REVIEW: “Recite Her the Names of Pain” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw, “Recite Her the Names of Pain”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 263-270. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Three sirens share an apartment in New York, adapting to a modern world that doesn’t need them to tempt heroes to bind themselves to the masts of ships just to prove their bravery and worth. Ligeia and Parthenope, at least, have shed their previous life and moved on. The third siren (the story alternates between 1st person POV from her perspective, and 3rd person POV where she is only referred to as “the siren”; however, (and I’ll admit I spent far too much time researching sirens after reading this story) I’m pretty sure she’s Leucosia), however, cannot escape the cries of the people who call to her. She hangs out at the archipelago to offer prophecy — what people need to know, not what they want to know. Sometimes, those words are the most dangerous of all.

REVIEW: “Bargains by the Slant-Light” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw, “Bargains by the Slant-Light”, Apex Magazine 113 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

The devil cuts a girl open, fulfilling the same contract night after night. As he repeats his handiwork, he finally asks her why she asked for this.

Demons and contracts are a familiar sight for readers of horror and dark fantasy, but this is nonetheless a rare story, told from the point-of-view of a devil who does not exactly relish his task, but who will perform it to the utmost of his ability. It’s also rare in that the purpose of the devil is not torture or payment – he is cutting into this girl because she asked him to. That is the boon she bargained for. It may sound strange, but once she explains it, I think you’ll find it makes perfect, if heartbreaking, sense.

This is a creepy, haunting meditation on the heart. Honestly, I would expect nothing less from Khaw, whose work has appeared in Apex several times in the last year.

REVIEW: “What to Do When It’s Nothing but Static” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw, “What to Do When It’s Nothing but Static”, Apex Magazine 107 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This is a glorious blend of the strange and the heartfelt, a story about aging and moving on from loss, set in a world in which a team of five (formerly six) little old ladies mentally link up to pilot a mecha and fight giant monsters. We don’t see them do this at any point, but it colors the whole story with a sense of the bizarre. And while the monsters never appear on-screen, the psychic link up is vital to the plot, as the narrator is trying to come to grips with the grief of losing one of her sisters.

I have so many questions about the world. Are all the pilots teams of little old ladies, and if so, why? If not, how did these grandmothers get the job? But of course, that doesn’t matter to the story. I just loved this so much that I wanted more. Some of the dialogue was confusing at first to my North American inner ear, but it really didn’t take long to adjust and figure out what the various interjections indicated.

This is a compact story, short enough to enjoy during a quick break. I recommend that you do so!

REVIEW: “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places”, Apex Magazine 106 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Many people have observed that there is something mysterious about the liminal space of airports and of flight itself. Khaw takes that observation a step further, with a story about one of their clergy, a solitary priest of the planes, criss-crossing the globe to commune with the vehicles in her spiritual charge, listening to their stories and their woes.

But this isn’t simply a story about a nifty idea (though it is a wonderful idea, building on the real-world experience and wonder of air travel). This is a meditation on love and loneliness and humanity. On connection and isolation (feelings I think we very much associate with airports, and the separations and reunions that occur there) and how those opposing feelings weave together to form a tapestry. Most of all, this is a story about home. It holds all of the irreconcilable dichotomies inherent to that word, all of the mixed up emotions that it can stir up, and doesn’t try to resolve them. I am grateful for that.

This is a quick read (less than 3,000 words) that packs a lot of emotional resonance and some truly lovely moments and resonant images. Well worth reading and rereading.

REVIEW: “The Ghost Stories We Tell Around Photon Fires” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw, “The Ghost Stories We Tell Around Photon Fires”, Apex Magazine 104 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This is a ghost story in space, a ghost story done up with all the creepiness and ambiguity the genre demands. It is also a love story, which seemed surprising to me until I thought about it. But what makes us want to bend the rules of death like love does? To say more – to try to tell you the plot – would require spoilers, and I would hate to deprive you of the experience of putting the pieces together. In the end, this is another story where the plot isn’t the important thing. The mystery, the meditation on love and loss and living, the lyrically sharp language: those were enough to draw me in and keep me hanging on Khaw’s every word.

This is a very human story, despite being set in space. I think the setting serves to highlight how universal the experience of loss and inability to let go really is. It also provides the a way for the main character to escape the inevitability of loss, but I think it’s contribution to the tone is actually more important.

I’ll admit that, when reading this the first time, I worried about how it would end. Would it dissolve into chaos and vagueness? Would the ending be either too firm or too soft to satisfy, after the beautiful mystery that came before? I should have had more faith. The ending delivers exactly what the story needs, not a drop more or a sentence less.


REVIEW: “Don’t Turn on the Lights” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw, “Don’t Turn on the Lights”, Nightmare Magazine 61: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

I love stories which examine the act of storytelling itself. Khaw reminds us that the story can still surprise us. All it takes is the shifting of a few details. The core may stay the same, but the the impact changes. Horror as a genre can be particularly formulaic in its approach. Readers may expect certain things- for the story to be told in a certain way. Khaw plays with these expectations as she crafts a discussion about who is telling the story and why.

Sally (if that is her real name) isn’t a protagonist in the strictest sense. Instead she is the lens through which we view the story. Like a cardboard cutout, she is dressed in different plots and motivations as we are asked to question what we think we know to be true.

The casual voice of the narrator lent itself well to the varying story plots. Like a museum tour guide, we are taken on a journey through perspective, and not knowing where you’re going is part of the excitement. This was a super fun spooky read that reminded me just how much I love horror.