Short Story Review: “Bad Penny” by Carrie Laben

2 of 5 stars.

This tale takes one insignificant hamlet’s quirky town lore and turns it into historical fiction, barely. In Western New York State near Lake Erie, unincorporated Town Line–according to lore–voted to secede from the Union in the Civil War. Neither the North nor the South noticed/cared.

As for their role in the war, 5 men took off for Canada, 5 men went south to join the Rebs, and 20 men donned the Yankee blue. Generations later the town’s claim to quirky fame was aired when it was realized that if the historic vote took place, they had never voted to rescind said secession. In the post-war patriotism of 1946, they formally rescinded and rejoined the US to the delight of journalists looking for a sensationalized story. Cesar Romero [the original television Joker to Adam West’s Batman] emceed the festivities. These are the Wiki-facts.

The tale overlays a veneer of characters of then [during the Civil War] and now [just post WWII]. It’s not the full immersive Erik Larson treatment of fictionalized history, but it does draw a spotlight to the quirky tales hidden within many a town across the land.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman. I’ve previously read this author’s “Underneath Me, Steady Air”.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Swell of the Cicadas” by Tenea D. Johnson

4 of 5 stars.

This is a lovely little ghost story in that it’s written from the POV of a Civil War battlefield ghost. In life, the speaker was not participating in the war, but rather Cat was shot by a stray bullet while crossing the adjacent woods while on an errand for her Mistress.

The slave’s ghost was left to mingle with those of the blues and grays left on the battle field and other non-participant causalities. While the world moved on from the war, the spirits were largely trapped in their animosities for decades until peace settled across the ghostly valley. Now, all of the spirits watch crowds of tourists come to gawk at their history oblivious to the unsettled around them.

This tale stands out in the interactions of the ghost with her environment. She notice of, reaction to and interaction with the play of the forest, the dappling sunlight through the leaves overhead, the whirr of the cicadas. Things as simple as wind and rain pull and disperse the ghost as she moves through her environment:

The sky darkened as the raindrops turned fat and multiplied. Cat struggled to keep her composition as parts of her were saturated and fell to the ground, trying desperately to rejoin the whole before she moved on. She slowed and waited for herself to catch up . . . Cat could see no more. Her vision blurred and prismed as the rain became a downpour and washed her away.

The night came and, painstakingly, she reconvened. As she materialized a wet wind blew through the grove, lifting the hem of Cat’s dress. She made it across the road and to the swollen ditch. She stood in the dark, at the edge of the water, willing herself to disappear. Around her the wilderness swelled with the sound of cicadas, until she could hear nothing but their reedy eruption. . . . She fell slowly, piece by piece into the water. Where the moonlight had moments ago picked out her edges, the glow of her was gone now, and each part of the spirit and once-flesh was lost to the liquid darkness.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Raw Recruits” by Will Ludwigsen

2 of 5 stars.

This is a ghost story without showing any ghosts. In the style of many 19th century stories, the tale is related through letters without depicting any of the action firsthand.

During the Civil War, a Northern Colonel writes a series of letters to his commanding general. In the first he relates a visit to a psychic with another officer. The psychic accurately relayed the location of a dead uncle’s hidden wealth by allegedly channeling the uncle himself. This lead to a plot to channel the spying capabilities of deceased Union soldiers to best the Southern army.

The psychic is leery but is convinced for double money. A vague suggestion sends troops to their doom. The location of the troops was correct, but the level of preparedness was not. Perhaps the ghosts or the psychic have other motives . . .

The breadth of the story is limited by the singular speaker writing to, not just a singular reader, but to his boss. It’s also levels removed from the action by the filtering process of time [the delay between action and relating those same events] and letter-writing. A mix of letter writing and action would increase the immediacy of the tale.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman. I’ve previously read Ludwigsen’s “Acres of Perhaps” which I liked and recommended.
 
 
 
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Original Poetry: Children of the Sun

The five elderly speakers of Yuchi
      in Oklahoma call themselves
Tsoyaha— “Children of the Sun,”
      but their time sets
and with it, their words lapse
      alongside Amazonian Oro Win,
Arctic Ter Sami, and pre-Neolithic Jeru.

Whose nuance knew the push-pull
      of a lemon quarter squeezed
over kalamata olives and albacore?
      Each final voice
becomes a stiff Cassandra, slowing
      in cadence, scaly in timbre.
Who will think to carve diction
      into stone? to ossify
the tongue for slower erosion?

The Thao of Taiwan, ancestors of Polynesia,
      settled the shores of Sun Moon Lake
long before sending their children
      into the rising sun.
Tongues, like so many fishes
      from a bleached reef;
I know where they were
      and scavenge among the bones.

[This poem was written after I read the non-fiction book, 1000 Languages by Peter K. Austin.]
 
