The story has many echoes of the traditional Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” which puts me in mind of Edith Pattou’s East, one of my favorite books. So I really enjoyed reading this. I also enjoyed it for the optimistic view it paints of happiness at the end of life, after the death of a spouse. It is a sweet story of how love transcends boundaries, both literal and physical, and Hagey needs only a few words to paint neat pictures of each of the characters.
This issue is the first I’ve read of LCRW, and it was this story that solidified the thought that I would probably be enjoying this publication for a long time. I have a soft spot for bleak stories, and while this is one that doesn’t smack you over the head with utter hopelessness until you’re curled up crying there is an underlying line of tension and sadness running through the whole thing.
The narrator has recurring dreams that their apartment is a ship lost at sea, filling with water and sea life. Their girlfriend visits them, a perky woman who the main character is clearly having some sort of disconnect from. They’re having trouble communicating, refusing intimacy, referring to the woman as “a collection of hinges and joists.” Over time the dream becomes more real, and the world more surreal, with the water beginning to damage everything it touches while the narrator pushes their girlfriend away.
It’s easy to draw allegory and symbolism of depression and a doomed relationship from this piece: the trouble communicating, the pushing away of a loved one, the recurring dreams of a room filling with water. However, I feel it’s best to leave interpretations such as that to the reader. This piece is subtle in its grief, and it’s all so human. If it were only this story and the two preceding it in this magazine I’d still highly recommend giving a few dollars to purchase a copy, but there’s more in there, including a strange (though compelling) nonfiction piece and some poems. As for this story, like the previous two, highly recommended.
This wonderfully enticing collection is chock full of stories of all lengths and genres, as the listing of stories below indicates — more than 350 pages of monster stories. These are stories of
the bogey-men and devils who will eat you if you go out at night…the gods and demigods waiting to be offended…sinister mutations and imposters who try to fool us…the monsters we harbor deep in our own hearts (p. v).
The anthology is charmingly illustrated throughout, with a pen and ink picture for each tale, and sometimes a few small icons scattered within the story (depending on its length). Unfortunately, no information about the provenance of these images is provided — unfortunate, because whoever the artist(s) was (were), they should be credited!
The stories range from the quite short (a page and a half) to the quite decently long, such as Delilah Night’s “For the Love of Snow White” (just over thirty pages). The best way to get a sense for the variety of the stories told is to read the reviews of the individual contributions, which will be linked below as they are published:
- “Company for Tea” by Kimber Camacho
- “Adapt and Overcome” by Stephen R. Smith
- “Too Generous” by N. R. M. Roshak
- “Raw Material” by Brandon Nolta
- “Waffles” by Ariel Ptak
- “For Love of Snow White” by Delilah Night
- “Nephilia clavata” by G. Grim
- “Going Forth By Day” by Andrew Johnson
- “Trich” by Jay Knioum
- “What Lies in the Ice” by P. A. Harland
- “Sin” by Karl Egerton
- “Katabasis” by Petter Skult
- “Breach” by Niki Kools
- “Demon in a Copper Case” by Damon L. Wakes
- “Hansel and Gretel in the Wasteland” by Shondra Snodderly
- “Töpflein, stehe” by G. Deyke
- “Beauty Mortis” by Jaap Boekestein
- “Silver Noir” by Ariel Ptak
- “Penumbra” by Chris Brecheen
- “Of Anger and Beauty” by Stephen R. Smith
- “Robbie and the Birds” by A. R. Collins
- “Onward Christian Soldiers” by G. H. Finn
- “Reborn” by Petter Skult
- “Gorgon’s Deep” by Mike Adamson
- “Cuddles” by Ariel Ptak
- “Picture Perfect” by Lori Tiron-Pandit
- “A Helping Hand” by Samantha Trisken
- “Bartleby & the Professors Solve the Riddle” by Shondra Snodderly
- “Daughter” by Will Reierson
- “Gristle” by Jay Knioum
- “Camping” By J. D. Buffington
- “Wasteland” by Stephen R. Smith
- “Passive Aggressive” by Narrelle M. Harris
- “Cinderevolution” by Shondra Snodderly
- “Sometimes People are Monsters” by Kaleen Hird
- “Skeletons in the Closet” by Susanne Hülsmann
- “Memento Mori” by Charlotte Frankel
- “Red Queen’s Lullaby” by Ariel Ptak
- “Heirlooms” by Rosalind Alenko
- “The Sphinx” by Petter Skult
- “Demon of the Song” by Ville Meriläinen
- “The Gilded Swan” by Damon L. Wakes
- “Aliens and Old Gods” by Kimber Camacho
- “A Taste of Freedom” by Thomas Webb
One general comment about the typesetting — the font used in the table of contents and in the headers/footers is maximally confusing, with many letter forms being only identifiable by looking at occurrences of the same form in words which are unambiguous, so I apologise in advance for misrepresenting any of the titles. (I went back and forth as to whether Ptak’s third story was “Cuddles” or “Puddles”). (I did, however, manage to not to interpret all the l’s as long s’s, even though I really wanted to.)
