REVIEW: “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” by Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt

Review of Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt, “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft”, Apex Magazine 102: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

I am a huge fan of the recent trend of people deconstructing Lovecraft’s work to create new stories, particularly when those stories tackle the racism that crept through his oeuvre. “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” is an excellent addition to that growing collection.

Jim Payne just wants to sell his great-grandfather’s letters from Lovecraft, get his money, and go home. He has no skin in this game (beyond the desire to get out of debt), and no interest in either his great-grandfather or his famous correspondent. But when he drives down the rutted, unmarked, dirt road dotted with bestial statues, and knocks on the door of a ramshackle house in the hills of New England, it’s no surprise that things get complicated.

Everything about this story fits together nicely. Jim is a wonderful narrator: observant, wry, and with a low tolerance for bullshit, which makes it easy to follow him through his adventure. The plot itself is perfectly compressed without feeling either too big for the word count or too small to be interesting; it’s just right. I thought that the racism – both in Lovecraft’s work and in modern America – was deftly handled, but as a white woman, I defer to the judgment of those who have personally experienced it.

Recommended for fans of Lovecraft, low-key horror, or either The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle) or Lovecraft Country (Matt Ruff).

REVIEW: “The Siege of Battle-Station Camelot” by Patrick S. Baker

Review of Patrick S. Baker, “The Siege of Battle-Station Camelot”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 119-131 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Sometimes, what the myth being retold is is obvious from the title, so it will come as no shocker here that the pin is placed in England and that this is the story of Arthur Pendragon, excuse me, Captain Arturo Penn Dragon, his wife, Lieutenant-Commander Gwen Dragon, maverick fighter pilot Commander Lance Lake, and an omniscient AI named Merlin — plus a huge host of other characters that are not so familiar from traditional Arthurian myths, such as strike leader Mai Kono and merchantship owner Dirk van Doorn.

And that is where part of my issue with the story lies. Half-way into the story, we know more about the ships and the weapons and the battle than we ever know about any of the characters; it sometimes feels as if the author feels he doesn’t need to tell us anything about the characters because they are already known to us — and that works for the ones which are known, but for the ones which are new additions or are not immediately correlatable to someone known, it leaves them mostly flat. (Though not entirely: we learn a little bit about Mai Kono’s backstory, and she develops into a character worth knowing. But it is precisely this development and backstory, so out of place from the standard Arthurian cycle, that makes her insertion puzzling.)

The most peculiar part about the story is the end, and the fact that Camlann is nowhere mentioned. (I’ll say no more, for fear of spoilers).

There are a handful of typos, including one sentence that ended up being utterly unparsable, and it should also be noted that the pagination in the table of contents does not match the actual pagination (given in the header above).

REVIEW: “Skin Deep” by Nickolas Ozment

Review of Nickolas Ozment, “Skin Deep”, Broadswords and Blasters 1 (2017): 3-10 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Yana Shepard.

“Skin Deep” was a fun read. It was well written and easy to follow along. That being said, the only problem I have with it was the fact that it’s easy to figure out once the plot is introduced. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.

He wanted to behold such beauty, nothing more.

This quote allowed me to find the main character likable. He wasn’t a creep, wasn’t focused on lust or prizes to be gained. He had his own reason for this adventure, and I appreciated that. Although, I’d be lying if I said the ending didn’t contradict the above quote in an indirect fashion. It’s hard to describe without spoiling, and I would rather not do that. Don’t you just hate spoilers in reviews?

All in all, I enjoyed “Skin Deep”. I recommend this if you like action-oriented fiction.

REVIEW: “This World Is Full of Monsters” by Jeff VanderMeer

Review of Jeff VanderMeer, “This World Is Full of Monsters, Tor.com (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

Well, this story certainly gave new meaning to the word “face-plant.”

This odyssey of a short story (or possibly a novella–it’s rather long) follows our narrator as he is taken over by a “story-creature,” some kind of alien being that takes over the Earth and transforms our narrator bit by bit into something more like itself.

VanderMeer has a wondrous mastery of description, and the tale reads like a vivid nightmare or hallucination. His word choices paint an exquisite picture of a world gone mad and a narrator struggling through a metamorphosis he does not comprehend until the very end.

It also contains beautifully poetic moments, such as when the narrator remembers that he used to write obituaries; in a sense, this story is the narrator’s own obituary for his past life. There’s a sense of loss buried here, but also a sense of wonder and joy and potential in this new world. Indeed, the narrator wonders if he had slept a century and returned to a still-human world, would he have recognized it any better?

This weird tale manages to take what should be frightening body horror and alien invasion and turn it into something oddly uplifting by the end. It’s well worth your time to read.

REVIEW: “The Suited Prince” by CB Droege

Review of CB Droege, “The Suited Prince”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 189-190 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story is the shortest in the collection, barely two pages. The pin for its inspiration is stuck somewhere in Germany, but because the story is so short it is hard to tell what the root tale is — after all, there are many German fairy tales and folk tales that involve giant chickens!

The story was good for a laugh, in a way that many of the other tales in the book don’t seemed designed to be for. Sometimes, it’s good to read something whose only goal is entertainment.

REVIEW: “The Last Dance” by Jack McDevitt

Review of Jack McDevitt, “The Last Dance”, Asimov’s Science Fiction November/December (2017): 68-74 – Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

The Last Dance refers to contemporary technology and social developments such as Facebook pages as memorials for those who have died, or chat bots created from data from text conversations had while a person was alive.

Ethan’s wife, Olivia, died in a car accident and as part of his grieving process he orders a replacement AI program from a company called Celestial. AI “Olivia” has her voice, mannerisms and memories and allows Ethan to live with her makes it as if she never left. Almost.

The story premise is a bit “Black Mirror” but not quite so grim. It explores grief, the difficulties of letting someone go, how the echoes of people we love and miss haunt us, and how this can handled in ways that are both healthy… and not.

I found the core idea and themes were expanded on well, if a little overtly. Ethan’s unwillingness to move on was honest and Olivia’s actions in the end fitted with her motivations through the story, (though I found the final beat a bit flippant). Ethan’s daughter’s reaction to the whole thing was a particularly nice touch.

REVIEW: “Untilted” by K. A. Teryna

Review of K. A. Teryna, “Untilted”, Apex Magazine 102: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This is an intriguing bite of the slightly surreal, translated from Russian. It begins with a strangely written letter, full of deliberate misspellings and random asides. We quickly learn that the note (and the boy who wrote it — Marcus) are more than they seem. He gives the note to a stranger, a woman named Dahlia, and claims it is a contract. We only find out what the contract is about slowly, as the night progresses, growing ever stranger and more nonsensical.

While this isn’t a strongly “fantasy” story, it is every bit as weird as one. Because the tone is so sensible, and the world so very much our own, the strangeness stands out in stark contrast, even if most of the oddness could be explained as the actions of an imaginative child. This is the opposite of the traditional fantasy or science fiction story, where the narrative has to convince us that wizards or faster than light travel are not only possible, but plausible. It’s even different from that type of story where the main character discovers that the world is full of secret magic. There’s no curtain drawn back to reveal a hidden world, just a constant reminder that this child — Marcus — is behaving very strangely. And when he turns out to have access to real magic, that’s probably the most normal thing to happen in the whole story.

Marcus and the Dahlia take turns narrating, sharing quick spurts of both the present narrative and their pasts. There’s a mixture of wisdom and naivete to be found in both of them, which is the source of much of the story’s charm. Though it delves into heavy themes — mostly coping with grief — it never becomes heavy or self-important.