 
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Novel Review: The Alpha Plague 7 by Michael Robertson

The Alpha Plague 7The Alpha Plague 7 by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This action packed British urban fantasy follows a tight cast of characters through a rage-style zombie apocalypse. Organized into trilogies, the opening trilogy details the hourly spread of the apocalyptic pandemic from the POV of a father just trying to save his 6 y.o. son, Flynn. The second trilogy jumped ten years to show the dystopian micro-communities that existed in the ravaged landscape. Each micro-community was largely isolationist since infected zombies ruled the world.

This installment repeats the trick of the fourth book by fast forwarding yet another ten years–again to shocking effect. Here, the zombies died out 8 years prior. So everything’s good, right?

And, no. Dystopian and sadistic micro-communities still dominate the countryside, but now unchecked by the undead. With dwindling resources, communities enslave or outright kill each other. Others turn to cannibalism.

Flynn, now 26 and after accepting the sanctuary of Home for a decade, strikes out on his own to find a better community. Home isn’t what it once was. The electricity and running water failed during the intervening years. However, what Flynn finds with another community is so much worse. Captured and imprisoned, he needs to outwit and outsurvive 19 other prospects for a single spot in their community. Failure=death. [Think: Hunger Games]

The nice sub-theme of this installment is trust. Flynn didn’t trust Vicky during his teen years, and then she left. Then he didn’t trust the new leaders of Home. Unless he wants to go it alone forever, he needs to learn to trust. But who to trust when it’s every person for oneself . . . to the death.??

This series is recommended.

I’ve previously read this author’s:
     The Alpha Plague–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 5–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 6–4 stars
     “The Arena” (The Shadow Order)–5 stars
     The Black Hole (The Shadow Order, #1)–2 stars
     Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
     New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
     New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
     New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars
 
 
 
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Poetry Review: “From Every Moment a Second” by Robert Okaji

From Every Moment a SecondFrom Every Moment a Second by Robert Okaji
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the poet/author of the stunningly sublime If Your Matter Could Reform comes this new chapbook in pre-order until October 2017.

This collection of 20 poems is a study in the ephemeral and the elusive, in the little things like mayflies and beetles, but also in the delicate flicker of shadows. Mostly it aims to express the intangible and barely accessible, such as Grief which permeates the collection:

[from “Every Wind”]

Grief ages one thread at a time,

lurking like an odor
among the lost
things,

or your breath,
still out there,

drifting.

The speaker finds the world around him reflecting his grief, longing, and desperation. From quick observations like the lines “The house finch sings as if / all air will expire at the song’s end” [from “If Ahead I See”] to the extended association of “Firewood”:

For two years the oak
loomed, leafless.
We had aged
together, but somehow
I survived the drought
and ice storms, the
regret and wilt,
the explosions within,
and it did not.
I do not know
the rituals of trees,
how they mourn
a passing, or if
the sighs I hear
betray only my own
frailties, but even
as I fuel the saw and
tighten the chain,
I look carefully
for new growth.

A couple strong poems find inspiration in art. One from Hokusai’s wood print “Two Cranes on a Snowy Pine”
and the other from the jazz riffs of Miles Davis and Johnny Coltrane. The latter reflects both the improvisational jazz licks and the cadences of previously likewise-inspired poets such as Allen Ginsberg.

[from “The Resonance of No”]
. . . while standing with hands in soapy water, thoughts
skipping from Miles Davis’s languid notes to the spider
ascending to safe shelter under the sill (after I blow
on her to amuse myself), washing my favorite knife . . .

. . . And if I linger at the plates, even the chipped one,
admiring their gleam after hot water rinses away
the soap residue, who could question the gulp
of ale or the shuffle of an almost but not quite
dance step or stumble while arranging them on the
ribbed rack, back-to-back, in time to Coltrane’s
solo. Then the forgotten food processor’s blade
bites my palm . . .

I received my copy of this collection directly from the poet.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Saxophone” by Nicholas Royle

4 of 5 stars.

In an interesting twist of alt-history, this tale depicts a ravaged Iron Curtain separating Communist Soviet Union’s sphere of influence from that of NATO’s. The tense border between East and West Germany led to shots fired, war escalating, and eventually biological warfare. Hungary and Yugoslavia are the worst ravaged, with most of the population turned to zombies and a dark trade in live organ harvestings. Harvested American military organs bring an especially hefty price on the black market . . .

The metaphor of zombies as denizens of warzones is both unique and particularly apt. It is a tense and joyless existence. The fully cognizant zombies try to keep their heads together [literally] to keep on going, even after the loss of their “lives”. Memories of better times, ie living times, are bittersweet.

Hasek, the main zombie POV, played jazz saxophone when living, now he doesn’t have the breath for it. Nor the instrument. That doesn’t stop him from fingering his air-sax out of habit as he tries to bring a little imagined joy into his music-less reality.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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