of the diversity of characters, because of the one who thinks like me, because of the roller coaster of hope and despair that Bovenmyer takes us on. It was very satisfying.

REVIEW: “When You Find Such a Thing” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Review of Suyi Davies Okungbowa, “When You Find Such a Thing”, Podcastle: 496 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

Once again, Podcastle demonstrates the value-added not only by presenting certain stories in audio format, but by carefully matching the narrator to the material. I don’t usually call out the narrators in my reviews, but Solomon Osadolo was magnificent in interpreting the rhythms and flavor of this story. (There was one unfortunate technical recording glitch that marred the production values, but that’s neither the author nor the narrator’s fault.)

The protagonist’s ordinarily terrifying experience of meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time is given a fantasy twist by his profession: the newly government-authorized and licensed field of traditional Nigerian wizard. In explaining his profession to his potentially future father-in-law, the listener also receives the essential grounding in what this means and how it works. What confuses him is why he needs to explain it in such detail to the man. Although only recently made respectably legal, surely the man would be familiar with the basic principles? That’s when he discovers the magical shroud clouding the man’s understanding and awareness of wizardry.

Why that shroud exists, and who created it, forms the tension of the rest of the story. It is, in essential ways, a story about consent and about the limits of what is acceptable to do to protect oneself and one’s loved ones from cultural prejudice and danger. As the title says, “When you find such a thing [i.e., love], you do anything to keep it.” But who decides what that “anything” includes? In the current climate of discussion on informed consent and allowing people agency in their own lives, a surface reading of the story puts the protagonist (and the second wizard in the story) in a somewhat horrific light. But life isn’t so simple, as that other wizard points out. Government sanction and legality isn’t the same thing as acceptance, and a history of persecution and prejudice can’t be wiped away by a law and a license.

I was able to step away from the specifics of the story and feel the complexities more when I “translated” the core ethical situation into one of sexuality rather than wizardry (although there’s absolutely no basis in the story for this specific connection–it’s just one that has particular resonance for me). Is it right to deceive your loved ones about some essential aspect of your identity if full disclosure would destroy that love and put your life at hazard? We don’t have the luxury of waiting for an ideal and accepting world in which ethics can be treated purely as a philosophical exercise. We live in the world as it is. And sometimes that world has things that are precious enough that you do anything to keep them. Even if what you do is wrong by certain lights.

A separate, purely technical note on the episode: I have a certain degree of auditory processing disorder, which means that when I’m listening to speech with unfamiliar rhythms and accents, I can have difficulty processing it adequately. I needed to listen to this episode twice: once to calibrate my hearing to the narrator and language structure, and once to actually listen to the story itself. This is a defect in my neural processing, not in the story itself. If you find yourself having a similar experience, I urge you to give the story the benefit of a second listen, or try the text version instead. It’s worth it.