REVIEW: “Beauty Mortis” by Jaap Boekestein

Review of Jaap Boekestein, “Beauty Mortis”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 147-164. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The story starts off with a rather uncomfortable scene of a man exploiting a scantily clad young woman for his own purposes, sending her down to lie on the ice of a frozen stream. “What else could she do?” the narrator asks, and that one question encompasses all that is wrong with the power dynamics between men and women in much of modern society. In this story, we see a woman playing along with those dynamics because the alternate, because what would happen if she refuses to, is so much worse. Except it isn’t: Whether she refuses or she obeys, the end result is the same. She still ends up a corpse at the hand of a man.

If I were reading for pleasure, I probably would’ve stopped reading the story at this point; stories like this are simply not stories for me. I want to see stories that push back against these power structures, that criticise these dynamics, that try to subvert them. But I was reading for reviewing, so let’s plow on.

This is one of the longer stories in the anthology, and it pushes stylistic boundaries more than some of the others. The story is told through a series of numbered vignettes, but they are all out of order; as soon as one realises that one has gone from scene 1 to scene 8, and that the next one after is scene 2, one must face the question: Do I read the scenes in numeric order? Or in the order they are printed?

I opted for numeric order, but only got as far as 6 when I couldn’t find scene 7. So then I went back and reread it in printed order, 1, 8, 2, 3, 10, 4, 11, 5, 6. In the end, I liked the story; it was well executed. I just wish the opening scene didn’t have to play upon the horrors that it does.

REVIEW: “Sin” by Karl Egerton

Review of Karl Egerton, “Sin”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 108-118. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

It’s astonishing how often SFF stories don’t seem to have any form of religion in them, given how major an influence that has been on pretty much the entire history of human culture. Without religion there really isn’t any kind of concept of “Sin”, so going into this story the question for me was: What kind of religion is it going to be?

Never did I expect it would centered around the goddess Perchta (whom I’d recently been reading up on, so to see her name was a sudden delight!), rather than classic Christian tropes. There is a visceral — no pun intended — delight in reading of the school children chanting:

“But we know that she was a Sinner because…?”

Albert and the rest of the class, in unison, practically sang the response.

“Because Perchta came and sliced up her guts!”

The teacher gestured to Albert.

“And then?”

“She filled her with rocks!” he chanted.

The children let out an excited giggle.

“And why did Perchta’s righteous knife disembowel her?”

“To save us all from Sin!”

Because when I read that, I know I’m in for something different, something fun.

Egerton’s story is an investigation of childhood, of sin, where it comes from, and how we rationalise it. “What sort of thing is a sin, really?” Albert asks the priest, and that question encapsulates the entire story. “It was absolutely necessary for actions to have consequences,” the narrator tells us, and in the end, we see that Sin and Perchta, transgression and punishment, are two sides of the same coin. We cannot have one without the other.