REVIEW: “The Breakdown of the Parasite/Host Relationship” by Paul R. Hardy

Review of Paul R. Hardy, “The Breakdown of the Parasite/Host Relationship”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 28-42. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

Have you ever had to work on a group project with someone you just don’t get along with? Now imagine this person was fused to your body and you couldn’t communicate with them while you were awake. That’s the conceit of “The Breakdown of the Parasite/Host Relationship,” told through the chat logs between the project coordinator and the host and parasite who have been paired together for the job.

Through a mix of stubbornness and misunderstandings things escalate until intervention is needed, despite expense to the project. This is another one that didn’t make me laugh out loud, but I still appreciated the cleverness and odd familiarity of it. It brought me flashbacks of when I had to work in a group project in grad school and no one really had a personality that meshed.

Another recommended story, so we’re two for two with this anthology.

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!

REVIEW: “Business as Usual” by N.R. Lambert

Review of N.R. Lambert, “Business as Usual”, Metaphorosis: The Complete Stories 2017, edited by B. Morris Allen (Metaphorosis Books, 2018): 21—29. Purchase Here. Originally published at Metaphorosis Magazine on 13 January 2017. Read Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis

Ah, I loved this. A chilling story with some insightful social commentary on gun control in the USA. In a system which is set up to ensure the rights of individuals to have weapons outweighs the rights of others not to be killed by them, this story takes the next step of considering what happens when a company offers personalised bullets delivered by mail order. “There’s a bullet with your name on it!”

Our protagonist (Andy Wright) has signed up for e-mail alerts whenever someone orders a bullet with his name on it, and he gets an alert one morning before he leaves for work. Shortly after, he gets another, and another…. Obviously there will be thousands of Andy Wrights in the USA, but either there is a glitch in the systems or someone is sending one of them a message. Cue a long and unhelpful phone conversation with the company that sells personalised bullets, which will be familiar to anyone who has tried to call customer services for a major company, while the e-mail alerts come rolling in and Andy begins to panic. Maybe needlessly, maybe not. But the story effectively highlights the anxiety and helplessness that the easy availability of weaponry for the majority of the population must create for many. It’s well-written, the tension mounts nicely and there’s a bit of grim humour in there.

In the author’s notes at the end, Lambert states that the story was drafted in 2015, though of course things remain pretty much unchanged. I read it just as the debate on 3D printing of plastic guns was making the news headlines, and it didn’t seem like much a stretch from here to this imagined future. Recommended.

REVIEW: “Fusion” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Fusion”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 244-260 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

While the majority of the stories in this anthology feature an almost entirely male cast of characters, this story is one of the exceptions. I was curious to read this story of two friends, Liz and Nicole, and the others they’re camping with, Joyce and Sarah, and see how Thorn handles women.

The centered POV is Liz’s, but it’s actually introverted Nicole that interests me more, and I found myself frustrated with Liz’s continual dismissal of the validity of her friend’s experiences and preferences — Liz is quite judgemental of Nicole’s introversion, despite calling herself Nicole’s friend. Neither Joyce nor Sarah were around long enough for me to form a full judgement of them; they played their roles as supporting characters in a traditional horror story well, but there wasn’t really anything that separated the two of them from each other, or from Liz. I guess the title of “fusion” and the way in which the story ended are apt on more than one level, as all three end up indistinguishable from each other.

REVIEW: “Lucio Schluter” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Lucio Schluter”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 228-242 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

One thing that struck me about this anthology, the more stories I read in it, was just how many of the characters are some combination of (a) male, (b) academic, and (c) drunk. One or two stories populated with characters like this would’ve been okay; but after nine or ten stories like this, the lack of diversity begins to tell as it becomes harder and harder to sympathise or empathise with the main characters. This story is no different: We’re introduced to Larry and Maurice when they meet at an art gallery, both male, both academic (although Larry is an English professor and not an Art Historian like Maurice), both having had too much wine.

So I set myself for yet another story of this ilk, only to find myself surprised by the titular character himself. Lucio Schluter is a sculptor, who had “had impossibly, but successfully, managed to integrate elements of action figurine aesthetics into the rigor of classical nudist sculpture” (p. 228). This is a tantalising description, and shows how difficult it can be to describe an intensely visual medium through an intensively verbal one. In this story, I really enjoyed how Thorn drew pictures of Schluter’s sculptures through words; it shows the verbal power that Thorn has, which was often not foregrounded in many of the other stories in this anthology. Schluter himself has a depth that makes him far more intriguing than many other characters I’ve encountered in Thorn’s stories so far, a mixture of contradictions and confusions.

(Originally published in DarkFuse, 2017).

REVIEW: “Snow Queen” by T.R. North

Review of T.R. North, “Snow Queen”, Metaphorosis: The Complete Stories 2017, edited by B. Morris Allen (Metaphorosis Books, 2018): 15—19. Purchase Here. Originally published at Metaphorosis Magazine on 6 January 2017. Read Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis

A dreamy story about enchantment and desire. When the snow queen comes to town, she takes away with her an adolescent boy that the protagonist has a crush on. After a long journey to find him, the girl is changed, and so is he. But then the snow queen sees her, and falls in love with her and her independent spirit.

It is gorgeously written and falls firmly on the literary side of fantasy. I enjoyed the story, though I suspect I would have enjoyed it even more if I was more familiar with the ‘snow queen’ fairy tale and films, as I felt some of the meaning and symbolism passed me by. I was also unsure why the journey of five years and a day to reach the queen is presented as it is. A poetic story and anyone who appreciates the blending of fairy tales and literary fantasy should check it out.

REVIEW: “Speaking of Ghosts” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Speaking of Ghosts”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 214-225 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

It’s a ghost story! Jem has a ghost haunting his storage closet, and who does he turn to for help? Not the internet, not an exorcist, not a medium, not an exterminator, no… “a past colleague and good friend…a double PhD (Philosophy and English Literature) with a specialty in 18th-19th century Gothic fiction” (p. 215). Because if there’s one thing academics are good at is banishing ghosts…

Dr. Raymond Block has an unfortunate tendency towards verbosity which is rather irritating to read. He’s more a charicature than a character, and as an academic I find it a bit frustrating to see the usual literary stereotypes of academics being reinforced. But on a more practical side of things, it means that a lot of this story is devoted to dialogue which does little to move the story forward; so by the time I reached the end, it felt like very little had happened.

(Originally published in Vague Visions, 2017).