REVIEW: “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 33. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story totally wins the “best title” award! It immediately intrigued me. There’s the clash between the familiar “and then there was one” phrase and the unexpected “one hundred and twenty-eight”. Then there’s the “one hundred and twenty-eight what??” Coming in at not even a full page, Walsh doesn’t have much space to play with here, but she uses each word to its fullest potential. From the very first sentence, I know the setting — where it’s at, what time of year. I know what the 128 are, but only that: The question of why there are that many, and how they got there, is still to come.

My only complaint is that one of the main characters, Keegan, gets named, but his wife is only “his wife”. I always feel a little bit let down when the only explicitly female characters in a story are relegated to their relationship status.

REVIEW: “White Noise” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “White Noise”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 35-38 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Sometimes, all it takes is a single moment for a person’s life to change irrevocably. In “White Noise”, we get to see one of these moments in the life of an unnamed narrator, and to see how she must grapple with the consequences of that moment and the decisions she must take afterwards.

If I had to classify the genre of this story, I’d put it firmly in “paranormal” rather than “horror”; it may read as horror to some, but I found I had figured out what the ending would be too soon for the story to have any uncertainty or weighty anticipation for me.

REVIEW: Little Creepers by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, Little Creepers, (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This year, SFFReviews participated in #RevPit on twitter for the first time — where authors promote their books for review and reviewers indicate which books they’d be interested in reviewing — and that’s how we received a copy of Jessica Walsh’s short collection of horror stories. Two of the stories, “Whispering Waters” and “Lurking Status”, had previously been published, but the rest are new. Interspersed throughout the tales are interesting illustrations which lend a new dimension to the stories.

It is an eclectic collection, ranging from the single-page almost flash-fic story “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight” to the nearly-novellette 43-page story “My Life”. As a result, I read the stories out of order, rather than sequentially, so that I could pick a length that suited my reading desires at a given time. As is customary, we’ve listed the contents below (pretty much my only significant complaint is that I would’ve liked to have had a table of contents in the book itself!), and will review the stories individually and link the reviews back here as they are published:

To speak to the collection as a whole: I often struggle with where “horror” fits into SFFReviews. It certainly can fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction”, especially in its psychological guises. Sometimes horror can be purely mundane, though; for instance, when it stems from physical violence and gore. It was hard to categorise these stories, some of which were definitely on the speculative end of things, while others (like “Giving In”) were so mundane as to be merely depressing rather than horrible. Good speculative horror that is well done I truly enjoy, and that’s what keeps me dipping back into the horror genre time and time again. In this collection, some of the stories lived up to my hopes and satisfied my desires; but unfortunately only some.

REVIEW: “All Votes Will Be Counted (We Promise)” by Paul Crenshaw

Review of Paul Crenshaw, “All Votes Will Be Counted (We Promise)”, Apex Magazine 119 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Take one part 1950’s aesthetic and one part friendly totalitarian government, mix them well, and you’ll get something similar to this wholesome American dystopia, reminiscent of “The Lottery.” Mr. Clausen is sick of being called to vote almost every evening after work, but this is the price of living in a direct democracy – the people must vote on every issue, from whether to launch more laser satellites, to issuing more war bonds. Mr. Clausen suspects that these votes do not really matter – after all, who could tally them so quickly? – and he’s about to learn the truth.

What struck me was how nobody takes the voting seriously. It’s mostly a social occasion, with the teens flirting and giggling, the women gossiping in the corner, and the men ribbing each other about their work days. Something that is ostensibly supposed to make people more engaged in the political process actually makes them less engaged. One person actually says that he just votes for everything. When Mr. Clausen starts to question what is going on, everyone keeps asking him why he can’t just go along with it like everybody else, as if voting doesn’t really matter.

The world and the government grow steadily more and more creepy as the story progresses, and as we and Mr. Clausen both learn more about what is happening. Eventually, he is forced to confront the worst of what can happen when “the will of people” is honored in word, but not deed, and conformity is all that matters. The conclusion is open-ended, but it is hard to imagine any resolution to the situation that could be described as happy. It’s a haunting picture, and one that I’m sure will stick with me.

REVIEW: “O Have You Seen the Devle with his Mikerscope and Scalpul?” by Jonathan L. Howard

Review of Jonathan L. Howard, “O Have You Seen the Devle with his Mikerscope and Scalpul?”, Apex Magazine 118 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

It’s rare to find a fresh take on Jack the Ripper, yet that is undeniably what we have here. The narrator, an expert on conspiracies, is being paid to study what many consider the first serial killer. Either through imagination born of careful study or technology, he is reliving each victim’s last hours, growing increasingly angry about their circumstances, and frustrated that he can not save them.

There are no grand conspiracies here (in fact, the narrator laughs in the face of most conspiracies, citing human nature as far too unreliable to maintain a complex cover up among hundreds of people), and absolutely no drive to romanticize or understand Jack. His background and motives are completely unimportant. What matters are the victims: the hardships they endured and the lives that were cut brutally short. What matters is a London in which a woman screaming would have drawn no attention. What matters is a humanity that denies the humanity of others, and the disgust which our narrator feels towards that attitude.

The research that went into this story is impressive. I have not fact-checked it, but the details of location and history feel true to me. It paints a vivid picture, though I sometimes found myself getting bogged down by too many street names. That is a personal tolerance, however, and those with a better head for names and facts will likely have a different experience.

Be warned, this is a lengthy story, coming it at nearly 10,000 words, so you’ll want to leave enough time to really enjoy it. I found that it required a fair bit of focused attention, and would not have wanted to feel rushed through it. That said, it’s a unique story with a strong theme that is well worth the investment of energy.

REVIEW: “Call to Mind” by Ella Syverson

Review of Ella Syverson, “Call to Mind”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

If swearing in your stories isn’t for you, then avoid this one — it starts off with a curse word.

But Sam and her traveling companion, Diesel, have something to curse about. Their memories have been wiped — again — and while artificial amnesia is part of the job when you’re employed by the Department of Supernatural Control, that doesn’t mean it ever gets any easier, especially when you know that there isn’t really any out. Even with artificial amnesia, DSC employees know too much to ever not be DSC employees.

Both Sam and Diesel are good at their job, though, and that’s why they’re the ones tasked to track down a rogue human who’s been fraternizing with sirens, werewolves, and witches. Too many DSC agents have been lost in trying to capture this rogue, so it’s up to the two of them to put an end to it.

Of course neither expected the job to be an easy one, but I as the reader also didn’t expect it to be easy, and found that the story came up abruptly rather short at the end. I would have loved to see the interesting premise that it began with fully developed into something more substantial than what I ended up getting.

REVIEW: “After the Deluge” by Peter Golubock

Review of Peter Golubock, “After the Deluge”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 156-167 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

It wasn’t a big surprise when New York sank beneath the waves. The surprise was that everyone stayed (p. 161).

When global warming catches up with NYC and the city is deluged, one of the perks of city with many skyscrapers is that the floods only took out a few of the floors, leaving much of the city still high and dry. But with dry land left to the rich, it’s no surprise that the poor took to being pirates on the newly formed water ways, raiding big cargo ships with their little motor boats and dinghies. The Pizza Rat is one such ship, and her captain has been making a successful career as one of the most powerful pirate captains in the five boroughs for some time now. But when the captain of the Pizza Rat receives a tip-off from a trusted source, of an unescorted cargo barge, things don’t go exactly to plan…

Even if cops-and-robbers pirate-chase stories like this aren’t exactly my cup of tea, it was still a fun read.