This is one of those stories that starts off ordinary and mundane, where you read for awhile wondering where the speculative element will slide in, and then when it finally does, it makes you smile. Despite the mention of aliens in the opening sentence, this isn’t an alien story. It’s rather a story about the titular Stiffs, and I found it to be a clever and unusual take on some traditional tropes.
Not many ghost stories pay attention to the metaphysics of ghosts, but Aunt Edith knows all about the three kinds of ghosts, and make sure that Ray, her niece, and Beth, Ray’s best friend, know all about them too, and the ways in which they should — or should not — treat them. It is the three of them, plus Aunt Edith’s friend Mrs. Montoya, who have to exorcise the ghosts living in the old house that used to belong to Aunt Edith’s family.
If you like ghost stories, then you may enjoy this one. I’m rather meh about ghost stories, and so I was rather meh about this one.
Content note: Reference to mass suicide.
Sometimes an implausible premise makes for a great story; otherwise, the premise is so implausible that my struggle to suspend my disbelief interferes with any enjoyment I might have taken in the story. Alas, the premise in this story as of the latter type.
What I love best about reviewing short stories is when you find something utterly different from anything you’ve read before, and that is what Geer gave me in this story. She took a very simple idea — a veterinarian who is able to take on the thoughts of animals — and used it very effectively.
Content note: Murder, physical violence, threats to children, miscarriage, animal sacrifice.
There was something about this story that felt clumsy; too many, too strong feelings too quickly, in a way that was cacophonous rather than sympathetic. I also found the language of sex, conception, pregnancy, and miscarriage all a bit coy; I think Ferguson was rather aiming for the typical sort of “fantasy language” one uses when one doesn’t want to presuppose modern norms or modern science, but if so, she didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
Content note: Enslavement.
One thing I love about digging through journal archives is finding stories that feel specifically pertinent and present. Reading Russo’s story in the UK in fall 2020, in the wake of the British government deciding, no, actually, it doesn’t need to bother with feeding children during school breaks and holidays, the opening lines of the story hit with a special punch:
“If, as it is stated in the Code of Padrel the Great, that eating is no crime, then it follows by corollary that neither is feeding a criminal offense.”
When a forgotten punishment vault is discovered, revealing prisoners who have been sealed up for a thousand years, undying and crying out for food, Fonell, Canly, Vamma and the others are all faced with the question: What do you do? When Onjar says “You want to call the bloody government in? What’ll they do?”, it’s hard for both them and me, as the reader, not to agree. Fonell calls in his lawyer from Zerna, and Zerna is the one quoting Padrel. And then everything spills over into a dramatic conflagration of the importance of family, the value of a human being, and the fact that “No life is insignificant.”
This was a hard read, a good story. Really good. Chilling and bitter and hopeful and everything in between.
Sometimes all you need is a good opening line or two to utterly sympathise with a character. In this case,
The Masons would not have booked their beds in advance. They were not that organised.
Oh, Masons, I feel you. I am not that organised either.
The more I read about the Masons, the more I liked them (and identified with them!). When their foibles dropped them in the lap of something more sinister and my laughter turned to grim delight at Turner’s deft working of horror, I found myself enjoying this story a lot more than many horror stories I read.
Content note: Cruelty to animals.
The titular garden is the setting for an intimate glimpse into the life of Albie and Evelyn, two peculiar characters that I never really drew a bead on. Were they teenagers? Were they young children? Were they siblings? Were they lovers? At one time I thought one way, at other times, another, and given how inconsistent their characterization were (if they ARE 6-ish years old, why the heavy sexual tension at times? If they’re grown teenage siblings, why are they playing children’s games together?) it was a weirdly uncomfortable read.
The premise of this story is simple: Everyone gets one Save, to use as they will (though of course it’s easier to know how and when to use it if you have proper training, hence you practice Saving in elementary school; and of course many people will judge you if you Save the wrong person, or even for Saving anyone at all.) The execution is likewise simple: Janice has long known whom her Save would be for, until she is confronted with a situation where she must make a choice.
Simple, but by no means ineffective.