REVIEW: “A Game of Goblins” by Jim C. Hines

Review of Jim C. Hines, “A Game of Goblins”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 8-27. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This is my first time reading one of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I did receive a free copy courtesy of the publisher as a reviewer for SFF Reviews.

With that out of the way, I have to say I did enjoy this clever little story that pokes a lot of fun at high fantasy tropes, especially the ritualism and hierarchy of human society. There wasn’t really anything in this one that made me legitimately laugh, more the sort of humor where you snort a little and go “that’s funny.” I did however thoroughly enjoy this one, which is apparently an offshoot of Hines’s Goblin Quest series, and definitely has me interested in checking that one out more.

The story centers on the conceit of the various human clans vying for dominance, which leads to the Loncasters invading the home of Golaka, our main protagonist and the resident cook for her goblin tribe. They end up kidnapping her and promising her in marriage to the young lad who is to be the next in line for the throne.

Like a lot of stories that lampoon racial (and racist) tropes, Golaka ends up being the most clever out of all of them, and outwitting her captors, winning her freedom and the admiration of the young boy she was betrothed to. A great intro story for the anthology.

 

REVIEW: “Not Quite Taken” by KL Pereira

Review of KL Pereira, “Not Quite Taken”, Lamplight Volume 6 Issue 2, December 2017.  pp. 6-10. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

A grim little story written in second person about someone–you–decomposing. Evidently this is something you’ve done before, as it talks about your rituals, as well as painful memories from when this first started. Lamplight does label itself as a magazine of dark fiction, and though I’ve submitted stories in the past this is actually one of the first issues I’ve ever read. KL Pereira is the featured author for this issue so there is some more work from them, and I’m eager to see what else they’ve got for me.

A very good story, but as I’ve said in the past, second person rarely works for me as well as first or second. Still, I’d definitely recommend a read if you want some short and punchy body horror.

REVIEW: “Store in a Dark Place” by David Stevens

Review of David Stevens, “Store in a Dark Place”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 29-34. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

What a strange and very dark story. The story follows a protagonist named Gerald whose deformed head is locked up in a box. He has flashbacks and deals with his paranoia that everywhere he goes death and destruction follow. The story is set in a ruined world which the author has apparently explored before in two previously published stories: “Avoiding Gagarin,” in Aurealis, and “The Big Reveal” in Kaleidotrope. Definitely right up your alley if you’re a fan of grimdark writing, with loads of gritty imagery and murky, confused morality.

 

The writing is full of a lot of rhetorical questions, which can get a little grating after a while, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered (though they may be answered better once the other two stories have been read), but the “Store in a Dark Place” is is intriguing enough. Just be prepared for a bit of a downer.

REVIEW: “The Ashen Heart of St. Fain” by Dale Carothers

Review of Dale Carothers, “The Ashen Heart of St. Fain”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 35-40. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

A fantasy story about a young, privileged man who wants to basically be his world’s equivalent of Walt Whitman, and write a book for the common people. He seeks to write an account of the city of St. Fain, where a fallen god has left a massive burnt-out crater. Like many would-be “writers” with lofty goals, he finds himself counting more an more days without a page count and ultimately ends up caught in another person’s pain, his own failings, and his family’s expectations. This is a story of healing, but also of shattered dreams, naivete, misplaced hopes. It starts out easy enough, but don’t expect the whole ride to be full of peaceful easy feelings.

Does Nicholas ever pursue writing again and actually get some work done? I don’t know. Maybe Dale Carothers will revisit this young man’s world or it’s been visited before this story. Either way I do recommend this one. While it is refreshing to see a story every once in a while that has a not-so-happy ending, this one did actually bum me out a little. Which is a good thing, believe it or not.

 

REVIEW: “Conversation, Descending” by Richard Dansky

Review of Richard Dansky, “Conversation, Descending”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 25-28. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

Reading Richard Dansky’s profile in the magazine, I fully expected to like this story. He’s a veteran video game writer and has seven novels and a story collection under his belt as well. Do I think this is a bad story? Not necessarily. All I can say for sure is this one was a bit of a dud for me, but I’d still recommend reading it yourself and forming your own opinion.

“Conversation, Descending” is a steampunky fantasy that opens with a fellow falling through the sky after he’s ejected from an airship. As tends to (in my opinion, unfortunately) come with the territory there’s a lot of pseudo-Victorian/Romantic era stilted language that in other subgenres might be pegged as thesaurus abuse. The first page is almost all repetition of the fact that our main character is falling and he’s just in his underwear.

There is a conversation with another character further in, as well as a few moments that would have struck me as particularly humorous or clever if the writing style, particularly that of the main character didn’t remind me so much of Harold Lauder from The Stand, chock full of m’lady-ish phraseology that I could all but see this character in a trench coat and fedora, fingerless gloves grasping the edge of his hat as he talked to other damsels along his way.

There is a nice sort of bait-n-switch toward the end but I hate to admit by that point I’d sort of half checked out. I do still recommend checking this one out for yourself, as hopefully you don’t have my hangups. There is humor and wit in here, so I hope you are able to appreciate that more than I was.

REVIEW: “The End of the World on the Cutting Room Floor” by Fraser Sherman

Review of Fraser Sherman, “The End of the World on the Cutting Room Floor”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 17-23. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

Remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or that one movie with Brad Pitt and the cartoon cat. This story is a lot like that, though definitely better than the Brad Pitt movie. The world has ended and everyone seems to have “come back” as movie characters of some sort or another. There’s some cheesiness involved, but it comes with the territory when some of these realms are straight out of B-movie schlock.

There are black and white B-movie horror characters, blacksploitation nods, film noire, but not so much by way of “modern” cinema nods other than a few name drops. Still if you grew up watching schlocky films, especially if you watched some of those by way of Mystery Science Theater 3000, then you’ll get a few chuckles out of this.

The story is fairly clever and tongue in cheek, though for me personally it doesn’t stand out as much as other Space and Time Magazine stories I’ve read before. However, like everything else put out by this publication, it’s still an interesting and well-written story and I’d still recommend giving it a read.

REVIEW: “Done, not Undone” by Patricia Russo

Review of Patricia Russo, “Done, not Undone”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 11-16. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

What if shape-shifting was a genetic trait, one that was highly frowned upon at that? This story follows a shape-shifter and their friend (who desperately wishes they could shape-shift) as they are about to undertake some shady business in the name of grocery money and get pulled into something rather unexpected.

The premise of shape shifting, while old hat, is given a fresh take with this story, and Patricia Russo has given us characters that we care about within a short space and a page-turner of a story. Recommended.