Posts Tagged fantasy

The Town Drunk, March 2008

Similar to last month’s issue, the March 2008 issue for The Town Drunk is one for two yet again. 

“The Importance of Portents” by Jason E. Thummel tells the story of a local soothsayer named Zoltar and the up-and-coming mechanical competitor that threatens to ruin his readings forever. When his clients begin cancelling more frequently, Zoltar really grows agitated that such a contraption could read peoples’ fortunes better than he. Forced to turn to unsavory actions, the soothsayer will soon learn that not everyone’s future can be so easily predicted.

You know, I’m going to consider a story beyond successful if it actually makes me laugh out loud. And this one did, right here:

Zoltar crumpled the paper and set it aflame with an igniting spell. So, they wanted to play hardball, did they? Well, he would just go to Cheapside and show them how hard his balls could be.

With prose almost gleefully enjoying itself more than the reader can, “The Importance of Portents” is a fun adventure. The ending happened appropriately enough, despite the sudden POV switch that made it seem half-heartedly pieced together. I’m sure there could’ve been another way to write it to better portray Zoltar’s outcome while sticking in his mindset.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

“Lampreyhead Meets the Vampire Slaughterers” by Tim W. Burke sounds like the title to a lost episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Luckily, it isn’t. A hell-spawned and somewhat awkwardly-produced hero by the name of Lampreyhead enters a club in downtown Montreal for the sole purpose of slaughtering vampire slaughterers. You know, before they get him. Things quickly get out of hand, and our hapless hero finds himself surrounded by every genre cliche in the book: werewolves, fallen kings, vampires, smoky demons, and so on.

The story is heavy on being, hmm, light. There’s no a lot of emotion to the piece, and the dialogue and characters came off as rather slapsticky. It’s not that the story fails completely–there’s a nice moment of humor when a waitress delivers a nice slab of raw hamburger meat to a you-know-what–but for the most part the plot never slowed down to take itself seriously. And where there’s humor, there needs to be a balance of other weights. Also, the cast got too big way too fast, and I found myself trying to figure out everybody else first before I even gave one ounce of affection toward our slow-to-the-jump protagonist. Oh well.

Rating: 6 anonymous stars out of 10

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Flash Fiction Online, St. Patrick’s Day special

“Lucky Clover”

“Lucky Clover” by Barbara A. Barnett; Artwork (C) 2008, R.W. Ware

Looks like we get a bonus story from Flash Fiction Online in March thanks to that lovable patron saint of Ireland. From the story’s title alone, one might have a suspicion of what’s to come, but the events themselves that unfold are rather surprising in both tone and content…

“Lucky Clover” by Barbara A. Barnett opens up to a, I assume, long-going battle between leprechauns and fairies. And poor clover-wielding Seamus is right in the middle of it. Sure, all the other leprechauns inherited great items of power and family history such as swords and rings to use to their fullest. All he has is his worries and four-leaf clover. Still, he knows there’s magic within the green plant, and it’s not the kind us oh-so-stupid humans believe in.

Well, I liked it, but I had a problem understanding Seamus’s doubt that his comrades would look down on him for using such an unheroic item like a four-leaf clover to do battle with the fairies. I mean, hey, it got the job done right. Other than that, applause must be given to Barnett for crafting a very short piece of flash fiction (meaning it isn’t yet another 999 word story that just barely makes the requirements) that has a world to it and a character to root for. The actual action of fairies swooping down on little tiny luckmen reminded me of the Eoin Colfer books where mystical creatures run amuck unknown to the world. Regardless, it’s a fun piece that succeeds in telling a succinct story of a battle (sort of) well won.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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Flash Fiction Online, #4 March 2008

Back again, with another issue of Flash Fiction Online. No PDFs offered this time around, but that’s not a problem. The HTML versions work just as nicely. As usual, FFO is a nice e-zine. The flash fiction always makes for quick reading, and the layout and other stylistic decisions never get in the way. I do hope this ship keeps on sailing for many a months…

“Just Before Recess” by James Van Pelt is the story of a 3rd grade student and the sun he keeps hidden in his desk. How it came to be, how it yearns to fed, how it can be stopped altogether–these are questions Parker cannot answer. Unfortunately, his teacher, Mr. Earl, investigates the situation a little too closely.

It’s a fun piece of fiction, light-hearted and not, and the descriptions rang all too familiar for me. I can, for the life of me, remember sitting at those uncomfortable desks, keeping our books and pencils and note paper inside, as well as anything neat or gross found outside during recess. Those were the small things that you kept hidden, kept pushed back in the corner. Is a small sun more absurd than anything else? No, and it is this pulsing ball of light that keeps the story interesting even if its parturition goes unresolved. Very enjoyable, as well as innocently charming.

