Issue 42 of Black Static is packed with stories, reviews, essays and an interview.
“Be Light. Be Pure. Be Close to Heaven” by Sara Saab is a tale of a Christian sect that takes Antonietta Meo, the Little Matron, as its guide. Meo lost her leg to disease when she was five years old, and declared it “ballast shed to lighten her ascent to Heaven.” The people in this sect, therefore, submit to voluntary amputation of some sort in order to demonstrate their devotion. Tanta is a young woman whose mother gave up a leg, and whose father gave up his eyes, who is now contemplating her own sacrifice. Though she is extraordinarily devout, in the course of the story she faces substantial temptation, and makes her choice. It’s a creepy story that reminds us of all the oddities that historically occur in every religion. (It’s not part of the story, but: Meo actually existed. She was an Italian girl who died at the age of six from t... Read More
Issue 42 of Black Static is packed with stories, reviews, essays and an interview.
Cold Turkey by Carole Johnstone
I’ve always been grateful that I never started smoking. I’m the kind of person who would be smoking a good three packs per day if I had, and I’d probably already be at death’s door, having been unable to quit. It would be easier to climb Mount Everest.
Carole Johnstone gives us a lesson in just how hard it is to give up the coffin nails in her novella, Cold Turkey. Raym has just done so for the umpteenth time, and it’s turning into the third-worst day of his life, precedence being given only to the days his parents died. Raym doesn’t understand why he continues to smoke, despite the fact that his parents died gruesome deaths because of their own smoking habits; but now he’s giving up cold turkey. No, really. None of the other teachers at his elementary school really believe he’ll do it. And he suffers mightily that evening as he sits in fr... Read More
The sixth anniversary edition of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a double issue, with four excellent stories.
The first is “The Sorrow of Rain” by Richard Parks, one of his Lord Yamada stories. Lord Yamada is a demon hunter in medieval Japan who tells his stories in the first person. On this occasion, he has been asked to stop incessant, late season rains; if the rains do not stop long enough to allow for a harvest within the next three days, the rice will spoil in the fields, leading to famine. Yamada sees a rain spirit almost as soon as he arrives, but she is neither a ghost nor a demon, and doesn’t seem to be the source of the rain. And the headman isn’t telling him everything. Parks tells gentle stories full of an ancient culture, usually involving a mystery, as here. His gentleness usually has a soft sting in the tail, though, a lesson about life that the characters have forgotten and about which Parks reminds us. A Lord... Read More
The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard
Malcolm Mays is very close to the end of his rope. After the collapse of his terrible marriage, after a horrific tragedy, he has spent close to his last dollars on a house in rural Ione, Oregon. His first sight of the house confirms that there’s plenty of work to be done, but also that there’s something good to work with. When he opens the front door to his new home for the first time, he finds a huge pile of mail written to the dead owner of the house from an inmate at the federal prison two hundred miles away in Salem. As he explores the house, he receives a letter from the prison himself, delivered, apparently, without the need for a postal worker or any other human agent. The letter is from Dusha Chuchonnyhoof, who tells him that there will be a plate set out for him in the icebox, and flowers beside the bed. It is too long, Dusha says, since he was in that house; he’s bee... Read More
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
South African writer Lauren Beukes had a hit with last year’s The Shining Girls, the story of a serial killer who could travel through time. Readers of both time travel novels and serial killer thrillers loved the way Beukes melded the two genres. Beukes has again given us a genre-bender with Broken Monsters. Both a horror novel and a police procedural, Broken Monsters is even better than The Shining Girls.
Broken Monsters is set in Detroit — today’s Detroit, bankrupt yet defiant, down on its luck but searching luck out wherever it can be found. The arts community seems to be especially thriving in this down-at-the-heels city, and it is a desire to make art that is the foundation of all the problems that are visited upon the victims of an especially perverse serial killer. The first body fo... Read More
To the dismay of all lovers of great speculative short fiction, the Summer issue of Subterranean Magazine is its last. This magazine was notable not just for the quality of its fiction, but for its willingness to publish short fiction at the novelette and novella lengths. The Summer issue ably demonstrates just what we’re going to be missing.
The magazine begins with Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Pushing the Sky Away (Death of a Blasphemer).” The first person narrator is in desperate straits, her water and morphine gone, lost in a building of endless hallways, caught in a dispute between the Djinn and the Ghûl. Yet despite the fantasy setting, science has a place in this tale, as Cesium isotopes and radiation poisoning play a role. Kiernan’s language is chosen carefully, turning parts of this story into veritable prose poetry. For ... Read More
The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce
It’s the end of August, a time when each day seems noticeably shorter than the one before, when kids are getting haircuts and school supplies and heading back to school, when Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be just around the corner. It’s a time for taking stock; for many of us, for those who loved the return to the classroom each fall with new resolutions to get good grades and excel at our extracurricular activities, it is more a time for such reevaluation of one’s life, hopes, goals and habits than is New Year’s Day. Perhaps that is why the coming-of-age novel is almost always set in the summer. Graham Joyce’s tale of a young man working at a summer resort, The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit,belongs on the same shelf as other great stories of haunted summers, like Read More
The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell by Mira Grant
Mira Grant created a fascinating world in her NEWSFLESH, is a masterful piece of hard science fiction, combining medical detail with political intrigue with intricate worldbuilding. Her characters were so real that the end of the first book in the trilogy, Feed, reduced me to tears.