Update! (24 Feb 18): One of the JayHenge staff members has more information about the lovely artwork used in the book. It all comes from the OpenClipart site, a collection of royalty-free clipart from various sources (including some images being from out-of-copyright books taken and turned into clipart). What an excellent little resource, and thanks to Susanne Hülsmann for passing on this information.
Once again, Podcastle demonstrates the value-added not only by presenting certain stories in audio format, but by carefully matching the narrator to the material. I don’t usually call out the narrators in my reviews, but Solomon Osadolo was magnificent in interpreting the rhythms and flavor of this story. (There was one unfortunate technical recording glitch that marred the production values, but that’s neither the author nor the narrator’s fault.)
The protagonist’s ordinarily terrifying experience of meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time is given a fantasy twist by his profession: the newly government-authorized and licensed field of traditional Nigerian wizard. In explaining his profession to his potentially future father-in-law, the listener also receives the essential grounding in what this means and how it works. What confuses him is why he needs to explain it in such detail to the man. Although only recently made respectably legal, surely the man would be familiar with the basic principles? That’s when he discovers the magical shroud clouding the man’s understanding and awareness of wizardry.
Why that shroud exists, and who created it, forms the tension of the rest of the story. It is, in essential ways, a story about consent and about the limits of what is acceptable to do to protect oneself and one’s loved ones from cultural prejudice and danger. As the title says, “When you find such a thing [i.e., love], you do anything to keep it.” But who decides what that “anything” includes? In the current climate of discussion on informed consent and allowing people agency in their own lives, a surface reading of the story puts the protagonist (and the second wizard in the story) in a somewhat horrific light. But life isn’t so simple, as that other wizard points out. Government sanction and legality isn’t the same thing as acceptance, and a history of persecution and prejudice can’t be wiped away by a law and a license.
I was able to step away from the specifics of the story and feel the complexities more when I “translated” the core ethical situation into one of sexuality rather than wizardry (although there’s absolutely no basis in the story for this specific connection–it’s just one that has particular resonance for me). Is it right to deceive your loved ones about some essential aspect of your identity if full disclosure would destroy that love and put your life at hazard? We don’t have the luxury of waiting for an ideal and accepting world in which ethics can be treated purely as a philosophical exercise. We live in the world as it is. And sometimes that world has things that are precious enough that you do anything to keep them. Even if what you do is wrong by certain lights.
A separate, purely technical note on the episode: I have a certain degree of auditory processing disorder, which means that when I’m listening to speech with unfamiliar rhythms and accents, I can have difficulty processing it adequately. I needed to listen to this episode twice: once to calibrate my hearing to the narrator and language structure, and once to actually listen to the story itself. This is a defect in my neural processing, not in the story itself. If you find yourself having a similar experience, I urge you to give the story the benefit of a second listen, or try the text version instead. It’s worth it.
“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.
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.
When Vivian’s grandmother dies, Vivian’s family ask her to return to Malaysia for the funeral. Her grandmother was a witch of some renown, while Vivian ‘in contrast, had a mind like a hi-tech blender.’ On returning to her family home, she finds troubled spirits in the shape of her grandmother’s wandering ghost, and her magical sister, Wei Yi, who is trying to work out how to honour her grandmother properly so she doesn’t become a kuang shi, or vampire.
I didn’t notice until I’d finished “The First Witch of Damansara” that Zen Cho presents an entirely female family story. There’s a fiance ‘beautiful, supportive, and cast in an appropriately self-effacing role—just off-screen,’ and Vivian’s dead Yeh Yeh plays a role in the story, but otherwise men are entirely absent from this family tale. The important conflicts, and relationships, all play out between women.
A significant part of Vivian’s story revolves around how she fits into her magical, Malaysian family’s life now when she has been apart from them for so long. In order to find her place she has to interact with her sister, mother, and even her grandmother’s spirit in ways that are often infuriating, but nevertheless help her to find a significant role in their lives again. I’m always excited to see family stories that allow women to develop strong, and complex, bonds with each other. And “The First Witch of Damansara” certainly brings the importance of female relationships to the fore.
The story whizzes by because it’s so well-paced. The conversations between the characters read with the naturalness found when people have known each other for a long time but still don’t always understand each other. And there’s a character here to capture the imagination of every reader: practical, fish out of water Vivian; tricksy, smart Nai Nai; argumentative, determined Wei Yi. I was already a big fan of Cho’s novel Sorcerer to the Crown, but after reading “The First Witch of Damansara” I’m eager to try out more of her short fiction too.