Posts Tagged short stories

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, #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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Clarkesworld #17, February 2008

Clarkesworld#17

“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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Hub, #44

Whoops. I got a little behind on reading and reviewing here, but I’d like to think I’m back in action. Or something like that. Anyways, Hub continues to put out weekly issues and I continue to enjoy them. That’s a win-win situation, for those taking notes.

“Transcendence Express” by Jetse de Vries first appeared back in the dinosaur days of Hub‘s history. You know, when it was a print magazine for a few issues. Anyways, we’re in Zambia here, where education and the like is rather minimal. Or diminishing. A teacher by the name of Liona Jansen is trying to enhance the lives of the poorer children by bringing maths and science into their heads. Unfortunately, being where she is, instructional tools are hard to come by. Jansen instead allows her class of kids to grow their own computers, a task that will soon have very damaging outcomes.

It’s a very surreal piece, mixing gritty reality with the stark contrast of future endeavors and self-doubt. I enjoyed the way Vries jumped from scene to scene, especially towards the end of the story. Technology is both a blessing and a curse, and “Transcendence Express” really makes one think about where we are going as a culture, a society, a tech-wired force that seems unstoppable at times. There are no answers here, only ideas. But they are haunting ones, articulately accurate. Definitely worth a read, and I’m thankful that Hubhad the mind to reprint it online. It can also be listened to as a podcast, which I haven’t checked out yet, over at Escape Pod.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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Flash Fiction Online, #3 February 2008

We’re back with another issue of Flash Fiction Online, which is quickly becoming an excellent e-zine for the latest and greatest works of short prose.

“Souls of the Harvest” by Dave Hoing takes us into the farmlands, where a lonely old farmer, after receiving some bad news via a doctor’s visit, takes one more night to reflect on how, truly, without a doubt, he’s the richest of men. To say anything else could ruin the piece, which, from the looks of it, is shorter than the author’s accompanying bio. Still, the voice here is spectacular, and the tale being told is a profoundly touching one, economically assuring and deeply moving. Cheers to the FFO team for putting this one first in the current issue, for it absolutely stands above the rest.

Rating: 9 anonymous stars out of 10

I’d outright claim the dialogue to be somewhat stilted in “Apologies All Around” by Jeff Soesbe if it weren’t, in fact, mostly given by a robot. The doorbell rings, and Winston Sinclair (sounds like the name of a richly-endowed Simpsons character, eh?) assumes it to be a sales bot at the door, trying to make some money. But he is put off to discover the robot is there for another reason altogether: to apologize. The story is mostly talking heads, with a lot of information being squeezed out wherever Soesbe can manage it. At times, it came close to removing me from the piece, but as I read on and on it became clear that a solid mystery was about to unfold. The ending lacked a certain punch though, as if, suddenly Sinclair now realizing he’d fumbled his words was going to put things right by…building a…robot (!). Eh. The buildup was there, and the idea of accepting apologies via giving them was fun, but the story just didn’t resolve as strongly as it started.

Rating: 7.5 anonymous stars out of 10

“Masquerade at Well Country Camp” by Ann Pino does what flash fiction should ultimately always do: tell a complete story. Which is a tough thing to do when words are limited and each one needs to count immensely. Pino sets a scene that somehow, somehow, reminded me of a distilled concentration camp on the verge of dying out. Plus, there’s clowns. And strong, likable characters. As well as a unique bit of slang. The plot is not action-heavy, but rather emotionally draining. We watch these people attend this party, knowing what pain they suffer, not knowing why though, and all throughout we’re forced to wonder. I like that, vague as it is, and yet there is a fist full of closure at the end, which helps to wrap up a very solid issue of Flash Fiction Online.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

Looking forward to the next one…

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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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