REVIEW: “Mictian Diabolus” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Mictian Diabolus”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 28-45 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: graphic descriptions of human torture and mutilation.

It’s a strange experience to read a story that is well-written but nevertheless not a nice story. Such was my experience reading this one, a story of petty crime, drug addiction, the grotesque and demonic, all carefully put together and elegantly wrapped up, but still sordid.

The story follows the classic structure of a high school/teen horror movie, each step leading inexorably on to the predictable ending. At the end, the only question I left with was ‘what (or who) is Mictian?’ — a question unanswered in the story but easily answered via google. So I learned something new reading this story, so the unpleasant experience wasn’t wholly without reward.

REVIEW: “Death on Mars” by Madeline Ashby

Review of Madeline Ashby, “Death on Mars”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 115-136 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The premise of this story is an experiment:

To see if women—with their lower caloric needs, their lesser weight, their quite literally cheaper labor, in more ways than one—could get the job done on Phobos? (p. 117)

Even now, when so much work has been done to address the lack of women in STEM (which is sadly all too much reflected in SFF, both amongst the writers and the written), the status quo is still such that I’m not surprised it is a woman that has written a story based on this premise.

This was not the only thing that separated this story out from the others I’ve read so far in this anthology. The other was that the science was not the focus; instead, it is the women and their relationships with each other, and how these relationships are disrupted by the arrival of a newcomer bearing unwanted news. They are the heart of the story; the science, their life on Phobos, these are all incidental.

This was a quiet, poignant story, well worth the reading. It’s hard not to cry at it, but at the same time it’s hard not to recognize the beautiful wonder of seeing these women “where we’re supposed to be. Because this is where we are at our best” (p. 135). What better death could one ask for, than to die knowing they died where they were supposed to be, being the best they could be?

REVIEW: “Furtherest” by Kaaron Warren

Review of Kaaron Warren, “Furtherest”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 55—76. Purchase Here. Originally published in Dark Screams Volume Seven, edited by Brian James Freeman (Cemetery Dance/Hydra, 2017). Purchase Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis.

Another engaging story in the anthology, and a rewarding read. The story revolves around four boat houses on an Australian beach, with the (unnamed female) protagonist’s family occupying one house during their summer beach holidays, and the others acting as home to the indolent ‘Jason’s dad’ and the rather disturbing ‘Mr White/Grandpa Sheet/Grandad Sheet’ as he’s variously called. There is something sinister about the dunes at the back of the house and there are rumours of a spate of suicides over the years, so no-one wants to venture inside, despite Grandpa Sheet’s exhortations to see who can go ‘furtherest’. The story starts when the protagonist is a young girl, and then resumes when she is older and the family, experiencing its own problems, visits the beach once again. It’s a mysterious and unnerving story that kept me gripped to the end.

It took me a little while to get into the narrator’s voice and to work out the different characters in the houses and so on, but the gradual reveal of the various layered elements of the story was admirable, as was the portrayal of family dynamics. I also learnt a lot from the story. With the early reference to the Vietnam conflict I originally assumed that the story was set in the USA and was a little confused by some of the more British phrasing, only to realise the that story takes place in Australia – and not only that I’m a bit ignorant of some aspects Australian history and culture, but also that I don’t seem to have read much horror fiction set in Australia, which is something that I’ll have to rectify. I intend to check out Warren’s other stories in the near future.

REVIEW: “Store in a Dark Place” by David Stevens

Review of David Stevens, “Store in a Dark Place”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 29-34. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

What a strange and very dark story. The story follows a protagonist named Gerald whose deformed head is locked up in a box. He has flashbacks and deals with his paranoia that everywhere he goes death and destruction follow. The story is set in a ruined world which the author has apparently explored before in two previously published stories: “Avoiding Gagarin,” in Aurealis, and “The Big Reveal” in Kaleidotrope. Definitely right up your alley if you’re a fan of grimdark writing, with loads of gritty imagery and murky, confused morality.

 

The writing is full of a lot of rhetorical questions, which can get a little grating after a while, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered (though they may be answered better once the other two stories have been read), but the “Store in a Dark Place” is is intriguing enough. Just be prepared for a bit of a downer.

REVIEW: “The Ashen Heart of St. Fain” by Dale Carothers

Review of Dale Carothers, “The Ashen Heart of St. Fain”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 35-40. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

A fantasy story about a young, privileged man who wants to basically be his world’s equivalent of Walt Whitman, and write a book for the common people. He seeks to write an account of the city of St. Fain, where a fallen god has left a massive burnt-out crater. Like many would-be “writers” with lofty goals, he finds himself counting more an more days without a page count and ultimately ends up caught in another person’s pain, his own failings, and his family’s expectations. This is a story of healing, but also of shattered dreams, naivete, misplaced hopes. It starts out easy enough, but don’t expect the whole ride to be full of peaceful easy feelings.

Does Nicholas ever pursue writing again and actually get some work done? I don’t know. Maybe Dale Carothers will revisit this young man’s world or it’s been visited before this story. Either way I do recommend this one. While it is refreshing to see a story every once in a while that has a not-so-happy ending, this one did actually bum me out a little. Which is a good thing, believe it or not.

 

REVIEW: “Hair” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Hair”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 12-26 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The opening line of the opening story in this collection grabbed me viscerally and left me deeply uncomfortable:

Tonight, Theodore voluntarily ingested hair for the first time.

All it took was the insertion of the single world ‘voluntarily’ to conjure up images of some bizarre and creepy fetish — and also to conjure up questions that I must have answered in order to be satisfied: Why does Theodore choose to eat his own hair, and what is the reason for the strange elation it brings him?

In the end, I’m not sure I got any answers: But the sheer creepiness of the story carried me from start to finish almost without allowing me to pause for breath.

(Originally published in DarkFuse, 2016).

REVIEW: Darkest Hours by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of the perks of reviews is discovering new stories and new authers that one would not otherwise have ever come across — this goes both for reading reviews and writing them! Were it not for running this site, I doubt I would have come across this collection of short stories (mostly horror, but some have a stronger SFF element or slant). This is also the first time we’ve reviewed a collection of short stories all written by the same author, instead of an edited anthology, which is itself a treat: A single story never can display all facets of a single author.

The stories in this collection display many facets: Creepy, disturbing, but also skilled and precise. The overall tenor is a gory, sordid one — not really up my alley, unfortunately. In the end, I found I came away from too many of the stories feeling vaguely unclean from having read them, and I also found the glorification of male violence and the centering of the male characters rather depressing.

Nine of the stories in this collection have been previous published, but the remaining seven are new. As is usual on this site, we’ll review each of the stories in turn, and link the reviews to the list below:

If horror is your thing, you’ll probably find a story for you in this collection. If horror isn’t your thing, you may still yet find a story for you in this collection. Or you might be better off avoiding it.