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. 

REVIEW: “늑대 – The Neugdae” by Juliet Harper

Review of Juliet Harper, “늑대 – The Neugdae” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 101-108 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Strong violence, rape, death, war, weapons.

This retelling of Little Rid Ridinghood set in the context of the Korean War was an ugly little story. The original fairy tale is Grimm by name and grim by nature, but this sordid version brought that horror into sharp relief. This story was not for me.

REVIEW: “Rust and Bone” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Mary Robinette Kowal, “Rust and Bone”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 86-92 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a harsh story of a child caught between two adults — one grandmother, one mother — each of whom thinks (or at least claims) they have the child’s best interests at heart.

For anyone who has been caught in a family feud, or who has watched friends be caught in such a feud, this is not a pleasant story. Even if you have not witnessed first hand this sort of situation, the story leaves you with a deep uncertainty and ambivalence about the outcome: Is this the outcome we should’ve been rooting for? More importantly, is it the one that is best for the child? It just isn’t clear, and for some (I’m one of them) that makes it an unsatisfying story. Others may thrive on the ambivalence, and enjoy it more.