What I love best about reviewing short stories is when you find something utterly different from anything you’ve read before, and that is what Geer gave me in this story. She took a very simple idea — a veterinarian who is able to take on the thoughts of animals — and used it very effectively.
Content note: Murder, physical violence, threats to children, miscarriage, animal sacrifice.
There was something about this story that felt clumsy; too many, too strong feelings too quickly, in a way that was cacophonous rather than sympathetic. I also found the language of sex, conception, pregnancy, and miscarriage all a bit coy; I think Ferguson was rather aiming for the typical sort of “fantasy language” one uses when one doesn’t want to presuppose modern norms or modern science, but if so, she didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
Content note: Enslavement.
One thing I love about digging through journal archives is finding stories that feel specifically pertinent and present. Reading Russo’s story in the UK in fall 2020, in the wake of the British government deciding, no, actually, it doesn’t need to bother with feeding children during school breaks and holidays, the opening lines of the story hit with a special punch:
“If, as it is stated in the Code of Padrel the Great, that eating is no crime, then it follows by corollary that neither is feeding a criminal offense.”
When a forgotten punishment vault is discovered, revealing prisoners who have been sealed up for a thousand years, undying and crying out for food, Fonell, Canly, Vamma and the others are all faced with the question: What do you do? When Onjar says “You want to call the bloody government in? What’ll they do?”, it’s hard for both them and me, as the reader, not to agree. Fonell calls in his lawyer from Zerna, and Zerna is the one quoting Padrel. And then everything spills over into a dramatic conflagration of the importance of family, the value of a human being, and the fact that “No life is insignificant.”
This was a hard read, a good story. Really good. Chilling and bitter and hopeful and everything in between.
Content note: Cruelty to animals.
The titular garden is the setting for an intimate glimpse into the life of Albie and Evelyn, two peculiar characters that I never really drew a bead on. Were they teenagers? Were they young children? Were they siblings? Were they lovers? At one time I thought one way, at other times, another, and given how inconsistent their characterization were (if they ARE 6-ish years old, why the heavy sexual tension at times? If they’re grown teenage siblings, why are they playing children’s games together?) it was a weirdly uncomfortable read.
The premise of this story is simple: Everyone gets one Save, to use as they will (though of course it’s easier to know how and when to use it if you have proper training, hence you practice Saving in elementary school; and of course many people will judge you if you Save the wrong person, or even for Saving anyone at all.) The execution is likewise simple: Janice has long known whom her Save would be for, until she is confronted with a situation where she must make a choice.
Simple, but by no means ineffective.
What an absolutely stonking story. It carried me along, gulping for more, with its utterly entrancing Justine, an automaton built to sing opera like no human could ever sing, against a panoply of background characters — the Maestro, the Ballet Mistress, the dancers, and, most importantly of all, Lise, who gives Justine the final secret she needs. It’s the sort of story that telegraphs one ending from the start, but leaves the reader desperately hoping that that is not the actual ending. Really, really enjoyed this one.
Content warning: Drinking, gambling, domestic abuse.
This urban fantasy set in Jamaica centers around the titular character Mama Tulu, and Sasha, the young woman who goes to visit her to make an unspeakable request. I liked almost everything about it — but not quite everything. I have a deep ambivalence about the use of phonetic representations of dialect in written fiction; I am never sure how appropriate or successful they are. Reading them often feels like an uncomfortable caricature; but on the other hand, I think it’s important to recognise the varieties of ways in which people speak, and to recognise the legitimacy of, e.g., AAVE.
There was a lot of cliches in this story — the dragon-fighting knights trying to win the hand of a princess; the princess who didn’t want to be an object of conquest; the maiden aunt who provided the princess with the training needed — but ultimately, this was a fairy tale, and fairy tales are cliches, so it worked.
Review of R.Z. Held, “A Tally of What Remains”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 313 (September 24, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.
The final story in BCS’s twelfth anniversary issue is a very good one. Its themes are loss and grief and hope restored amidst a sort of plague—themes that strongly resonate in this year of the pandemic. The story features two characters who are not as different as they first appear. Helena, a blood mage, finds her magic to be of little help in maintaining the small family farm where she struggles to aid survivors of the Fever who have found refuge in her barn. One of these survivors, Benedict, is reeling from the death of his husband, while Helena can’t get past the guilt of being the only member of her family to survive the Fever. Each needs to grieve and move on; instead, they take their anger out on each other. As time passes, only Benedict seems willing to confront his feelings and work through them. But when another tragedy strikes, both characters find consolation in the strength, compassion, and friendship of the other and soon begin to look forward in hope to a brighter future.
I loved the combination of horror and fantasy that comprised this story. The foreign setting was just familiar enough to make you feel like what was happening could’ve happened anywhere, perhaps even here in the real world; and Clava’s desperate, perverted desire to become the beheld instead of the beholder, and the steps that she takes to achieve this end were chilly and creepy. Beneath all of these was the uncertainty I had whether Clava was the villain — or the victim.
To cap things off, David Bowman’s illustrations accompanying this story were really quite divine.