Since completing the trilogy, Grant continues to write about the world she created. With the novella The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell, she may finally have returned to the well once too often. It’s a solid story, detailing the day-to-day issues presented to schools when blood becomes a deadly substance. Grant skillfully builds suspense for those less familiar with her world as she tells of the consequences of one 6-year-old child’s tiny lie about skinning his hand at recess. But ultimately, she has so comp... Read More
The August issue of Nightmare Magazine is exceptionally good, and given the generally outstanding nature of this publication, that’s saying something. All four of the stories this month are excellent by any standard.
The magazine opens with “Dear Owner of This 1972 Ford Crew Cab Pickup” by Desirina Boskovich. It’s a letter from a woman with terrible insomnia to a man who wakes her every morning at about 3:00 a.m. by revving — and revving, and revving — the engine of the titular vehicle before heading home from a night at a local tavern, where he tends bar. The woman has written to the man at least three times before, asking for his consideration, explaining that she is exhausted from tending to her hospitalized mother as well as teaching as an adjunc... Read More
Issue 151 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies opens with “Rappaccini’s Crow,” by Cat Rambo that works with the mythology created by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his marvelous short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” Hawthorne’s classic tale is one of the finest American short stories ever written, so Rambo is setting a high bar for herself by recalling it to her readers’ minds. She clears the bar easily in this fantasy about a world at war over phlogiston, a power source that is, ironically, being depleted by the war for control of the stuff. The story takes place in a long-term care facility for soldiers injured so grievously that they can’t be patched up and shipped back out to the battleground. The narrator is a Native American woman who has served in the war disguised as a man; the disguise is natural to her, as she has always believed herself to be a man born in the wrong body. Rappaccini is the equivalent of the medical director of the fa... Read More
Shakespeare in Hell by Amy Sterling Casil
Shakespeare in Hell is an intriguing title. Think of all it can conjure up - allusions to Milton and Dante, who both had more luck finding stories in the darker realms of the afterlife, and with the villains of their pieces, than with an antiseptic realm of winged creatures playing harps, come to mind; one can imagine Shakespeare choosing Hell as a better stage for his plays and poetry. Or perhaps Shakespeare sinned with his Dark Lady, landing him in eternal flame. Or — well, the possibilities seem endless.
But Amy Sterling Casil has not taken full advantage of the myriad plotlines available to her. We are given no moral structure for this Hell, and no hint of a Deity meting out punishments and rewards. We never do learn precisely why Shakespeare is in Hell, though it does appear to have something to do with the Dark Lady, who is here given the... Read More
Issue Two of Jamais Vu does not fulfill the promise of Issue One (reviewed here).
“Valedictorian” by Steven Wolf is a post-apocalypse story, though there is no hint exactly what happened; we only know that few have survived, none of them adults, and the world is littered with dead bodies. Wolf’s first-person narrator is a high-school-aged boy who, with his friend Gretchen, shows up at the local high school every school day. Gretchen is the one who insists on this, and she engages in serious self-study. The narrator just sleeps, although he changes classrooms on schedule and eats during the “assigned” lunch period. The two of them regularly interact with a group of younger children, around nine or ten years of age, who soon make it apparent that this story is a variant of William Golding’s Read More
The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough
Note: This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the FORGOTTEN GODS trilogy. The review of the first of the books in the trilogy, A Matter of Blood, is here; the review of the second, The Shadow of the Soul, is here.
The first two books of Sarah Pinborough’s ... Read More
The Girl by Bryan Hall
The Girl is the second novella in a series called THE SOUTHERN HAUNTINGS SAGA by Bryan Hall, a young, relatively new writer. If it is any indication, this fellow has a great career ahead of him.
The protagonist of The Girl is Creighton Northgate — Crate — who is a sort of psychic, and a sort of private detective, and a sort of ghostbuster, though he rejects all three descriptors. What it amounts to is that he can see ghosts, and he can persuade them to move along to wherever it is ghosts go when they’ve finished their business in this world. He makes his living moving from one haunted person to another, relieving them of their ghosts when he can and debunking claims of ghosts where there are none.
As The Girl opens, Crate has just spent four months in the northeastern part of the United States, working as hard as he ever has. Now, though, he’s on hi... Read More
Deceiver by Kelli Owen
DarkFuse, an independent publisher of horror, suspense and thrillers, has a thriving novella series. For $85 per month, you can subscribe to the limited hardcover editions of the novellas, which are published at the rate of two each month. (The subscription also includes a hardcover novel every month.) Only 100 copies are printed, though the works are also available in electronic form. It’s a delight to see a publisher take an interest in publishing this shorter form, which is often exactly the right length for genre works (and for mainstream fiction, for that matter; consider William Faulkner and Henry James), but which is neglected by most publishers.
One of the June 2014 novella offerings is Kelli Owen’s Deceiver, a suspenseful work of dark fiction that opens at a post-funeral gathering. Matt’s wife Tania has been murdered while on a business trip, strangled with a necktie. The police have ... Read More