Archive for January, 2008

Fantasy Magazine, “Bones” by Leslie Claire Walker

I’m guessing there’s a problem with the opening paragraph of “Bones” by Leslie Claire Walker, which looks like so:

The crows dove from the pregnant summer sky, sleek and hungry. Ballard hadn’t fed them in a week. I know — I used to be his apprentice. His birds dug their claws into the limestone and glass of Rite Company Shackles, 899 Louisiana Street, Houston, Texas 77002, which this morning became a subsidiary of HOLY WELL PRISON UNIFORMS AND ACCESSORIES, EVERYTHING FOR THE PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, IF YOU NEED IT WE’VE GOT IT.

Um. Why am I getting yelled at about prison attire? I’m thinking this shouldn’t be. See, I’m the type of reader that sees things as they are. If a word is bolded, it is bolded for a reason. If a word is in italics or single quotes or highlighted a bright, teenage girl pink then it is so. Okay, let’s move past this…

We have here a man named Smoke who works for Ballard, a fellow that can think you dead and let his crows clean up the mess. The story is, I think, about competing businesses, as well as a slew of other things: death, stress, work ethics, wizards, birds in the sky, deals gone awry. It’s a strange story, not really grounded enough for me to get, but the writing and visuals (I love birds!) were powerful enough to get the job done. Smoke is a very one-sided fellow, and there could’ve been more to him than I first read. He does bad things for a woman, which I guess makes him somewhat likable if a bit shallow. Still, there’s a comparison being made here, one that equates businessmen (or maybe just people in general) to predators. I can see that, but I don’t have to like it. I think this one might be worth a second read, whereby some parts that weren’t as clear on the first go are much more another time through. For some reason, I couldn’t help but think this had a Neil Gaiman feel to it, as if the urban and fantasy mixed with horrofic moments more than enough presented a reality all of its own.

Rating: 7 anonymous stars out of 10

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Strange Horizons, 01/21/08

“How to Hide Your Heart” by Deborah Coates opens, like far too many short stories, in a bar. Thankfully, this one is well worth the read despite the cliched start. We have here a man, nameless perhaps, or maybe not. In truth, he has any and every name he wants. Let’s go with Max. It doesn’t matter. He’s out for the night with Amy, a girl he knows is good for a fuck but won’t have her heart broken come morning. At the bar, Amy introduces him to Beth, a mousy girl that, for the most part, doesn’t matter. Except that she’s their designated driver. And our narrator, despite Amy nibbling at his ear on the ride home, can’t help but notice many things about Beth: the way she can’t smile, the way she’s a fine driver, the way she gets on without getting noticed, the way she might just be the girl he needs…

The story starts out innocent enough, making me wonder just what were in for this time around. There was no clear indication that I was heading into anything speculative fiction, but I don’t give up easily. By the first scene change, we get it. He’s hunting legendary creatures. Dark things. Such as a wendigo. Or, uh, not-zombies. Ahhh. The plot thickens.

“How to Hide Your Heart” turns itself up a notch with some great action scenes as our deep-thinking and somewhat battered Max battles against these Things. Coates has a nice way to her writing, its tone both friendly and familiar. Quite welcoming. I found the descriptions of usually trite details like clothing or friends of a friend to be rather well-done. The ending more than makes up for the beginning, and there’s definitely something appealing in a story that has both kissing and shotgun-weilding. Looking forward to either more of these characters and the Things, as well as other entries from Deborah Coates.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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Strange Horizons, 01/14/08

For starters, I naturally assumed “The End of Tin” by Bill Kte’pi opened with a typo:

When Nick Chopper was a boy and not yet tin, they used to say every mirror was haunted.

The bolding is my doing. I guessed Kte’pi meant ten not tin, but I soon learned the error of assuming. And thankfully, I kept on reading. It slowly becomes known that this tin boy eventually grows up to be a tin man…that’s right, a Tin Man. No heart and all. In the land of Oz, too. But he wasn’t always this way. In fact, he used to be a man, a real man with a real body that he called his own before it was stolen. Anyways, one day he spies an odd reflection in one of his magical mirrors, hops through, and…ends up on the other side. Sort of a combination of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.

That said, I can confirm that Kte’pi has done a far better job with the re-imagining of Oz than Gregory Maguire did in Wicked, even if the story still feels ungrounded at times. The frenetic prose occasionally moves a little too fast, making some scenes a tad unclear. I’m talking about the moment right after Nick crashes through the mirror, as well as the exposition-heavy opening scenes where we really learn a lot of background details and not enough plot-wise. I had trouble figuring out exactly what had happened, and it took a couple re-reads to get there.

