REVIEW: “Man-Fruit” by Clara Kiat

Review of Clara Kiat, “Man-Fruit”, Luna Station Quarterly 28 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Abortion, physical abuse, non-consensual sex.

The story opens on the midwife Puring visiting Sisinia, who is “six moons away from giving birth”. But with Puring’s assistance, Sisinia might never give birth at all.

No one other than the mothers-who-won’t-be suspect that Puring is the source of the local abortions; but even more so, no one at all knows the secret behind how Puring does it, or the importance of the man-fruit to her life. Puring’s secret almost turns the story from fantasy into horror, Kiat mixing and balancing equal parts in her construction of the tale.

It’s not often I get a story set in post-Conquest central (or maybe southern; it wasn’t made explicit) America, which seems to me to be a real lack, because that is a setting rife with native fantasy and mythology that I would love to see more of.

REVIEW: “Sleep Papa, Sleep” by Suyi Okungbowa Davies

Review of Suyi Okungbowa Davies, “Sleep Papa, Sleep”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: Body parts, bodily harm, oblique references to murder.

This story falls under the category “well-written, but really not my type” for me — it’s just too much of a horror story, full of body parts and animate corpses and what for lack of a better word I’ll call haunting, for my preference. Parts were upsetting, parts were unsettling, parts were sordid, and some parts were just kind of gross.

All that being said, it was a tightly crafted story that was brought to a satisfying end with great skill; if you like bodily horror and corpses, then you’ll probably enjoy this! If those things aren’t your cup of tea, though, feel free to pass over it with impunity.

(First published in Lights Out, Resurrection, 2016).

REVIEW: “Trickin'” by Nicole Givens Kurtz

Review of Nicole Givens Kurtz, “Trickin'”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: Knife injury, blood, death.

Raoul awakes one rainy morning in the mouth of a cave, uncertain, at first, of his memories. It comes back to him slowly — today is Halloween, a day for treats, a day for trickin’.

In the city down below, they might not believe in the old gods any more, but he’s planning to change that — if they don’t give him treats, he’ll play tricks on them.

This was a gruesome, gleefully bloody story, part horror, part fantasy. A strong story to open the anthology on.

REVIEW: “The Truth As Written” by J. S. Rogers

Review of J. S. Rogers, “The Truth As Written”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Wow, this was an unexpected story from LSQ! It started off seemingly a cosy urban fantasy — two friends who like to shoplift together, a little shop full of magical items in a mountain village, a shopowner who is clearly a witch — but then shunted sideways into full-on horror. While what followed after that was to a large extent predictable, it was the sort of predictability that leads to a satisfying story: Everything turned out, in the end, the way it should. All in all, nicely constructed.

REVIEW: “The Novelist in the Attic” by Shen Dacheng

Review of Shen Dacheng, Jack Hargreaves (trans.), “The Novelist in the Attic”, in Jin Li and Dai Congrong, ed., The Book of Shanghai, (Comma Press, 2020): 61-77 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This story was the one that intrigued me the most when I read a one-sentence blurb of it on the back. I thought we’d find out, at the start, how the novelist gets into the attic, but the story actually opens on him when he’s already been up there for years.

Part of the premise of the story is extremely attractive to any writer — a quiet space where one can write uninterrupted, without any cares of housekeeping. But the flip side of it — a writer effectively squatting in his publisher’s attic, toiling away without ever producing his third book — is kind of chilling. For awhile, the reader seems to suffocate along with the writer, until one day the publishing house’s previous director retires and a new, reforming, one takes over. The abrupt change shocks the entire system, including the author, and the story takes a sudden, dramatic twist.

The one thing that struck me about this story is how indistinct it was, in the sense that it could have happened anywhere, to anyone. Only the references to the wutong trees outside the building locate the story in any particular place.

(First published in The Ones in Remembrance, 2017).

REVIEW: "On the Causes and Consequences of Cat Ladies" by Richard A. Lovett

Review of Richard A. Lovett, “On the Causes and Consequences of Cat Ladies”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 143–149 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Growing weary of people’s interference in her life after her husband’s death, Barbara decides to move into an isolated farmhouse in the countryside. She did not only lose her husband, but also their joint research which was shown to increase intelligence in lab animals. Because of FDA interference, all that came of it was specialized cat food. Barbara hopes to leave all that behind and live the rest of her days quietly and alone. Not long after she moves, her presence in her new house attracts a myriad of stray cats demanding food. Barbara indulges, but she soon realizes there’s more to the cats than meets eye.

