This story was cleanly and precisely written with elegant language — every word necessary, to the point where I found myself having to go back and reread various parts of it, sometimes more than once, to ensure I wasn’t missing out on some important clue. It had a sort of hard-beaten/detective noir to it, but for all that, I’m not quite sure what was “horrible” about this story.
This is the inaugural fiction story in Undertow Publication’s new horror serial, Weird Horror, which I received a review copy of via my friendship with David Bowman, one of the featured artists in the issue.
I haven’t read a print fiction journal in ages and loved really enjoyed it — it feels so nice in my hands, look so nice on the page, well-formed great art (not just Bowman both other artists are featured as well, with personalised art for every story), plus opinion columns and reviews in amongst the fiction.
But the fiction is what I’m here for, so let’s talk about Ruthnum’s story. For all that horror is a speculative genre, this story was full of gritty realism. The horror comes from how reasonable the narrator sounds, how sympathetic and empathetic, and how he never quite says what it is that has happened. Reading the story was a weird combination of humor and gaslight, and it was altogether creepy. A solid start to the issue, and to the journal itself!
Review of Kayla Whaley, “The Leap and the Fall”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 38-59 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).
I wasn’t expecting this story, the way it started off, to become a horror story! But that’s what it was, complete with ghosts, a haunted carnival, and two best friends, Gemma and Eloise, who can only save each other by admitting their love. This was another story with a definite romance arc in it, but Whaley used it to good effect, making it a necessary part of the resolution.
This one was a bit off the mark for me. I spent a lot of the story confused about chronology (partly, I think, because the initial paragraph set me up to think that Ledo the artist was dead, but then it turned out they weren’t? At least I don’t think so? Like I said: Confusion.), and despite the fact that at times it felt like there was a lot of back-story being dumped in a bit clumsily, I still never felt like I got a good picture of just what, exactly, the setting was. It was frustrating, because I wanted to understand what was going on, but never quite did.
I was taken by this story from the very first line. The crisp, straightforward narrative voice along with a lively pacing instantly hooked me. There was not a word misplaced in the entire story, a perfect gem of Gothic horror.
Content warning:Traumatic injury, death.
It’s always risky opening a story with a character waking up — perhaps even more risky to start not only the first scene but the second scene as well that way!
Mae’s been in a bad car accident, but she is “a very lucky girl”; after all, she’s now kitted out with the best cybernetic prosthetics available. With this, Calaby takes what could’ve been a rather pedestrian premise and threads it with through with the uncomfortable side of Mae’s luck: the way in which wealth rather than need or desert determines who gets the best of care after a traumatic accident, the gaslighting of a patient by their doctor, the fact that her new limbs might not be all they seem on the surface.
Quality SF with a hint of horror towards the end. Nicely done.
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 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 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.
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.