REVIEW: “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” by Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt

Review of Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt, “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft”, Apex Magazine 102: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

I am a huge fan of the recent trend of people deconstructing Lovecraft’s work to create new stories, particularly when those stories tackle the racism that crept through his oeuvre. “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” is an excellent addition to that growing collection.

Jim Payne just wants to sell his great-grandfather’s letters from Lovecraft, get his money, and go home. He has no skin in this game (beyond the desire to get out of debt), and no interest in either his great-grandfather or his famous correspondent. But when he drives down the rutted, unmarked, dirt road dotted with bestial statues, and knocks on the door of a ramshackle house in the hills of New England, it’s no surprise that things get complicated.

Everything about this story fits together nicely. Jim is a wonderful narrator: observant, wry, and with a low tolerance for bullshit, which makes it easy to follow him through his adventure. The plot itself is perfectly compressed without feeling either too big for the word count or too small to be interesting; it’s just right. I thought that the racism – both in Lovecraft’s work and in modern America – was deftly handled, but as a white woman, I defer to the judgment of those who have personally experienced it.

Recommended for fans of Lovecraft, low-key horror, or either The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle) or Lovecraft Country (Matt Ruff).

REVIEW: “Mysterium Tremendum” by Molly Tanzer

Review of Molly Tanzer, “Mysterium Tremendum”, Nightmare Magazine 62: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

I really enjoyed this story. It was interesting, unique, and kept me guessing. Horror is a very varied genre because its definition can change depending on whose opinion you are getting. This horror was more unsettling and mysterious rather than out right scary, but the uncertainty made me eager to continue reading. I wanted to know what was going on. The setting combined with Marjorie Olenthistle’s lack of plot knowledge both lent themselves well to suspense.

Marjorie’s goal as a character is simple. She wants to retrieve expensive and rare mummified remains for her job at the library. However, it is the challenge of navigating the desires and hidden motives of the other characters which drives her along. Combine that with some potentially “not of this world” magic tricks, and you’ve got yourself quite the monumental task.

I loved the combination of Egyptian lore with the mystique of the stage magician whose acts confound and astound. Is it real? Or is it some elaborate scam to fool the unintelligent masses? Marjorie gets the chance to find out.

There was humor here. There was mystery. It reminds us to question what we believe to be real and what we believe to be a trick. Sometimes they are separate. Sometimes they are the same thing.

REVIEW: “Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light” by Malon Edwards

Review of Malon Edwards, “Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light”, Podcastle: 495 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

This story is something of a follower to the author’s previous Podcastle story “The Half Dark Promise” (episode 287), focusing on the same protagonist: a young Haitian-American girl in an alternate Chicago whose mother is a doctor specializing in steampunk medical devices and whose father is…something else. “The Half Dark Promise” was an immersive, darkly horrific tale with the sort of menace that can only be felt by a young child who knows the monsters in the dark are real. “Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light” brings in the more personal horror of family secrets and the sorts of fates that await disobedient children. The protagonist is a monster hunter–not by profession or as a hobby, but simply because monsters must be hunted to survive and protect her friends. But in the half dark as day turns to night, it can be impossible to tell who the monsters really are.

This is a story that requires you to surrender yourself to the world it’s building and wait for understanding to emerge from that half dark. I remember the first story being difficult in a good way–the way you have to work to build that picture and it’s worth it to do so. This time, having recognized the world, I was able to return easily. (And my impression is that the author is counting on return visits, so if you haven’t yet read or listened to “The Half Dark Promise”, I recommend doing so first.)

The prose is laced through with bits of Haitian Creole to good effect in the scene setting, and the cadence of the writing is yet another example of the type of story that works so well in audio. I also liked the steampunkish bits of worldbuilding: the references to the protagonist’s steam-clock heart, and how her mother came to Chicago to make clock-hearts for children stricken with polio, and how everything went so horribly wrong. Just enough bits to sketch a picture, and no more. This series of stories could be viewed either as fantasy or horror, and there are some times when I feel Podcastle is a bit too generous in embracing stories that really should be horror, but in this case I agree with the categorization because of the fiercely positive outcome.