Rating: 9 anonymous stars out of 10

The narrative structure in “Downstream From Divorce: A Drama in Three Acts” by Glenn Lewis Gillette is something I think, or I’d like to think, Harlan Ellison would appreciate. It is a story of divorce told in three disassembled acts, mostly being of talking heads. Facts are revealed, questions are asked, and hearts are broken. It’s emotional and layered, but hard to absorb. I by no means hated it, but found myself hating the fact that I could not connect with it like I think a number of other readers could.

Rating: 7.5 anonymous stars out of 10

In “The Desert Cold” by David Tallerman, our nameless narrator tells us about the difference between the desert during the day and the desert during the night. Oddly enough, it is not the heat that can kill you, but the cold. Yet so long as one has water and a good guide they can survive the trek, and our talkative chap has both those items. Yet he is still afraid, and the reason why only becomes clear at the last sentence of the story.

There’s some lovely descriptions in the piece, which really help bring out the scenery. Since we can’t get to know our leading man, we must instead know our leading land. They say that Mother Nature is a bitch, and if that is so then the desert is her quietly creepy nephew lying in wait to steal some poor fool’s life. Not surprising, it’s a bleak tale, and does not shy away from the unhappy ending. I’d have liked for more though, and even though the protagonist admits that he is no philosopher it would’ve been nice for a bit more introspection on the why and how of his chilly findings.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

Another solid issue for FFO, even if it only had one entry of flash fiction that I’d consider speculative. The other two were a bit more literary, still just as rewarding.

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Abyss & Apex: Issue 25, 1st Quarter 2008

The first issue of 2008 for Abyss & Apex is enjoyable. There’s a range of stories here, most of them fairly long. No flash fiction offered this time around. I enjoyed the weird pieces far more than the straightforward stories, but that’s just me.

Lindy finds bliss artificially in “Snatch Me Another” by Mercurio D. Rivera, as well as the ability to clone the shit heck out of anything or anyone thanks to her illegal Snatcher. There are consequences, of course, but they are mostly ignored. Who cares about punishment when everyone can own a copy of Starry Night? Alternate universes and multiple realities quickly play a factor, cutting a hard line between Lindy and her love Kristina as they try to live in a world that is constantly changing. It’s a world where stealing equates living… 

I can’t honestly say I understood a lot of what was happening here–or how these Snatchers came to be–but it’s a somewhat engaging story about just what it takes inside of a person to love another. Even to love another so much as to risk a complete breakdown just for a moment of happiness. Plus, cloning always adds a fun layer to things, especially when one realizes that for anything to be cloned in one world, something else must be stolen away in a second one. 

However, I did have a problem with the third scene, which is basically a “As you know, Bob” exposition dump with Lindy and Kristina chatting it up in bed like two robots built to tell all and to tell it profusely. Other than that, the story has some great moments laced with creepiness and uncertainty, and the ending seemed rather fitting for all that was going on.

Rating: 7 anonymous stars out of 10

“If Tears Were Wishes” by Ruth Nestvold has an excellent set-up. Brooke is in a public bathroom, gagged, and locked inside a stall that is being guarded defiantly by two men. They’re after her tears, tears she’d freely give to anyone that asked, tears that equaled wishes. But this was the first time they were going to be beaten out of her. The only thing keeping her sane is the hope that these cruel men haven’t captured her twin sister yet…

I loved how magical this piece was, not just in tone or premise. Nestvold’s lyrical and emotional prose is perfect for this tale of wishes, wants, and wonders. For such a short piece, it packs quite a punch. The story eventually switches off of Brooke and to her sister Crystal, who now must figure out exactly what happened in that bathroom. If only they could use their own tears for their own wishes, but it doesn’t work like that. The choices she makes and the actions she takes really move the plot along, and the ending is both fitting yet perfectly done. Stories that come full-circle are the best kind, and “If Tears Were Wishes” is a fine example of how to do one.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

I gotta be honest; despite it probably having a clear premise, “Healer” by Phil Margolies confused me. I think it has something to do with healing. Duh, chimes the audience. It also has to do with a man’s destiny, the powers he contains within, and…children. Perhaps? Really, I read it twice and still don’t know what to say about it. I guess this one can be marked up as something that doesn’t work for me and my reading preferences.

Rating: 4 anonymous stars out of 10

Despite being told not to take the left path in “At Blue Crane Falls” by Brian Dolton, Yi Qin does and ends up at the titular place. It is whispered to be haunted. The conjuror in service of the Emperor quickly discovers she is unwelcome at Blue Crane Falls, and who she meets will reveal a truth she never expected.

