REVIEW: “Fugue State” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

Review of Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, “Fugue State”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Charlotte is struggling with some dementia-like changes in her husband, Arthur. Since taking a new job advising a popular fundamentalist preacher, Arthur has transformed from a brilliant political correspondent at the paper where they both work, to somehow who struggles to sound out the word “acetaminophen” or understand that it is Tylenol. When a stranger tells Charlotte that the preacher is up to something terrible, and that she has to go to his event that night and stop him, Charlotte thinks that maybe she has found a way to understand what is happening to her husband.

Despite what you might think from the summary, this is a slowly building horror story. Yes, it centers a relationship, but that is not what the story is ultimately about. What is it about? That’s harder to say, because it is so subtle, and so rich. It’s about relationships, yes. It’s about wanting to understand a loved one, and thus acting against what might be your better judgment. It’s also about mind control, and about the comfort that can be found after giving up your free will to someone or something more confident than yourself. It’s absolutely terrifying. This is psychological horror at some of its best, holding up a dark mirror to real life that made my stomach curdle.

REVIEW: “Mozart on the Kalahari” by Steven Barnes

Review of Steven Barnes, “Mozart on the Kalahari”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 33-48 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This story lends itself well to a bullet point review:

  • I really liked the title, and I liked that we got an explanation of it by the end.
  • The author appears to have missed the memo (most eloquently outlined by Writing With Color on Tumblr that describing skin tones with food terms is maybe not the best route to go.
  • I found it hard to connect with Meek, the MC, in those initial, all-important, opening pages; if I wasn’t reading this for review, I’m not sure I would have persevered. But I did, and he began to grow on me (pun not entirely intended).
  • The lack of women with real agency irritated me; those that were in the story seemed placed there to drive forward Meek’s story, not live out any story of their own.
  • Even though more of the points above are negative than positive, I liked Barnes’s views of how human adaptation in the near future might go.