Still, I’m an Oz fan and a sucker for anything set in its world. Any of you ever see Return to Oz? It was supposed to be a children’s sequel the kid-friendly, Judy Garland spotlight film. In actuality, it was dark, creepy, and much more closer to the work of L. Frank Baum. And so is “The End of Tin.” This one gets my approval for being violent, dark, and ruthlessly upsetting. Sure, we probably remember the Tin Man as a lovable, melodramatic sod that danced and bounced about until his joints needed some oiling. Not here. Nick Chopper carries an axe for a reason. He wants his body back, but the rules of our world and the rules of Oz differ greatly. Consequences shall rise.

Well recommended. Now, I’m off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz, because because because because becaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaause…

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

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Ideomancer, December 2007

The first story in Ideomancer‘s December 2007 issue isn’t exactly a story at all. “How to Draw the Dark Lord” by Jon Hansen offers some guidelines on, well, drawing a dark lord for a fantasy land. These are simplified, meant for a child’s coloring book perhaps. Ten steps is all it takes, and the humor laced within them by Hansen is tone-perfect. It’s a light piece to read, and probably couldn’t have gone on for much longer without ruining its charm and appeal. Definitely original, despite all the stereotypes it brings up. And I couldn’t help, but see the final drawing as a distorted mashup of Sauron, Voldemort, and Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. Talk about dark…

Rating: 6 anonymous stars out of 10

Bleeding walls. Always a creepy image. In “Behind the Walls” by Samuel Minier, the walls have been bleeding for several nights now. Tommy and Brian try to sleep through it, but sometimes the smell is too much. There might be a connection with their father. Let the investigation begin! This is good stuff, quite different in mood than the other stories. The use of foul language is put to good order here, and not just there for shock value. Overall, the piece is a bit unsettling. It deals with abuse and dysfunctionality, it deals with children and wonder, it deals with blood and horrific things. I liked it, but it wasn’t a pleasant read. Not all good fiction is, I hear you say. Correct.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

Eh. Wasn’t blown away with “Elohim” by John Parke Davis. I guess it felt too preachy for my tastes. Or maybe it didn’t have enough zing, zap, zoom to it. More explosions please. The fantasy story deals with Sonny and Jonas and their plot to buy off all of the properties on an island with hopes of building a holiday resort. The problem lies in that Sonny and Jonas are white, the inhabitants of the island are black, and oppression shows its ugly head(s). An interesting take, certainly well-written, but the story in general just didn’t grab me like I’d have hoped it would. Still, the drawl and speak of the individual characters makes for easy, engaging reading. I promise, y’all.

Rating: 5.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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Flash Fiction Online, #2 January 2008

Flash Fiction Online is a new site that pays pro rates for flash fiction. You know, stories under a thousand words. I myself enjoy shorter stories though do admit some can be pretty stupid or just rely too heavily on a pun or ironic twist at the end that doesn’t ultimately make the piece of story. Well, let’s take a look…

“The Materialist” by Eric Garcia starts with a doctor waking up to discover himself on fire. A predicament, for sure. Once that problem is dealt with, a new one surfaces. He finds his entire body covered in a weird solution. The story’s quite dark, and has a nastiness to it that is much appreciated. The doctor begins…er, creating pieces of silver and platinum, selling his wares and living a dream. I enjoyed it and thought it was a well-accomplished story that balanced horror and humor effectively.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

“James Brown is Alive and Doing Laundry in South Lake Tahoe” by Stefanie Freele has the sort of title that gets under my skin. It is trying too hard, revealing far too much before the journey can even begin. Anyways, for all that, Freele offers up a frenetic tale about a man named Stu and his Family of Four. Stu’s driving to South Lake Tahoe, and along the way we get glimspes into his family’s life (yup, even Beebop the dog’s). Amazingly, this is done very well. I think the quickness of the prose, the no-lingering-here aura surrounding ‘graphs and sentences alike made everything go so smooth. Though I can’t say I got the ending or the inclusion of James Brown here. Maybe I missed something along the ride…

Rating: 7.5 anonymous stars out of 10

In “The Human Clockwork” by Beth Wodzinski, a Sundial Woman nabs the Human Clockwork’s spot in the park, stealing his thunder. People come and flock to the woman telling time with her shadow. Jealousy will soon rear its ugly head. This is a weird story, but weird in a good way. It has all the makings of a steampunk story, with clockwork obviously being a heavy theme, and the absurdness is what makes it special. Wodzinski paces the piece well, and by the end had me rooting for love and redemption all the same.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

More stories need to open with a squirrel in a bar. I’m just saying. “Speed Dating and Spirit Guides” by Rod M. Santos deals with speed-dating. Joseph Ahanu can see totems–animal-esque spirt guides–and for the girls he’ll soon meet, this ability will come in handy sooner than he expected. A fun story, with some jokes and splashes of humor. Unlike Garcia’s, the jokes relied on pop culture and timing. The idea of animal spirit guides isn’t really too far from Philip Pullman’s daemons, but mixed with modern bits of socializing it is workable.

