This story made me uncomfortable, and not in a “I’m scared/this is good horror” sort of way but rather in a “I don’t really like the way purported child abuse is being portrayed” way. I can’t really articulate what precisely bothered me, beyond that I did not think the author handled the subject matter with care or sensitivity. So: This was not the story for me.
What an absolutely stonking story. It carried me along, gulping for more, with its utterly entrancing Justine, an automaton built to sing opera like no human could ever sing, against a panoply of background characters — the Maestro, the Ballet Mistress, the dancers, and, most importantly of all, Lise, who gives Justine the final secret she needs. It’s the sort of story that telegraphs one ending from the start, but leaves the reader desperately hoping that that is not the actual ending. Really, really enjoyed this one.
“If you had a problem you couldn’t fix, you moved on and left it behind.” This is a lesson Marcy learned from her parents, and she’s put it to good use more than once. Right now, the problem she can’t fix is Lenny, and the story opens with her moving on from him, leaving him behind without any reason or notice. Everything seems so very ordinary, up until the point at which nothing is ordinary at all and everything is extraordinary and weird.
I enjoyed the abrupt shift in direction that Gardner introduced with great effect, and felt the two halves — the mundane and the fantastic — of the story balanced each other nicely. I also appreciated Gardner’s choice of heroine — Marcy is in her sixties, fat and grey, and dealing with stress incontinence. In other words, she’s a real person, not a fairy tale. I like reading stories about real people, especially when they end up in unreal situations.
Content warning: Drinking, gambling, domestic abuse.
This urban fantasy set in Jamaica centers around the titular character Mama Tulu, and Sasha, the young woman who goes to visit her to make an unspeakable request. I liked almost everything about it — but not quite everything. I have a deep ambivalence about the use of phonetic representations of dialect in written fiction; I am never sure how appropriate or successful they are. Reading them often feels like an uncomfortable caricature; but on the other hand, I think it’s important to recognise the varieties of ways in which people speak, and to recognise the legitimacy of, e.g., AAVE.
There was a lot of cliches in this story — the dragon-fighting knights trying to win the hand of a princess; the princess who didn’t want to be an object of conquest; the maiden aunt who provided the princess with the training needed — but ultimately, this was a fairy tale, and fairy tales are cliches, so it worked.
Review of R.Z. Held, “A Tally of What Remains”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 313 (September 24, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.
The final story in BCS’s twelfth anniversary issue is a very good one. Its themes are loss and grief and hope restored amidst a sort of plague—themes that strongly resonate in this year of the pandemic. The story features two characters who are not as different as they first appear. Helena, a blood mage, finds her magic to be of little help in maintaining the small family farm where she struggles to aid survivors of the Fever who have found refuge in her barn. One of these survivors, Benedict, is reeling from the death of his husband, while Helena can’t get past the guilt of being the only member of her family to survive the Fever. Each needs to grieve and move on; instead, they take their anger out on each other. As time passes, only Benedict seems willing to confront his feelings and work through them. But when another tragedy strikes, both characters find consolation in the strength, compassion, and friendship of the other and soon begin to look forward in hope to a brighter future.
Content note: Corpses, severe injury, nonconsentual commitment to mental institution.
Now this was my kind of horror! Haunted books, twisted stories, Cathar heresy, and a pervasive uncertainty of what the cause of it all is, all written in an engaging and characterful style. Thumbs up.
Content note: Slavery, loss of child.
This was an eerie story, invoking an intense feeling of autumn — scents, sounds, activities. The plot was simple but effective, and just the right length to be satisfying.
I loved the combination of horror and fantasy that comprised this story. The foreign setting was just familiar enough to make you feel like what was happening could’ve happened anywhere, perhaps even here in the real world; and Clava’s desperate, perverted desire to become the beheld instead of the beholder, and the steps that she takes to achieve this end were chilly and creepy. Beneath all of these was the uncertainty I had whether Clava was the villain — or the victim.
To cap things off, David Bowman’s illustrations accompanying this story were really quite divine.
This story was cleanly and precisely written with elegant language — every word necessary, to the point where I found myself having to go back and reread various parts of it, sometimes more than once, to ensure I wasn’t missing out on some important clue. It had a sort of hard-beaten/detective noir to it, but for all that, I’m not quite sure what was “horrible” about this story.