This was a great story with a great buildup towards a satisfying conclusion. Admittedly, my experience with Lovett’s writing has been mostly through lighthearted and satirical pieces that the author is well known for. This, however, was different. Despite the title suggesting a more humorous tone, this was a relatively serious tale with dark undertones, verging on outright horror towards the end. The beginning is a little exposition heavy, but all of it proves rewarding by the end.

While, of course, it’s unlikely that smarter cats would so easily turn diabolical, the story plays cleverly with the urban myth of their commonly perceived “indifferent” personalities. I do have one hang-up with the plot: it does not seem the smartest action on behalf of the cats to simply kill the person feeding them, and then starve for days till a new tenant moves in (if at all). Considering their heightened intelligence, it is more likely they’d try something else first.

Granted, this is a nitpick, but it nevertheless stands out in what is an otherwise excellent short story.

REVIEW: "My Sister's Wings Are Red" by Christine Tyler

Review of Christine Tyler, “My Sister’s Wings Are Red”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 298, February 27, 2020: Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

I have mixed feelings about this story. It involves a colony of humans somehow transformed into insects living in the sort of hierarchical hive society commonly associated with ants and bees. It’s a well written story and the hive society is fully realized; yet I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for the tale. The tone of the first-person narration seems so much like that of a “normal” human that I found it jarring each time I remembered that this particular narrator has mandibles, antennae, and wings. This tension between how the narrator sounds and what the narrator is kept undermining the suspension of disbelief necessary for the enjoyment of any fantasy.  

REVIEW: "The Spoils" by Aliya Whiteley

Review of Aliya Whiteley, “The Spoils”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 298, (February 27, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Prior to this issue of BCS, I had not read anything by Aliya Whiteley. But after reading this excellent story—perhaps the creepiest tale I’ve read since Megan Arkenberg’s “All In Green Went My Love Riding” in Asimov’s last year—I’ll be primed to read whatever she publishes next.  

“The Spoils” takes place on a world plagued for generations by creatures collectively called the Olme, the latest of which may be the last of its kind. To touch any part of an Olme, even once its dead, marks a person with a foul stench nothing can wash away no matter how long the person lives. Whiteley’s story depicts a gruesome ritual in which various people—for example, the man who first encountered the dying creature—are presented with the eye, or a toenail, or some other part of the Olme. In describing the effects such “gifts” have on the people who receive them, Whiteley also gives us a vivid description of a bifurcated society—some surface dwellers, others cave dwellers—which the existence of the Olme apparently helped create.   

If you’re a fan of horror stories—and even if you’re not—I think you’ll like this story. 

REVIEW: “Callia” by Justin M. Siebert

Review of Justin M. Siebert, “Callia”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 249-262 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: attempted suicide.

This is a story of two interwining threads, of Melissa who is being abused and tortured by a monster she calls Callia (and who only learned how to tell time in 5th grade!), and of Tom, who see this happening when no one else does (and who is a hypochondriac). It takes me awhile to realise exactly who, or what, Callia is (or who they are…) It’s a dark take on the topic (can’t say more without spoilers), but it ends on a hopeful, if not happy, note.

REVIEW: “The Ordeal” by M. Bennardo

Review of M. Bennardo, “The Ordeal”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue Number 297, February 13, 2020: Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

I’ve enjoyed many other stories by this author, but this time Bennardo has outdone himself. In this tale of institutionalized evil, a young man named Waller, at the urging of his lawyer father, visits the mythical Duchy of Alpinia. There, he encounters the world’s strangest court of appeals. To save the life of her wrongfully accused husband, Frau Fenster must undergo a trial by ordeal. In a single day, she—the duchy’s finest spinner—must produce via spinning wheel at least twice as much material as is humanly possible. Since nothing short of divine intervention could help her succeed, the country’s legal system literally requires Frau Fenster to work a miracle or her husband will be shot at dawn the next day. To Waller, this is a barbaric practice, but to the learned men of Alpinia, it seems perfectly reasonable to put their faith in God, “the only true Witness and the only unerring Judge.” 

Saying more would spoil an excellent story, but I strongly urge you to read it. It’s among the best Beneath Ceaseless Skies has published. Given how good a magazine BCS is, that’s saying quite a lot.