Posts Tagged horror

Clarkesworld #17, February 2008


“Captain’s Lament” by Stephen Graham Jones tells the life story of Quincy Mueller, known mostly to his marine buddies as Muley. When he was a younger man, a devastating accident placed him in the hospital for weeks upon weeks. It is, for a man of the sea, a living hell to be so landlocked, and as the nurses and doctors prod him endlessly with questions and queries he takes to his imagination and sails the roaring ocean day in and day out. If only, he wishes. That is until the day a nurse named Margaret enters his immobile life, with plans already in motion…

It is the story of a broken man returning home, of desire and longing, of never asking for something and still getting it in the end. Jones has crafted a tearjerker, a real piece of work here that reminds me of my father and the smell of ocean water in the evening and ghost stories told in dark living rooms. It’s also a mildly disturbing tale, with a calm look at revenge and justice, if those are exactly the things that Margaret sought from her less-than-better boyfriend Billy. In essence, it can be viewed as a how-to in an urban legend’s backhistory. That’s not how I saw it though, or choose to see it. The story is of a man defying it all to go home, and what he has to do to get there is what makes “Captain’s Lament” so rewarding, so enriching, and so heartbreaking.

Rating: 9 anonymous stars out of 10

“The Human Moments” by Alexander Lumans is a collection of recordings detailing information and the happenings of dead bodies since the flu pandemic wiped most of the population clean away. At least that’s what I’ve gathered from the piece. Bits and pieces of story unfold slowly, with the focus being placed more strongly on events like drinking hot cocoa rather than examining the skin of yet-another dead woman. These would be the human moments that the title points out. And this is what Ansgar revels in, breathing deep in the underground lab, but life quickly changes when he receives a telegram stating his position is to be overtaken by a robot, cutting out the human error.

It’s a very futuristic account, asking many a great question. For example: Who else waits for technology to take their place? Do birds? I liked the attention to details, the way Ansgar studies everything he sees, sees it just a bit bigger than others might, and really makes things happen despite his limitations. There’s an overwhelming air of paranoia here, and I like that. It made for uncomfortable reading, unsafe, but the ending came swiftly about and it was more than satisfying.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

This was definitely a better issue than the January 2008 one. I suspect, for me, it had to do with offering longer tales that were more speculative fiction than just dreamy fables or incomplete thoughts. Plus, it’s a great cover. Looking forward to the next one, especially now that I see it is headlining a Jay Lake tale…


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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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ChiZine, #35

I’ve read a bunch of issues of ChiZine before and have always found the e-zine to be well-done. This is the first I’ve written of them though, so somewhere in here is an unseen comparison to previous issues which you readers out there have no clue as to how I felt about them. Oh well. Get on and get out. On to the stories… 

“Dust and Bibles” by Michael Colangelo takes place in a different Nevada than we know today. The story opens wonderfully, hitting all the senses just right and sticking me out in the desert where vultures circled above and the sun smiled down with pleasure. Okay, if anything, the story opens strongly. A man is driving away with a severed head in the passenger seat, as well as an evelope of cash. He’s also being followed, but he soon meets a man who lives his days by selling Bibles to all kinds of folks. Good, bad, upstanding citizens, murderers. But that doesn’t make him a saint.

Mmm, this is good. Really good. Things truly pick up once betrayal rears its ugly muzzle. The story has style, it has a voice, and it has a whole lot of hilariously disturbing dialogue referencing lady parts. The plot, in actuality, is fairly basic, but the characters and descriptions keep things moving. I particularly liked the Bible salesman’s outcome, in that it was not dragged out or overtly dramatic. Just what it was. A great start to the issue. For some reason, I pictured this as a piece that the Cohen brothers–you know, Fargo and No Country for Old Men–would love to film. It has all the right makings: iconic characters, violence, and plots for lots of money. I’ll keep my fingers crossed…

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

Lavie Tidhar’s “The Mystery of the Missing Puskat” was a bit harder to get. In it, a man named Densley who was raised on the American lore that film noir/pulpy detective work is above and beyond one’s call of duty takes on a case. He must find a little girl’s cat, her puskat if you will.

As is common with Tidhar’s work, the story’s language and tone is evocative, atmospheric, and–I hate to say this–somewhat unreadable at times. Sporadic clues are sprinkled throughout as Densley traverses into familiar and unfamiliar terrority, remembering bits of childhood nostalgia all while continuing to focus on the task at hand. I did appreciate Densley’s innocence, his doe-eyed wonder at detecting:

There is the butt of a cigarette lying on the ground. Densley is excited again; the case is going well.

It’s moment like these that make him a likeable character, make the story worth reading. Unfortunately, the ending is not worth the buildup. Sure, conflict is resolved and all that, but it’s fairly basic stuff, never anything that jumps out of the shadows to grab you, beat your head in, and release you back into the world. Man takes on case for lost cat, man searches for cat, man finds cat, man grow up on the inside. It’s been done before, albeit with different characters and places, but it just wasn’t rewarding enough for me to love.

Rating: 6.5 anonymous stars out of 10

A. C. Wise’s “Matthew” opens with a question, and a damned good one at that:

“Do you remember being dead?”

Rana asks this of Matthew as they sit talking over a cup of coffee. See, it’s a smart thing to ask, especially considering she’d been at his funeral only just the other day. The story can sort of be summed up with the notion that you really don’t miss something until it’s gone. In Rana’s case, she never really loved Matthew until he came back from the great beyond. But he’s not the only dead to return, as soon many more come knocking at doors citywide. And, surprisingly, it is not the dead that want answers, but the living. Rana included.

This is a subtle piece of dark fiction. It deals with human connectediness in a way more chilling than, say, a monster romp where a bunch of people band together to survive the unknown. Some dead come back to live, others don’t. This brings living people to their knees, wondering who deserves what and why. Many questions, not so many answers. I found the relationship Rana and Matthew grew into to be both chilling and fascinating, never a solid thing but never one so empty of love and emotion that it felt forced.

Rating: 9 anonymous stars out of 10

Poetry’s not really my thing, but for those that like it I doubt they’d not enjoy the pieces offered within from Leah Bobet, John Grey, Joanne Merriam, and Samuel Minier.

However, I’m very much looking forward to the next issue…

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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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