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.

REVIEW: “Necromance” by Alyssa Striplin

Review of Alyssa Striplin, “Necromance”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Death, animal sacrifice.

I’m not a big fan of second-person narration, so I didn’t enjoy this story as much as some. This story also leans more towards the “horror” than many stories in Luna Station Quarterly, another count against it, in my book.

But these two complaints are very personal ones, and if you don’t mind second-person narratives or a bit of gore, then you may enjoy this story of the mortician’s daughter-turned-necromancer.

REVIEW: “Old Habits” by Nalo Hopkinson

Review of Nalo Hopkinson’s, “Old Habits”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 21 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

Like many classic ghost stories, “Old Habits” is a study in futility, stasis, and regret. There’s nothing the dead in Nalo Hopkinson’s story can do about their situation. Trapped in the mall where they died, they have almost no agency, and are forced to regularly relive their own deaths. There are no heroes in Nalo Hopkinson’s ghost mall; no magic bullets, no tantalising opportunities to rejoin the living. And the mall they haunt isn’t exactly Valhalla.  

The mundane, slightly sordid, nature of the afterlife Hopkinson has created, and the powerlessness of her characters, could have made this story a frustrating experience for a living, breathing reader. This story rejects well-worn fantasy plot structures that focus on active questing characters changing, or finding, their fates through sheer force of will. It also centres the experience of a group of powerless ghosts instead of, as so many ghost stories do, concentrating on the living, or giving the ghosts powers. And finally, this story pushes readers to face the banal ways in which mortality can be brutally stripped away. “Old Habits” is not a comfortable read, and that’s before the reader finds out that these ghosts can be hungry, and vicious, when provoked by their own kind.

However, out of all this difficult material, I think Hopkinson has created an affecting, quiet story about the pettiness of loss. Partly that’s because its conception of death is so rooted in the mundane, and everyday; presenting, like much apocalyptic media, enticing details of a world which, at least for these ghosts, cannot be regained. And that central concentration on the powerless is a theme carried through to great effect. The story opens with the death of a disenfranchised woman, crushed by corporate security, in a nod to many real life deaths in custody. While it’s not a story I’m in a rush to read again (facing this vision of an afterlife is a hard ask) it’s certainly a well-crafted piece that plays on my mind. “Old Habits” is a reminder that ghost stories can be just as inventive as every other part of the SFF and horror genres.

REVIEW: “The Ghol” by Rose Strickman

Review of Rose Strickman, “The Ghol”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

After the death of her husband, James, Miranda and her two daughters, Lily and Violet, find themselves struggling to keep the farm — and the family — together as a ghol comes to haunt them. Their only defense against the ghol is the poems that James wrote, poems which are consumed in the act of defense, so that Miranda knows it is only a matter of time before there are no poems, no defense, left. And it is only James’s poems that work: Poems written by Miranda and the girls are useless.

The only way to destroy a ghol completely is to find what it is that it craves and give it a poisoned version of that. Strickman gives a satisfying resolution to this conundrum, making a neat little story of haunting and horror.

REVIEW: “Remembering Absence” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Remembering Absence”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 262-274. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Murder.

Don’t ask me how long it’s been since I saw myself die. I can’t remember (p. 262).

What a wonderful opening line — and what an interesting little story on the experience of being a ghost. Thorn’s recounting of the phenomenology of being a ghost I found more compelling than when the narrator (his name is never known) slipped into long monologues about the phenomenology — those tended to bog down a bit. But this story had none of the banality that so many other stories in the anthology did, and all of the beautiful turns of phrases. It was a good story to end the collection on.

(Originally published in Straylight Literary Arts Magazine 2016).

REVIEW: “Be Prepared to Shoot the Nanny” by Rachel Kolar

Review of Rachel Kolar, “Be Prepared to Shoot the Nanny”, Metaphorosis: The Complete Stories 2017, edited by B. Morris Allen (Metaphorosis Books, 2018): 31—39. Purchase Here. Originally published at Metaphorosis Magazine on 20 January 2017. Read Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis

I have noted elsewhere my general distaste for zombie horror, but if it has to be done, this is how to do it! There’s a nice bit of humour here along with (as in the last story) some observations about a society awash with guns and middle-class self-obsession. It’s a post-zombie apocalypse world; things have returned to some semblance of normality, but anyone who dies comes back as a zombie until they are killed again. Miranda is a somewhat hateful, overbearing middle class parent, judgemental and casually racist, who is upset that her ‘kill switch’ has recently died. Having a kill switch is a necessity for childcare arrangements (for the middle classes), as you can’t leave child alone with a nanny in case said nanny croaks it unexpectedly and eats the child. So two are needed, so that one can shoot the other in case of sudden death. It’s a great setup. As there is only one nanny available today, Miranda decides to work from home to act as kill switch herself, and of course because she’s so overbearing and interfering — though with the best of motherly intentions — she makes what should be a normal day into a catastrophic one.

Miranda is a bit of a caricature I suppose, a tad overdone and bordering on sociopathy, but to be honest, if she is a ten, I personally know people who are at least a seven. It is telling that the first thing she thinks of when she realises she’s mistakenly killed an innocent non-zombie and might go to prison is that little Henry won’t be able to get into a good school, or a private one, so is essentially as good as dead. And then of course there is the implication of how easily mistakes can be made when guns are everywhere. Great story!