REVIEW: “The Zodiac Walks on the Moon” by Will Ludwigsen

Review of Will Ludwigsen. “The Zodiac Walks on the Moon”, Nightmare Magazine 62: Read online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

The concept of the Zodiac Killer fascinates me. The use of incomprehensible symbols and clues leading the police on a chase- the mystery of it all is intriguing and spooky. A story from the perspective of this killer detailing his first kills and his desire to move from the darkness of obscurity into the light of fame allows for a lot of speculation. What drives a person to serially murder other people may not always be clear, but exploring these motivations can be and interesting foray into the human psyche.

For me, this piece turned into a meditation of sorts on our need as a society to sensationalize mass murderers. More specifically, I think about how we discuss the ever increasing number of deadly shootings and the detailed exposes on the shooters themselves. It makes me wonder how many other killers we create based on the fame they would receive alone. Although in this case it was the moon landing which drove this fictional representation of the Zodiac killer to crave the lime light, I think the core is the same.

I really enjoyed reading this piece. As much as they terrify me (which is kind of the point), I love reading serial killer stories. Monsters are one thing, but these are real people who could live right next door to you. There is a sense of safety involved in reading about terrifying creatures that you don’t find with serial killers. Anyone can make that shift. “All it takes is one small step.”

 

REVIEW: “Suffer Little Children” by Robert Shearman

Review of Robert Shearman, “Suffer Little Children”, Nightmare Magazine 61: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

What is it about governesses and boarding schools that make for such excellent spooky stories? Perhaps it’s the constant cold and rain that seems to be associated with such locations as well as the creepy old schoolmarms who always show up at the most suspect moments.

Part of what lends to the tension in this particular story is the way the reader is let in on the details slowly. This slow reveal allows the reader to speculate as to why the main character- Susan Cowley- was fired from her governess position. She is sent to the suspiciously named H___ Priory where her interactions with the children are a little bit abnormal. How does everything tie together?

While not outright “scary”, Shearman’s story was unsettling in that there is a natural distrust of every character borne out of my own paranoia vis a vie other horror stories as well as the crafting of characters whose motives are as muddy as the ground after the constant rain. While I enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on, I was also surprised by the ending and pleased at what was still left open for interpretation.

If you enjoy creepy children in a Victorian setting, give this a read. It’s a fun classic spooky story.

REVIEW: “We are Turning on a Spindle” by Joanna Parypinski

Review of Joanna Parypinski, “We are Turning on a Spindle”, Nightmare Magazine 61: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

Time marches ever on. It pays no attention to the desires of us mortals, and it certainly doesn’t stop for anything. One of the fun aspects of science fiction is that it gives us a chance to imagine how the future might appear. Some choose to go not too far into the future, but Joanna Parypinski goes so far that there is hardly anything left. You can’t even be sure if this was Earth or if it’s some other planet where beings like us may have existed.

In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, the main character traverses a long distance in the far off future in order to find the greatest beauty in the universe. The world is so changed that it is alien and ancient and falling a part. His obsession with his quest is what drives him- the strength of the legends he’s heard and the strength of his own convictions.

I love the descriptions in this story. The details were gorgeous (even when they were describing things that were less so). It was a very visceral read.

I really appreciated the introspective tone of the tale. Possession is a tenuous concept, and this story examines what exactly this term means and the consequences that can come with it. Be careful what you wish for.

REVIEW: “So Sings the Siren” by Annie Neugebauer

Review of Annie Neugebauer, “So Sings the Siren”, Apex Magazine 101: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This story sneaks up on you, which is impressive for a 1000 word piece of flash fiction.

A young girl waits with her mother outside the hall where she is going to hear a siren sing for the first time. She asks all sorts of questions, as children are wont to do, and twirls out her excess energy in an innocent scene. That facade crumbles as we learn more about the details of how a musician plays a siren.

There is a beauty that can be born from suffering sometimes, if one is willing to work for it and lucky enough to find it. I believe that this is a story about how best to honor that choice, and whether it is better to turn away from the horror of the source in order to focus on the outcome, or whether we need to acknowledge both. It’s not an easy read, but it is powerful.