REVIEW: “A Dream of This Life” by Andrea Blythe

Review of Andrea Blythe, “A Dream of This Life”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Drug use.

This was a grey, dismal story, of insomnia, of drug-use, of the wretched dullness of life. The narrator (never named) used to be a dreamer of dreams — and, more importantly, a seller of them too. Now she dreams no longer, at least, not any dream that anyone would want to have, because

No one wants to buy a dream that leaves them with the same unsettling boredom they experience every day of their lives.

Blythe describes the experiences of the narrator in painfully evocative language: Very well written, but what’s being written is not necessarily something you want to read. What I found most interesting, reading this story, was how much reading the story felt like experiencing one of those dreams. No one wants a dream that resembles the dullness of their life; but few would want to read a story that is full of the boredom of life, either. In sum: The story was well-written, but I am unsure that it is a story that people would want to read.

REVIEW: “The Other Foot” by Margo Lanagan

Review of Margo Lanagan, “The Other Foot”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 95-101. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This short story is a retelling of one of the lesser known Anderson fairy tales, the tale of The Red Shoes. It’s a tale I hadn’t read since childhood and had only the vaguest memories of, but Lanagan’s story stands on its own: Full of the gruesome horror that all proper and good children’s fairy tales have — though this version is not one that I would share with a kid. After finishing the story, I then went to read Anderson’s version, and that only increased my enjoyment of Lanagan’s version, by adding more layers and depth.

REVIEW: “The Ghol” by Rose Strickman

Review of Rose Strickman, “The Ghol”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

After the death of her husband, James, Miranda and her two daughters, Lily and Violet, find themselves struggling to keep the farm — and the family — together as a ghol comes to haunt them. Their only defense against the ghol is the poems that James wrote, poems which are consumed in the act of defense, so that Miranda knows it is only a matter of time before there are no poems, no defense, left. And it is only James’s poems that work: Poems written by Miranda and the girls are useless.

The only way to destroy a ghol completely is to find what it is that it craves and give it a poisoned version of that. Strickman gives a satisfying resolution to this conundrum, making a neat little story of haunting and horror.

REVIEW: “Rain Like Diamonds” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “Rain Like Diamonds”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The queen hoarded the barrels of seed, keeping them locked within her coffers…

The kingdom is caught in the throes of famine. Every day people plead with the queen to help them, to help their starving children. And every day the queen refuses, knowing the grain must be saved until the dragon-scorched land is healed and it can be planted. But only tears can bring the rain like diamonds.

This is a quiet story of sacrifice and duty.

REVIEW: “El Cantar de la Reina Bruja” by Victoria Sandbrook

Review of Victoria Sandbrook, “El Cantar de la Reina Bruja”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 79-92. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Reina Alejandra chained her goddess soul in order to seduce a king. Now she is his captive, and the king is on crusade to woo a new queen, using Alejandra’s magic as his weapon. Submitting to his will is the only hope she has of one day freeing herself.

I found this story perplexing. It was beautifully written but it felt like certain pieces to the puzzle were missing. Alejandra clearly loved her king — or at least did once — not just lusted after him. But never are we shown why; there seemed nothing loveable in him. As a result, Alejandra seemed more to be pitied than to be sad for. I also missed a piece in the way in which she won her freedom; when Alejandra and her rival queen finally meet, it seems as if they must have met already, but we are not told how. Or perhaps it just is that Alejandra loves widely, and without reason.

REVIEW: “Candied Sweets, Cornbread, and Black-Eyed Peas” by Malon Edwards

Review of Malon Edwards, “Candied Sweets, Cornbread, and Black-Eyed Peas”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 63-76. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“Candied Sweets, Cornbread, and Black-Eyed Peas” is the third story in Edwards’ “Half Dark” series, set in an alternate-universe Chicago where there is a strong Haitian (sub?)community and featuring the same heroine, but can be read independently of the first two (as I did; though afterwards I read the SFFRev review of the second story).

This story forced me to work at reading it, to savor the sound of the syllables and not just their meaning. It was rewarding work, for the most part, but there were a few things that caused me to stumble. Three pages from the end of the story — at a point where I was still waiting to find out who the poet of the story is — the point of view shifts from 1st person into addressing an unnamed “you”. Shortly after that, the unnamed “you” is lost, but there is a shift in tenses, so that paragraphs alternate between present and past tense. It was not clear to me why either of these choices were made, and the abrupt shifts without any clear reason for them unfortunately detracted from my enjoyment. And I never did find out who the battle poet was.

It was a good story, reading it made me want to read the others in the series, but I am not sure I see how this particular one fits into this particular anthology/theme.

REVIEW: “She Calls Down the Future, In the Footprints Left Behind” by Setsu Uzumé

Review of Setsu Uzumé, “She Calls Down the Future, In the Footprints Left Behind”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 49-60. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The scene opens onto a circle of warriors awaiting the drumming song of Naicto, their seer, for whom “there was no difference between her drumming and her weapon” (p. 59). Her songs tell the truth, tell the warriors who will live and who will die in tomorrow’s battle. But the truth Naicto sings for Terag is worse than mere death: Live and she will kill her chief; die and the entire tribe is doomed.

But prophecies never mean what they say. And sometimes the prophet says what she says not because it’s true but because the lies are the only way to make the right future true.

REVIEW: “Remembering Absence” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Remembering Absence”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 262-274. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Murder.

Don’t ask me how long it’s been since I saw myself die. I can’t remember (p. 262).

What a wonderful opening line — and what an interesting little story on the experience of being a ghost. Thorn’s recounting of the phenomenology of being a ghost I found more compelling than when the narrator (his name is never known) slipped into long monologues about the phenomenology — those tended to bog down a bit. But this story had none of the banality that so many other stories in the anthology did, and all of the beautiful turns of phrases. It was a good story to end the collection on.

(Originally published in Straylight Literary Arts Magazine 2016).

REVIEW: “Be Prepared to Shoot the Nanny” by Rachel Kolar

Review of Rachel Kolar, “Be Prepared to Shoot the Nanny”, Metaphorosis: The Complete Stories 2017, edited by B. Morris Allen (Metaphorosis Books, 2018): 31—39. Purchase Here. Originally published at Metaphorosis Magazine on 20 January 2017. Read Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis

I have noted elsewhere my general distaste for zombie horror, but if it has to be done, this is how to do it! There’s a nice bit of humour here along with (as in the last story) some observations about a society awash with guns and middle-class self-obsession. It’s a post-zombie apocalypse world; things have returned to some semblance of normality, but anyone who dies comes back as a zombie until they are killed again. Miranda is a somewhat hateful, overbearing middle class parent, judgemental and casually racist, who is upset that her ‘kill switch’ has recently died. Having a kill switch is a necessity for childcare arrangements (for the middle classes), as you can’t leave child alone with a nanny in case said nanny croaks it unexpectedly and eats the child. So two are needed, so that one can shoot the other in case of sudden death. It’s a great setup. As there is only one nanny available today, Miranda decides to work from home to act as kill switch herself, and of course because she’s so overbearing and interfering — though with the best of motherly intentions — she makes what should be a normal day into a catastrophic one.

Miranda is a bit of a caricature I suppose, a tad overdone and bordering on sociopathy, but to be honest, if she is a ten, I personally know people who are at least a seven. It is telling that the first thing she thinks of when she realises she’s mistakenly killed an innocent non-zombie and might go to prison is that little Henry won’t be able to get into a good school, or a private one, so is essentially as good as dead. And then of course there is the implication of how easily mistakes can be made when guns are everywhere. Great story!