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!

REVIEW: “Business as Usual” by N.R. Lambert

Review of N.R. Lambert, “Business as Usual”, Metaphorosis: The Complete Stories 2017, edited by B. Morris Allen (Metaphorosis Books, 2018): 21—29. Purchase Here. Originally published at Metaphorosis Magazine on 13 January 2017. Read Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis

Ah, I loved this. A chilling story with some insightful social commentary on gun control in the USA. In a system which is set up to ensure the rights of individuals to have weapons outweighs the rights of others not to be killed by them, this story takes the next step of considering what happens when a company offers personalised bullets delivered by mail order. “There’s a bullet with your name on it!”

Our protagonist (Andy Wright) has signed up for e-mail alerts whenever someone orders a bullet with his name on it, and he gets an alert one morning before he leaves for work. Shortly after, he gets another, and another…. Obviously there will be thousands of Andy Wrights in the USA, but either there is a glitch in the systems or someone is sending one of them a message. Cue a long and unhelpful phone conversation with the company that sells personalised bullets, which will be familiar to anyone who has tried to call customer services for a major company, while the e-mail alerts come rolling in and Andy begins to panic. Maybe needlessly, maybe not. But the story effectively highlights the anxiety and helplessness that the easy availability of weaponry for the majority of the population must create for many. It’s well-written, the tension mounts nicely and there’s a bit of grim humour in there.

In the author’s notes at the end, Lambert states that the story was drafted in 2015, though of course things remain pretty much unchanged. I read it just as the debate on 3D printing of plastic guns was making the news headlines, and it didn’t seem like much a stretch from here to this imagined future. Recommended.

Guest Post: Steve Quinn / Short Story Showcase

We here at created this site because we wanted to promote short SFF and speculative stories, poetry, journals, anthologies, both the readers of such and their writers. There are many ways this promotion can be done, and while at this site we primarily focus on reviewing stories, we’re also eager to showcase other promoters working towards the same ends. To that end, we’re very pleased to have a guest post today by Steve Quinn who since the beginning of October has been running a Short Story Showcase. Here Mr. Quinn tells us a bit more about himself and his reviewing:

A huge “Thank you!” to Dr. Uckelman and the rest of the team here at SFFReviews for giving me the opportunity to post. My name is Steve Quinn, and I’m an amateur author who has recently launched a blog featuring mostly short story reviews, with the occasional writing-focused or weird historical post. My reviews will be a little different from what you’ll see on SFFReviews, though.

There are lots of fantastic stories out there, and there are lots of people more experienced than I who can help you find those stories. So, rather than identifying great stories, I want to get under the hood and discuss what makes them great from a technical perspective. Basically, these are the stories that make me, as a writer, sit up and say, “That was clever! How did they do that?”

I’m going to try to visit as many different publications (mostly semi-pro) as I can in the process, but over time you might notice me focusing on some more than others. That’s not because they’re necessarily any better, but rather because I know Charles Payseur and the great team here at SFFReviews aren’t able to cover them and I want to help draw attention to the excellent work they publish.

Before I begin this review, though, I’d like to put something on the table: I hate the Idiot Ball. Plots that only function because one or more cast members take turns huffing paint make me want to smack myself in the head with the book. For similar reasons, de-powering characters usually annoys me, too. Done well, it can be an interesting exploration of the risks inherent in using a certain skill or ability as a crutch, but most of the time it seems like the author does it because otherwise there wouldn’t be a plot. Further, even when it’s done well, it’s almost invariably less fun than another plot would be.

Consider the duel scene from the Princess Bride (a brilliant scene in a movie full of brilliant scenes). How much fun would that scene have been if they had begun dueling right after the grueling climb up the Cliffs of Insanity, when they were both dead tired? There still would have been tension, of course, but it would have been a grim, grey sort of tension, as opposed to the nail-biting back-and-forth masterpiece the movie created.

That’s why I enjoy stories like “The Bonesetter,” by Santiago Belluco and published in Metaphorosis. The core of the story is a duel of magic and cunning between two skilled, clever antagonists, each among the last of their kinds. They fight as much for survival as dominance, and they both have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to keep each other off-balance.

I use that metaphor advisedly. Ideally, Belluco would have carefully hung each trick up on the wall prior to using it, but in the cramped confines of short fiction, that’s not always possible. Instead, what this story presents is more of a magic show. You never quite know what tricks the protagonist or antagonist are going to perform, but you can count on enjoying the stagecraft.

Between the tricks, though, keep an eye out for the complex worldbuilding Belluco weaves into the story. Some stories feel like they take place on a movie set, where nothing existed before the story’s start and nothing will remain after The End. The world of “The Bonesetter” is full almost to bursting with small details and intriguing facts about far-away places, and you’ll come away with the feeling that you’ve seen just one engrossing facet of an immensely complex gem.

So give it a read! Sadly, you don’t see this sort of thing every day. And, after watching a truly masterful parasite at work in this story, you’ll be rethinking any objections you might have had to cut-rate ones.

We encourage everyone interested in reviews of short SFF to add Quinn’s series to their blog roll. We’d also love to showcase any other sites doing reviews of short SFF, please drop us a line if you’re interested in doing a guest post on our site!