REVIEW: Little Creepers by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, Little Creepers, (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This year, SFFReviews participated in #RevPit on twitter for the first time — where authors promote their books for review and reviewers indicate which books they’d be interested in reviewing — and that’s how we received a copy of Jessica Walsh’s short collection of horror stories. Two of the stories, “Whispering Waters” and “Lurking Status”, had previously been published, but the rest are new. Interspersed throughout the tales are interesting illustrations which lend a new dimension to the stories.

It is an eclectic collection, ranging from the single-page almost flash-fic story “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight” to the nearly-novellette 43-page story “My Life”. As a result, I read the stories out of order, rather than sequentially, so that I could pick a length that suited my reading desires at a given time. As is customary, we’ve listed the contents below (pretty much my only significant complaint is that I would’ve liked to have had a table of contents in the book itself!), and will review the stories individually and link the reviews back here as they are published:

  • “In the Pipes Below”
  • “Whispering Waters”
  • “Frostbite”
  • “Footprints”
  • “Giving In”
  • Limited Power”
  • “Toothache”
  • “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight”
  • “White Noise”
  • “Lurking Status”
  • “I Wake Up In Strange Places”
  • “My Life”
  • “Lovely Decisions”
  • “For Sale”

To speak to the collection as a whole: I often struggle with where “horror” fits into SFFReviews. It certainly can fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction”, especially in its psychological guises. Sometimes horror can be purely mundane, though; for instance, when it stems from physical violence and gore. It was hard to categorise these stories, some of which were definitely on the speculative end of things, while others (like “Giving In”) were so mundane as to be merely depressing rather than horrible. Good speculative horror that is well done I truly enjoy, and that’s what keeps me dipping back into the horror genre time and time again. In this collection, some of the stories lived up to my hopes and satisfied my desires; but unfortunately only some.

REVIEW: “Green is for Wishes and Apples” by Kathryn McMahon

Review of Kathryn McMahon, “Green is for Wishes and Apples”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

From Eve’s apple to the apple the witch gives Snow White, there’s no denying that in myth and story, apples are magic. Abigail knows the Granny Smiths in the tree she loves to climb partake in that tradition of magic — she learned about it from Gram, but Gram herself is now dead. Can even those potent green fruit bring back the dead?

McMahon’s slow, dreamy story of intricate witchery is creepy and unsettling, and I was rather glad the ending was dark rather than hopeful; it seemed fitting.

REVIEW: “The Secret of Flight” by A. C. Wise

Review of A. C. Wise, “The Secret of Flight”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 249-266 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Wise’s story was a step out of sync with the other stories in this anthology — quite firmly falling under the horror umbrella, as opposed to SF, fantasy, or weird fairy tales. It’s also narratively distinctive, being told through a series of snapshots — play scripts, letters, newspaper clippings, drafts, etc. I don’t often see that sort of structure (more usually found in “literary” circles) deployed in spec fic, and I wish I did see it more. Everything all came together into a wonderfully deliciously creepy story, whose incidental queerness (almost entirely incidental to the plot) only enhanced it.

(Originally published in Black Feather, 2017).

REVIEW: “Love Pressed in Vinyl” by Devon Wong

Review of Devon Wong, “Love Pressed in Vinyl”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 209-224 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was quite a creepy little story, of Malik and his childhood friend Josh, and of Josh and his boyfriend’s death, and of a vinyl record that was left behind. The title of the story says that it is love that was pressed into vinyl, but what sort of love would be so heartless and destructive?

This sort of story isn’t particularly my kind, but even so I enjoyed the artistry with which it was written.

(Originally published in Strange Horizons, 2017.)

REVIEW: “Your Heart in My Teeth” by V. Medina

Review of V. Medina, “Your Heart in My Teeth”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 82-93 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

A city is made of its people. It only make sense that [its heart] would be human (p. 92)

“You,” we are told in the opening sentence, “find yourself going to the street corner where he died” (p. 82). And yet, though the whole story is told in 2nd person POV, it doesn’t feel — like so many 2nd person POV stories do — to me like some external/omniscient narrator is telling me what I am doing, thinking, feeling. Instead, it feels much more like the narrator is narrating the story to himself, that he is trying to fit the broken pieces of his life back together into a pattern that makes sense.

There’s really no cues indicating how this POV should be read here, but it’s certainly possible to read the story this way, and that’s how I read it, as a story between a narrator and his dead lover, who died in a car crash on that corner, where a little grocer sits. This is the first of the stories in this anthology that has a rather creepy undertone of horror to it, and there is an ambiguity to the ending that I liked a lot. I am also continually impressed at how each of the stories fits into the theme of the anthology as a whole, even when they contain grand statements about the nature of the city itself.

REVIEW: “A Voice in Many Different Forms” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu

Review of Osahon Ize-Iyamu, “A Voice in Many Different Forms”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 247-261. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I often wish that I liked 2nd-person narration more than I do (which is quite little) because too often it gets in the way of my ability to enjoy good stories. I don’t like being told what to do and how to feel, and too often that is how 2nd-person narration comes across to me.

So it was in spite of the narrative choices, rather than because of them, that I got sucked into the rhythm and the feeling and the emotion of Ize-Iyamu’s story. This is the first story in the anthology so far that I would classify as ‘horror’, in so far as classifications and genres matter. There is a darkness underlying Tola, and the different voices he uses when he speaks his poetry. The unnamed addressee of the 2nd-person narration has their own battle cries and battle poems, but they are of no defense against Tola’s darkness.

They are, however, all the offense the poet needs.

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.