Huh, this just wasn’t very interesting. The prose came across as mediocre, not well edited. Kind of clunky in spots, as well as too formal in others (I’m thinking about the dialogue here). There were a lot of ands where a simple deletion of said word and an insertion of a comma would make things read smoother. The premise felt like something I’ve read before; that, or it just feels far too common in these cultural stories that are dipped so far into honeyed lore that they are dripping with mortal gods, false sacrifices, and dramatic actions. Meh. Not for me at all.

Rating: 4.5 anonymous stars out of 10

Well, if you’re not offended by the narrator’s remarks in the beginning of “Quartet, With Mermaids” by Alan Smale then you’ll be in for a real treat of a story. It is about, if you haven’t already guessed it, a mermaid…by the name of Molly. She’s discovered off the coast of Norway.

This is a multilayered piece that is surprisingly fun. I’m not one for mermaids or unicorns or stories about how awesome cats are, but this one had a certain tick to it that made it more appreciative. It also helped that the language and tone of “Quartet, With Mermaids” is so raw and unfriendly. This is no lovey-dovey tale of a man who meets a mermaid and is soon showered in a rain of happiness. No, no. It takes a cue from reality, because really, in this day and age, if someone discovered a mermaid, you know that fish-with-arms would totally be thrown in a zoo to dance and perform for the public. And this is that story, told from a handful of perspectives, all wonderfully written and unique, offering new insights into a crumbling myth. Very impressive, and definitely one of the best stories of the issue.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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Lone Star Stories: Issue No. 25, February 1, 2008

The 25th issue of Lone Star Stories is quite good, featuring stories about mechanical spirits, dissapointing legends, and cruel rituals. One of them didn’t quite do it for me, but the other two are must-reads.

Cars don’t kill people; people kill cars. “The Disemboweler” by Ekaterina Sedia takes this notion, tosses in some wispy spirits that thrive in everything electronic, and steers a man named Glenn on a path of self-reflection after the evisceration of his favorite ride. Also, he plans to catch the Bad Guy, the sicko doing these nasty deeds. Yes, yes he will. For no one gets away with murdering a microwave!

“The Disemboweler” is surreal fiction, often skirting the fine line of reality and fantasy, which makes this reader extremely happy. The explanation of why the Disemboweler disembowels is quite interesting, certainly a surprise I wasn’t ready for, and the use of language here is beautifully evocative. A world is presented, familiar and not, filled with appliances rife with spirits and emotions and life. And underneath all the darkness, a layer of wry humor, black as shadows but still there, smiling at the notion of a vacuum bodyguard. This one is a definite read for the current issue.

Rating: 9 anonymous stars out of 10

In “The Frozen One” by Tim Pratt, a student is visited by a being that, at initial appearance, resembles said student exactly. Right down to the wild hair and pimple on the forehead. This alien has come to share a message with the student, a parable if you will, a tale of “monsters and heroes and swords and shit.” It speaks of the legend of a warrior frozen in a block of ice unfolds, saying that when the magical city, dubbed The City (I’m noticing a naming pattern here in Pratt’s work; see my review for “The River Boy”), is attacked the ice would melt and release to them the Chosen One who could save them all. Only when the time comes for saving, the ice refuses to melt.

It’s a story within a story. The point, I think, is to downplay Chosen One theories and if so, it works just fine. It’s all about acting and not waiting for fate to take charge. I liked the tale well enough, but still couldn’t put to rest the fact that nothing really happens in it. The outer story is only really there to frame the second one. And instead of throwing us head-first into the plot, Pratt drops us with a cliffhanger.

Rating: 6 anonymous stars out of 10

Jokla is being punished in “The Oracle Opens One Eye” by Patricia Russo. Once she’s done being whipped, the priests take her out of the village and deposit her beaten body in a cave. Five years later, the woman lives a new life, working for the oracle of the cave, seeing to questions and donations from the devoted that come bearing sacrifices. Only she hates the oracle, hates the villagers that no longer meet her gaze, hates that she suffers punishment for a reason unknown to her. But she continues on, knowing that after seven years she’ll be able to return to her village. Yet, as the end draws nearer, the oracle grows ill…

Well-writen, “The Oracle” is a work of servitude. Jokla eventually begins to understand her role as the oracle’s go-to-girl, and it might’ve looked a bit predictable to believe that she was next in line when sickness fell upon the cave’s mistress, but that turned out to not be the case. An excellent piece that builds on expectations. It felt like a sword-and-sorcery tale, but never really blossomed into one. Jokla’s struggle is both internal and external, and there are heartbreaking moments where I wished that once, just once, after seven years of mindless torture, the gods would look down and smile upon her. But they don’t. And that’s a story worth reading about.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

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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, 01/14/08

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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