REVIEW: “Words in an Unfinished Poem” by A. C. Wise

Review of A. C. Wise, “Words in an Unfinished Poem”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 1-21. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The gunslinger waits in the saloon for the one person who can help them find the final word that will finish their poem. Sewn into their coat are the shell casings of every person they’ve ever killed, each inscribed with a single word, a poem ever changeable and rearrangeable.

We never learn the gunslinger’s name in this story, but we learn so much more about them…the curse that haunts them, the grandmother that raised them, the memories that they cannot escape. This is not a “pen is mightier than the sword” story but rather a “the pen is the sword” story, as for the gunslinger their words and their bullets are one and the same, each as deadly as the other.

This was a beautiful and sad story, told with glittering words.

REVIEW: “The Whipping Girls” by Damien Angelica Walters

Review of Damien Angelica Walters, “The Whipping Girls”, Apex Magazine 110 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

After her mother’s death, Erika decides to leave Kansas and everything she’s ever known, and drive to California for a new start. She wants to prove her mother wrong, prove that she can move past fear and a childhood of abuse. To do so, she learns that she will have to encounter her past selves in a very literal sense.

I have a soft spot for stories that directly externalize an internal conflict, and that deal with mental health issues, so it’s no surprise that I connected with this one. Erika has to destroy what came before, and is now holding her back, in order to move on and be whole. I’m not sure that is good therapeutic advice (at least not for every survivor of abuse), but it strikes an emotional chord of truth. Maybe not everyone’s truth, but certainly a truth.

This is a beautiful, simple story about the painful journey to hope and healing, and I highly recommend it to those who like quiet, psychological stories set in the real world, but of course with a touch of the speculative.

REVIEW: “Not Quite Taken” by KL Pereira

Review of KL Pereira, “Not Quite Taken”, Lamplight Volume 6 Issue 2, December 2017.  pp. 6-10. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

A grim little story written in second person about someone–you–decomposing. Evidently this is something you’ve done before, as it talks about your rituals, as well as painful memories from when this first started. Lamplight does label itself as a magazine of dark fiction, and though I’ve submitted stories in the past this is actually one of the first issues I’ve ever read. KL Pereira is the featured author for this issue so there is some more work from them, and I’m eager to see what else they’ve got for me.

A very good story, but as I’ve said in the past, second person rarely works for me as well as first or second. Still, I’d definitely recommend a read if you want some short and punchy body horror.

REVIEW: “Store in a Dark Place” by David Stevens

Review of David Stevens, “Store in a Dark Place”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 29-34. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

What a strange and very dark story. The story follows a protagonist named Gerald whose deformed head is locked up in a box. He has flashbacks and deals with his paranoia that everywhere he goes death and destruction follow. The story is set in a ruined world which the author has apparently explored before in two previously published stories: “Avoiding Gagarin,” in Aurealis, and “The Big Reveal” in Kaleidotrope. Definitely right up your alley if you’re a fan of grimdark writing, with loads of gritty imagery and murky, confused morality.

 

The writing is full of a lot of rhetorical questions, which can get a little grating after a while, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered (though they may be answered better once the other two stories have been read), but the “Store in a Dark Place” is is intriguing enough. Just be prepared for a bit of a downer.

REVIEW: “The Ashen Heart of St. Fain” by Dale Carothers

Review of Dale Carothers, “The Ashen Heart of St. Fain”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 35-40. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

 

A fantasy story about a young, privileged man who wants to basically be his world’s equivalent of Walt Whitman, and write a book for the common people. He seeks to write an account of the city of St. Fain, where a fallen god has left a massive burnt-out crater. Like many would-be “writers” with lofty goals, he finds himself counting more an more days without a page count and ultimately ends up caught in another person’s pain, his own failings, and his family’s expectations. This is a story of healing, but also of shattered dreams, naivete, misplaced hopes. It starts out easy enough, but don’t expect the whole ride to be full of peaceful easy feelings.

Does Nicholas ever pursue writing again and actually get some work done? I don’t know. Maybe Dale Carothers will revisit this young man’s world or it’s been visited before this story. Either way I do recommend this one. While it is refreshing to see a story every once in a while that has a not-so-happy ending, this one did actually bum me out a little. Which is a good thing, believe it or not.

 

REVIEW: Darkest Hours by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of the perks of reviews is discovering new stories and new others that one would not otherwise have ever come across — this goes both for reading reviews and writing them! Were it not for running this site, I doubt I would have come across this collection of short stories (mostly horror, but some have a stronger SFF element or slant). This is also the first time we’ve reviewed a collection of short stories all written by the same author, instead of an edited anthology, which is itself a treat: A single story never can display all facets of a single author.

The stories in this collection display many facets: Creepy, disturbing, but also skilled and precise. The overall tenor is a gory, sordid one — not really up my alley, unfortunately. In the end, I found I came away from too many of the stories feeling vaguely unclean from having read them, and I also found the glorification of male violence and the centering of the male characters rather depressing.

Nine of the stories in this collection have been previous published, but the remaining seven are new. As is usual on this site, we’ll review each of the stories in turn, and link the reviews to the list below:

If horror is your thing, you’ll probably find a story for you in this collection. If horror isn’t your thing, you may still yet find a story for you in this collection. Or you might be better off avoiding it.

REVIEW: “The Call of the Wold” by Holly Schofield

Review of Holly Schofield, “The Call of the Wold”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 67-81 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

If you’re looking for a story of a futuristic commune where the role of King Solomon is played by a 70-year-old itinerant on the run from her environmental charity owning brother, this is the story for you! Julie Leung is an engaging and distinctive choice of main character, and I sympathise with how difficult she finds the balancing act of being an introvert in a world built for extroverts.

I enjoyed the story well enough, though it started off quite introspective, with the external events mostly serving to give Julie reason to pause and reflect on her own life, both past and future, and it never quite lost its slow pace.

(And I have to admit, every single time I saw this title in my “to review” queue, I misread it as “The Call of the Wild”. I have no intentional if the Jack London reference was intentional, but it certainly was inescapable, for me.)