For such a short story (one of the shortest in the issue), there was a lot of description — it’s pretty much all description as Martin narrates to his father, Les, a dream he’d had the night before. It wasn’t too far into the dream-recitation that I had an inkling of what was going to happen, which meant that if I was right, almost none of the description was actually necessary to read. I feel like the tension leading up to the ending in this one could have been handled a bit better, but there was a bittersweetness in the sharp, swift ending that I really loved.
This story made me uncomfortable, and not in a “I’m scared/this is good horror” sort of way but rather in a “I don’t really like the way purported child abuse is being portrayed” way. I can’t really articulate what precisely bothered me, beyond that I did not think the author handled the subject matter with care or sensitivity. So: This was not the story for me.
What an absolutely stonking story. It carried me along, gulping for more, with its utterly entrancing Justine, an automaton built to sing opera like no human could ever sing, against a panoply of background characters — the Maestro, the Ballet Mistress, the dancers, and, most importantly of all, Lise, who gives Justine the final secret she needs. It’s the sort of story that telegraphs one ending from the start, but leaves the reader desperately hoping that that is not the actual ending. Really, really enjoyed this one.
Content note: Corpses, severe injury, nonconsentual commitment to mental institution.
Now this was my kind of horror! Haunted books, twisted stories, Cathar heresy, and a pervasive uncertainty of what the cause of it all is, all written in an engaging and characterful style. Thumbs up.
Content note: Slavery, loss of child.
This was an eerie story, invoking an intense feeling of autumn — scents, sounds, activities. The plot was simple but effective, and just the right length to be satisfying.
I loved the combination of horror and fantasy that comprised this story. The foreign setting was just familiar enough to make you feel like what was happening could’ve happened anywhere, perhaps even here in the real world; and Clava’s desperate, perverted desire to become the beheld instead of the beholder, and the steps that she takes to achieve this end were chilly and creepy. Beneath all of these was the uncertainty I had whether Clava was the villain — or the victim.
To cap things off, David Bowman’s illustrations accompanying this story were really quite divine.
This story was cleanly and precisely written with elegant language — every word necessary, to the point where I found myself having to go back and reread various parts of it, sometimes more than once, to ensure I wasn’t missing out on some important clue. It had a sort of hard-beaten/detective noir to it, but for all that, I’m not quite sure what was “horrible” about this story.
This is the inaugural fiction story in Undertow Publication’s new horror serial, Weird Horror, which I received a review copy of via my friendship with David Bowman, one of the featured artists in the issue.
I haven’t read a print fiction journal in ages and loved really enjoyed it — it feels so nice in my hands, look so nice on the page, well-formed great art (not just Bowman both other artists are featured as well, with personalised art for every story), plus opinion columns and reviews in amongst the fiction.
But the fiction is what I’m here for, so let’s talk about Ruthnum’s story. For all that horror is a speculative genre, this story was full of gritty realism. The horror comes from how reasonable the narrator sounds, how sympathetic and empathetic, and how he never quite says what it is that has happened. Reading the story was a weird combination of humor and gaslight, and it was altogether creepy. A solid start to the issue, and to the journal itself!