REVIEW: “Memento Mori” by Charlotte Frankel

Review of Charlotte Frankel, “Memento Mori”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 316-319. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

If you ever want to spend a macabre half an hour or so, read up on Victorian death photography. Or, read this story — a creepy little story of competing utilities. Sure, epidemics are terrible things — but not if you are an undertaker, or a doctor…or a photographer of the dead.

It’s a quick little story, so if you don’t have half an hour to spare, you can still get your dose of the macabre here.

REVIEW: Wilde Stories 2017 edited by Steve Berman

Review of Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, (Lethe Press, 2017) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

As a cis woman who is in a happily monogamous het relationship, I am probably the least qualified person to review this collection of stories. But, oh, it has a story about Turing in it, and as a logician who sometimes flirts with computer science and AI, I feel eminently qualified to read about Turing, and for that story alone I bought the book.

As a “best of” collection, it draws upon stories published the previous year, so all of these first came out — in various venues — in 2016. Many are thus things I would not have otherwise come across, which is one of the advantages that collected volumes have — they provide a different type of exposure for the stories and the authors that wrote them. And this particular volume is a physically lovely one — beautiful cover art by Dmitry Vorsin, attractive typesetting, and a suppleness to the pages which reminds me, as if I needed a reminder, of why I love print books so much more than electronic ones.

Each story is prefaced by a short quote from the story, bound to spark the reader’s interest. The tales included are the following:

  • “The Tale of the Costume Maker” by Steve Carr
  • “Das Steingeschöpf” by G. V. Anderson
  • “Where’s the Rest of Me?” by Matthew Cheney
  • “The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad
  • “Frost” by ‘Nathan Burgoine
  • “Bull of Heaven” by Gabriel Murray
  • “The Sound a Raven Makes” by Mathew Scaletta
  • “Angel, Monster, Man” by Sam J. Miller
  • “Most Holy Ghost” by Martin Pousson
  • “Ratcatcher” by Amy Griswold
  • “The Drowning Line” by Haralambi Markov
  • “My Heart’s Own Desire” by Robert Levy
  • “Turing Test” by Eric Schaller
  • “Of All Possible Worlds” by Eneasz Brodski
  • “Carnivores” by Rich Larson
  • It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by A. C. Wise
  • “The Death of Paul Bunyon” by Charles Payseur

Each of the stories will be reviewed individually, and linked back to this post when the review is posted.

Overall, the collection is powerful, beautiful, and sad. Every single story is steeped in emotion, and lovingly crafted.

REVIEW: “The Sphinx” by Petter Skult

Review of Petter Skult, “The Sphinx”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 334-336. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Classical myths and stories provide such ripe fruit for the contemporary western author because so many of the characters and the details are already known, and the author can therefore depend upon many of the readers filling in the gaps for themselves. That’s certainly the case with this story, which starts from the assumption that the reader knows who Oedipus is, who the sphinx is, what riddle it is that she is said to have told. While I think that this story would still work even if you didn’t know any of these, the pacing of the story certainly benefits from knowing how it will end.

REVIEW: “Going Forth by Day” by Andrew Johnson

Review of Andrew Johnson, “Going Forth by Day”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 73-97. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is one of the longest (if not the longest) in the anthology, and that’s partly why I saved it for one of the last. I wanted something that I could settle down in and sink my teeth in to, to revel in the development of world and story and character that simply can’t be done in 2 pages but can be done in 25 pages. From the start, Johnson doesn’t disappoint, introducing us to Neferkaptah, recently deceased, and yet about to become a central character of the story. On the second page we meet Cleo, the sorceress who has summoned an ancient Egyptian back from the dead, whose surprise at her success made me burst out laughing.

I really, really enjoyed this romp of a story, following Cleo and Neferkaptah’s adventures through early 20th C New York City, with funny little injokes and all the unexpected gaffes and amusements that naturally follow upon reviving a four thousand year old mummy. And revivified mummies are not the only supernatural characters to take their places upon the stage…

This story was worth saving for the last. It was witty and entertaining, and the way in which Neferkaptah interacts with a world thousands of years separated from his own is skilfully written.

REVIEW: “Bartleby and the Professor Solve the Riddle” by Shondra Snodderly

Review of Shondra Snodderly, “Bartleby and the Professor Solve the Riddle”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 246-248. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The title of the story is almost a story in itself; we’ve got the characters, we’ve got the problem or obstacle, and we’ve got the resolution! Ordinarily that would mean there wouldn’t be much left in the story to be surprising, but here at least two questions present themselves as in need of answer from the title alone: What is the riddle, and how do they solve it? Following close on their heels is the question: Why does it matter that they solve it? All these questions are aptly answered in Snodderly’s relatively short story — though to be fair, Bartleby’s role in solving the riddle is perhaps a bit overstated in the title!

REVIEW: “Camping” by J. D. Buffington

Review of J. D. Buffington, “Camping”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 260-265. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

What I liked about this story was the structure, a tale of two camping trips, of two sons and their parents (mother and boyfriend in one; father in the other), of encounters with the strange and unusual. The son in the first trip is the father in the second, and this allows the two encounters, experienced by one person, to be filtered through two very different lenses. What seems wild and exciting and just a bit scary as a child can be terrifying as an adult; and what was told off as merely a wild animal to a child may, when seen by an adult, be a very different thing. At the end of the story, one is left wondering if the man’s childhood memories are true, or if his adult experiences are closer to reality.

REVIEW: “Daughter” by Will Reierson

Review of Will Reierson, “Daughter”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 249-256. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The title draws focus to the daughter in the story, but from the start it is Mary’s father, Neil, the narrator, who attracts my attention — and not for positive reasons. He is willing to ignore the fears of his wife, Cáit, and sacrifice the safety of his family simply to prove himself in the face of a dare. Oh, he has his own fears — but his fears of the fair folk pale in comparison to the more legitimate fears of his wife that they will struggle to survive the winter in an abandoned homestead. Throughout the story, my biggest impression is that Neil is both superstitious and a bit dim, and the consequences of both these things for his family, and especially his daughter, are real and serious. It makes it hard for me to find him sympathetic, in that basically that everything that happens to Mary is his fault, and he could have prevented it, at many different steps, and he refused to do so. That he eventually does all he can to rescue Mary in the end does not make him the hero of this story. It only reinforces that villainy comes in many different guises.

(In case anyone was wondering (and I doubt anyone was), Cáit is not a plausible nickname of Caitilín in the middle of the 18th century. Details matter. It’s worth doing the research.)