REVIEW: “Big Mother” by Anya Ow

Review of Anya Ow, “Big Mother”, Strange Horizons 1 Jan. 2018: Read online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

There’s something both horrific and beautiful about the story Anya Ow narrates in “Big Mother.” It effortlessly combines the terror of meeting something strange in the dark with a childhood nostalgia and sense of loss for the wild places of the world.

In “Big Mother,” the narrator recounts an experience she had as a young girl with her brother and three neighbor children. The children go fishing in the dark, searching for a snakehead, and accidentally hook something more dangerous. When the lure proves too strong for the oldest boy, the narrator must lead the other children to his rescue.

The story has something of the feel of Stranger Things to it, in that its climax revolves around one child going missing and his friends searching for him. It’s got a creepy creature too: the eponymous Big Mother, which the children dredge out of the canal. Though it starts a little slow, the horror element pulses strongly in the story’s middle and through the climax. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Our heroine is exactly what you would want in a horror story, bold and brave despite her fear. It is she and she alone that walks into the water to meet Big Mother, and she rescues the oldest boy by talking the monster down. The story concludes with a present-day epilogue, where we see how this childhood event resonated down through the narrator’s life and how sad she is that the modern world is swallowing the spaces where magic once dwelt.

It’s a beautiful tale, well-told and memorable in its execution from start to finish.

REVIEW: “To Blight a Fig Tree Before it Bears Fruit” by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

Review of Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley, “To Blight a Fig Tree Before it Bears Fruit”, Apex Magazine 104: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Eight brown, pregnant bodies are restrained on a stage, alive, but deeply uncomfortable. Soon, we find out why. The answer is a brutally honest look at what the wealthy and racially privileged would do to extend their own lives, if they only had the right technology. Everything but the technology itself is painfully plausible.

This is a powerful story. Short (barely longer than flash fiction, at less than 1500 words), but it packs a punch. I was impressed by the tightness of the prose, and the focus of the narrative. We stay in the present moment, with only a single flashback – when Meshee, our point of view character, thinks about what her mother would say about the situation. No mention of the history of the technology, or how she herself got to be in this position. Those answers aren’t relevant. The future is unknown. All that matters is what happens right now, on this stage.

The ending is perfect, and surprisingly hopeful. I highly recommend giving this gem a read!

REVIEW: “Asylum of Cuckoos” by Lila Bowen

Review of Lila Bowen, “Asylum of Cuckoos”, Apex Magazine 104: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Ranger Rhett Walker stops in a small town with his posse, looking for a quick drink and a pause from their slow journey through the desert. When local law takes an interest in him, he assumes it’s because of his brown skin, or maybe because he’s brown and wearing a Ranger’s star. The truth turns out to be much stranger than he imagined, or than his companions will ever know.

This is a story about monsters, and only somewhat the kind you expect. Yes, some of the characters have, shall we say, special abilities that could get them branded as such by the more ordinary folks around them, but I’d say that this story is actually more concerned with their actions, rather than their abilities. It has a nice depth to it.

Rhett’s gender identity (he is a trans man) comes up a few times, due to the nature of the monster he encounters in that tiny town. As far as I can tell, as a cis-gendered woman, the subject seemed to be handled well – his complex feelings about his body are neither swept under the proverbial rug nor made the main focus, and the only person to imply that he isn’t a man is met with the disdain they deserve.

If you like stories about the wild west (particularly stories that don’t whitewash the region and era) or complex thoughts about morality then you’ll like “Asylum of Cuckoos.”

REVIEW: “Neanderthals” by Gardner Dozois

Review of Gardner Dozois, “Neanderthals”, Fantasy & Science Fiction 134, 1-2 (2018): 39-60 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Michael Johnston.

“Neanderthals” begins with a series of images that quickly and effectively give the reader an idea of where you are in time and space–and then the rest of the story demolishes that security.  What you think is happening isn’t.

It’s a great story, and a very quick read–I read it over lunch, and I didn’t linger.  It’s deceptively simple in that the events of the story aren’t all that complicated, but a day after reading it, I’m still thinking through some of the implications and possibilities.