REVIEW: “Words in an Unfinished Poem” by A. C. Wise

Review of A. C. Wise, “Words in an Unfinished Poem”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 1-21. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The gunslinger waits in the saloon for the one person who can help them find the final word that will finish their poem. Sewn into their coat are the shell casings of every person they’ve ever killed, each inscribed with a single word, a poem ever changeable and rearrangeable.

We never learn the gunslinger’s name in this story, but we learn so much more about them…the curse that haunts them, the grandmother that raised them, the memories that they cannot escape. This is not a “pen is mightier than the sword” story but rather a “the pen is the sword” story, as for the gunslinger their words and their bullets are one and the same, each as deadly as the other.

This was a beautiful and sad story, told with glittering words.

REVIEW: “Harvest Song, Gathering Song” by A.C. Wise

Review of A.C. Wise, “Harvest Song, Gathering Song”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 295—313. Purchase Here. Originally published in For Mortal Things Unsung, edited by Alex Hofelich (Escape Artists, Inc.). Purchase Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis

Nice bit of cosmic horror that tied me in knots. Seven veteran (and damaged) grunts and their captain go looking for some special ‘honey’ in a cave that used to be in the desert but is now in the Arctic (bloody caves, always moving around), as the military want to get hold of it. Turns out whoever has a sip of the honey can go days without feeling pain or resting, so it’s useful stuff in a conflict-riddled world. But the captain has sampled the honey before and wants it for her own reasons….

It’s a really interesting story, involving elements of addiction, PTSD, fabulism, hallucination and the bonds forged under pressure. And how you can lose yourself, and each other. There are some great moments and I really enjoyed the beginning, though I did lose the thread a bit towards the end as the honey got thicker. I like the central idea — that a species/intelligence/civilisation could build a memory, or a map, of itself using other life forms as recording devices, sacrificing them in the process (sort of, I may have missed something), but I find confusion can detract too much from the story and the horror, which is what happens here. A stimulating read overall, and probably the closest to ‘horror sci-fi’ that I’ve come across in the volume so far.

REVIEW: “The Stories We Tell About Ghosts” by A.C. Wise

Review of A.C. Wise, “The Stories We Tell About Ghosts”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 155—172. Purchase Here. Originally published in Looming Low: Volume One, edited by Justin Steele and Sam Cowan (Dim Shores, 2017). Purchase Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis.

I loved the idea behind this story. Our protagonist and his friends download an augmented reality app to hunt ‘ghosts’, sort of like a spooky version of Pokémon Go (so I’m led to believe, as I know SFA about all things Pokémon). He is resentful of his younger, sickly brother Gen, who always tags along with him and plays along with ‘Ghost Hunt!’ despite being more than a little afraid. The competition between the kids to find ghosts and ghost lore in their little town of Dieu-le-Sauveur heats up, but it quickly becomes apparent that the app is detecting more than it should, and that little Gen seems far too in-tune with the captured ‘ghosts’.

It’s a nice and highly original story, with a focus on the characters and their dynamics rather than twists in the plot — we are essentially told how it ends right at the start and the sense of dread that builds comes from knowing this. The idea of how and why we perpetuate the myths of ghosts, in various forms, is thought-provoking and I found myself reflecting on this story for some time after finishing it.

REVIEW: “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by A. C. Wise

Review of A. C. Wise, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 259-275 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Do dead boys get boners? Or are they safe from being mortified? Oh, God, pun intended.

This is a classic coming-of-age, boy-meets-dead-boy, high-school-prom-graduation-and-what-comes-after story — oh, wait, that’s not really classic, is it. Nevertheless, that is exactly what the story is, and it was a pure delight to read. Now, I’ve never been a high school boy myself, so I can’t attest to the verisimilitude of the narrator’s (I just realised we never learn his name) experiences, but they feel so very real and genuine, the embarrasment, the longing, the joy, the fear. This is a story I will file carefully away, to keep safely until the time comes that I think “I know someone who needs to read this story,” at which time I’ll pull it out and share it with them. Because everyone at some point in their lives, particularly in high school, needs to read a story that shows them they are not alone.

(I also totally and shamelessly want to see this short story turned into a movie. But only this story, however short a movie it ended up being, and not some story vaguely inspired by this story but with a whole bunch more added to it. Because the twist that comes about 2/3 of the way in is both completely unexpected and entirely perfect.)

There is no way to separate the act of reading a story from the reader. There is no way I cannot read the title of this story without thinking of the same-titled REM song, the song that was my mental soundtrack in the weeks after discovering I was pregnant. I cannot get away from those memories or that song while reading this story, which makes my experience of it individual, singular (but though it is individual to me, it is no more individualised than any other reader’s experiences of the story). So I was quite glad that a nod was made to the REM song at the end of the story. I hope those kids think of that time of their lives every time they hear the song, too.

(Originally appeared in The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, 2016.)

REVIEW: “Crossing” by A. C. Wise

Review of A. C. Wise, “Crossing”, Podcastle 488 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

This was a very lightly fantastic piece–the sort where a slight shift in point of view could make it simply imaginative realistic fiction rather than outright fantasy. It builds up gradually following the swimmer Emma Rose and her love affair with the sea and the idea of some day crossing the Channel. The figure that she meets beneath the water might be a mermaid, or it might be a personification of her obsession and self-doubt. We see the protagonist from childhood to early adulthood, working out how to balance her love for swimming with the other things she desires. Learning whether the mermaid is a jealous lover or simply herself. In some ways, I found the story a bit slow. More atmospheric than plot-driven. But the overall shape worked in the end, like a wave building up in the sea and eventually breaking on the shore.

(Originally published 2017 in LampLight.)