REVIEW: “Ghost Town” by Malinda Lo

Review of Malinda Lo, “Ghost Town”, Uncanny Magazine 18 (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

As in her superb vampire story “The Cure”, Malinda Lo mixes romance, history, and the supernatural in “Ghost Town”. There’s less subtext to dive into in “Ghost Town” than in “The Cure”. Instead, it’s a solid contemporary story of new towns, hopes, prejudice, and ghosts which is relayed by a smart, observant teenager called Ty.

Ty’s family recently moved from San Francisco to Pinnacle ‘a dinky little town on the flat part of Colorado’, where coal was once a big industry. She can’t wait until she can move back to San Francisco where her hair, and her sexuality, don’t make her stand out so much. When the story starts she’s following her crush Mackenzie, one of the popular girls at her school, into The Spruce Street Guest House for a ghost hunt during the town’s big Halloween holiday season. When they arrive at the room Mackenzie wants to investigate, the girls find a homophobic slur written in fake blood. Instead of breaking down, as Mackenzie clearly hoped she would, Ty leads Mackenzie to the basement and a real scare.

In the second section of the story, it becomes clear why Ty is able move past the word on the wall, and how she is able to set up a prank of her own. The story has a backwards structure, so in the second part the reader sees Ty following Mackenzie to see if she’s going to be pranked. And in the third section we see Ty visiting the Guest House on a tour once Mackenzie has invited her to go ghost hunting.

In these sections, “Ghost Town” reveals itself as being truly Ty’s story; the story of her life in San Francisco, and how she experiences life in a small, middle of America town. I really enjoyed Ty’s voice, which is simple and down to earth, and would happily have read a longer work with her as the narrator. “Ghost Town” also a story about Ty taking steps to make sure she’s in control. The fact that she has to work so hard to stay safe is undeniably depressing. The fact that the story gives her the power to gain control is wonderful.

The ghosts are largely a device which allow Ty to gain control of a messed up situation with flair, but they also have their own fleeting story to tell. The ending makes it clear that the women found dead in the guest house were lovers, and that they’re together (possessively so) even in death. It’s a creepy cute way to end a story where one girl gets let down by her crush, and I enjoyed the fact that Lo brought an element of happy ever after even to a story containing a lot of sadness.

REVIEW: “Salamander Six-Guns” by Martin Cahill

Review of Martin Cahill, “Salamander Six-Guns”, Shimmer 38: Read online. Reviewed by Sarah Grace Liu.

What do you say when a story’s not really your jam, but it’s so well written? In “Salamander Six-Guns” Cahill presents a detailed world, where creatures of the marshes and swamps have received a sentient boost from Momma Scales, a lizard lord (at least, I think that’s how some of the biologics of this world work—humans can also be turned to scale-folk through a bite or an injury). The scale-folk comprise croc-folk, gator-kin, pyth-people, snake-touched, “iggies,” and more. As the Scaled Nation, they are slowly encroaching on the dry lands. The story opens in “Sunblooder’s Stand…the last living border town abutting the Scaled Nation.”

The greatest part of the story is some of the beauty of the lines. Cahill is clearly a writer who is as much in love with the sound of language as the story it tells.

For example:

How does a body run as slow as it can?

Or, the pop, pop, pop of the meter in this line:

We pulled out our pikes and our steel and our guns.

Or the beauty of the opening line:

He descended on the town like a saint sent from Dark Heaven.

What pulled me out of the story, however, was not the overall masterful construct or the lyrical narrative, but the lingo (dark heaven, bright hell, sunblooders, new dark) and the dialogue: “Even Momma didn’t have such a title and you all looked to her like she was Shadow Matron come High Dark to bless!” It felt…disingenuous, affected. It felt channeled, like some syntax and diction patched together from various colorful pockets of culture. It felt a little bit like appropriation. I find it hard to describe the fact that I felt a little wrong reading this.

Then again, it’s no small feat to create a completely new culture with their own slang and their own way of speaking, and yet give it a feel of familiarity, the feel of a shootout in the west. To that end, Cahill accomplished a lot. I’m just not the person for this story. I’m sure all of these atmospheric touches and details make the story great romping fun for the right reader. There are some GREAT lines in here, and despite myself, I did become thoroughly engrossed in the story.