Rating: 7.5 anonymous stars out of 10

I decided not to read the classic flash fiction, “Mold of the Earth” by Boleslaw Prus, simply because, right now, I’m only interested in what is being written recently and what is being published in 2008. 

Flash fiction is tough stuff. And one thousand words isn’t very much at all. Why, this little blog post here is almost 600 words. Now imagine all this plus 400 more words and that it had to be a story, a coherent one with characters and a plot and some sort of conflict/resolution. I can say this about Flash Fiction Online: they are publishing original speculative fiction that pushes the edge. Some are better than others, but for the most part everything is worth a read. And the black-and-white illustrations accompany each piece are nice additions.

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The Town Drunk, January 2008

The most current issue of The Town Drunk presents two very different yet equally humorous stories: “Panko” by Zdravka Evtimova and “Naked Revenge” by Sonya M. Sipes.

We’ll start with the story about a donkey. “Panko” is both the story’s title and donkey’s name, and what a beast he is! The twenty-something-old donkey is dying and his master, Uncle Pesho, can’t stand to see his cart-puller suffer. Rather than let death just take the animal he decides to cut the poor thing up into minced meat. And then sausages. Evidently, the meat turns out to be magical, and good fortune abounds for all that take a bite. Men begin throwing themselves at the ladies, asking for hands in marriage, and greed quickly sets in as a business venture is soon revealed.

Fun, fun, disturbing when you really think about it, and lastly fun. That’s how I’d describe “Panko” to one of you chaps on the sidewalk. And it didn’t end in the way I thought it would. I worried it was going to set itself up for a “learn a lesson” curtain drop, but it didn’t. Still, the idea of women hungry for magical donkey meat is both out there and enjoyable. Give it a read, and see for yourself if you like the taste too.

Rating: 7 anonymous stars out of 10

Now, “Naked Revenge” by Sonya M. Sipes is a quick piece of flash that deals with some cliche subjects all while retaining its charms. A woman/man seeking refuge in an upperclass community has come down with a…sickness, you might say. You know, the kind that makes people late for work the day after a full moon. Anyways, the change is approaching and for Mrs. Cuthbertson, a leering neighbor, revenge is on its way. The last line of the story brought a chuckle out of me. Which was surprising. This is funny stuff.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

One thing I feel worth mentioning about The Town Drunk is that I love that they offer work-safe ratings in terms of content, as well as PDF versions of the individual stories in each issue. Overall, this was time well spent on two light-hearted and entertaining stories.

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Clarkesworld #16, January 2008

The first issue of 2008 for Clarkesworld is probably the weakest one they’ve published so far. I find most December/January issues in short fiction magazines to be like this. Why? Well, the holidays. Christmas, mainly. Writers get this urge to pound out sentimental crap simply because it is snowing or someone’s on the radio singing about a jolly, fat man.

“The River Boy” by Tim Pratt doesn’t do anything. It opens with a bunch of heavy exposition along the lines of “there once was an old lady who lived in a shoe” and then it goes into a baby lustfest. See, this old woman can bear no more children…yet, she’d like just one more. So she goes to talk to the river–boringly called the River–and after a short nap wakes to find a tiny baby boy at her side. She quickly breastfeeds the baby and claims him as her own.

Pop quiz time! Pencils at the ready!
What did she name him?
A. Hugoablawmo
B. River
C. Mr. Fantastic
D. Boy Wonder
E. None of the above

If you answered “A,” you’re a nitwit.

Should a story be for the writer or for the readers? Who matters most? With a little help of the Internet I learned that the story’s author’s wife recently gave birth. And there’s even a dedication at the end “for my son.” That’s nice and all, but really…the issue could’ve done without the story (I see it now as an archaic fairy tale or moral-heavy fable) in lieu of an actual piece of speculative fiction that wasn’t just there because a daddy writer felt his heartstrings being tugged. But, like I said, this sort of thing is to be expected around this time I guess.

Rating: 3 anonymous stars out of 10

“Debris Ensuing from a Supervortex” by Brian Ames deals with the loss of identity and memory. A fellow by the name of Blake returns home from work. Then, thanks to a shit-disturbing tornadic vortex, all of his possessions are sucked high into the sky and distributed across three counties. Something called SD, a birdlike entity that feeds back memories to Blake as if they are worms and brunch is ready to be served, swoops in to take hold of Blake’s now disrupted life. What SD is…is pretty unclear. Most of the story is. Still, it is a lot more enjoyable than Pratt’s “The River Boy,” and really offers up some neat imagery. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of Blake’s house’s walls being ripped into the sky versus us learning what mundane meal he had for dinner.

Both stories are very short though, and I’d have rather liked a longer second one to pair up with “The River Boy.” Not the greatest issue, but the Brian Ames piece is worth reading. It has a nice sense of flow, even though there is no firm conclusion. That’s okay. A little mystery never hurt nobody.

Rating: 6.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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