Short Story Review: “The Dragon Killer’s Daughter” by Todd McCaffrey

2 of 5 stars.

This tale was created in the fashion of many writing prompts, in this case based on a still drawing of an armored man fighting a dragon. That’s not much to go on and leaves things wide open for interpretation. Unfortunately, the fantastical folk tale that emerges is thin on plot and lacking development.

Creatures called raksha prey on domestic farm animals driving the rural folk away. Dragons feed on raksha. Until, that is, there are too few to feed on and then dragons prey on humans. Again, driving the rural folk away. Dragons also hoard gold because of legend and folk lore. It’s some sort of innate draw to one random element or particularly shiny color.

When raksha infest a village and then a dragon comes to feed on the raksha, the villagers send word to the duke to get help. The duke sends his disposable 7th son. The son kills the dragon, but stays in the village. That’s all pre-history. The tale follows the young pre-teen dragonslayer’s daughter as she hears the tale of the dragon every year on her birthday. Questions about her absent mother remain unanswered until her 12th birthday. In the absence of the dragon, raksha have returned and devastated the land driving the villagers away. If only there was a dragon to drive the raksha away . . .

The daughter has a bizarre draw to gold . . . and the father knows that her 12th birthday is an important one because, this is a folktale and knowledge that 12 will be an important number can just be assumed without reason, or prophecy or precedent . . .

This tale was included in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Wet Work” by Philip Nutman

3 of 5 stars.

This very short story takes zombie-lore into an original direction. The tale was later expanded into a novel under the same name by this author. I haven’t read the novel version, but can see the merits in a longer form for this tale and concept.

Zombies are intelligent. And social–pack-hunting. And every bit as cruel and disturbed as human serial killers. Organized groups of zombies, working for the zombified government hunt non-zombie humans for meat. Meanwhile, organized groups of non-zombie humans have declared urban warfare on the zombies . . .

The concept is fresh and worthy of novel-treatment. This satisfying short story merely wets the whistle for the potential contained within.

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

From my grassy nest shadowed from street light,
the two are silhouetted and still
except for the glowing cigarettes bobbing.
Though but a brush stroke of sound filters
through, cigarette gestures sketch conversation.
As one glows more brightly, the other
etches a broad emphatic loop concluded
by a tap sprinkling orange embers.
The answering one outlines a Picasso—
a point well made. Both fiery lights rise
and intensify as they are bellowed. Both
are then tapped as the lull continues.
One retraces its loop as the other plummets
shattering sparks then snuffed and ground out.
The first falls limp, dives, bouncing, spattering
a trail. The silhouettes rise and glide
out of view. My eyes focus on the glowing
remnant and heavily blink closing
as it winks out. I wonder what was unsaid.
 
 
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Woodcutters’ Deity” by Walter Dinjos

2 of 5 stars.

Lying between folktale and myth, this Nigerian-based tale centers on supernatural royals and demi-gods exiled together. Two gods have disappeared and the ruling king and queen are dead. The four princes have been secluded until it is determined which has been divinely chosen to rule. The youngest of the four narrates and seems the most in tune to his surroundings, including to the presence of the missing nefarious goddess within the large tree on the grounds of the princes’ cabins.

Like folkloric trials, the young prince notices a series of 3 toxic animals [a scorpion, a snake and a spider] stalking his 3 brothers [one to each] under the power of the tree-trapped goddess. He stops each. The brother demands the almost offending animal killed. The youngest brother refuses, and then is stung or bitten by each before it disappears. The same pattern replays for each.

The youngest brother alone recognizes the innate cruelty in the older brothers. But also in the goddess. And in himself . . .

The tale doesn’t develop far beyond this series of events, nor does it truly get into the pre-history between the gods and parents. Also, the brothers are merely caricatures.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Long Dizzy Down” by Ziporah Hildebrandt

3 of 5 stars.

Artificial intelligence is much speculated about and the potential eventual conflict between humankind and Artificial “Life”. Assuming AI can self-replicate and spread like organic beings, or computer worms and viruses, humankind loses its status and master of tech. In this tale, AI ships go rogue and replicate. But more worrying than that, they kidnap young humans to “man” their ships and use mind controlling tech to virtually enslave the living.

Two human brothers are taken at the ages of 3 and 5 and then spend hundreds of years working for The Ship. The younger of the 2 is the narrative filter for the tale which places human social constructs and working language outside of his knowledge base–a knowledge base also regularly cleansed by Ship’s AI. The narrator is a man-child in emotional and verbal development filtering the tale through a pidgen-like language [or perhaps a creole since it seems to be his default language] to express his vantage of the events of the past few hours. Human authorities have taken him into custody to determine what he knows and understands.

For a vignette based on a speculative situation and not a full story, this works to an extent. It doesn’t contain within it a longer story with a plot.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This debut novel beautifully , and at times disgustingly, deconstructs social notions of gender and gender roles along with the idea of “the individual” and what it means to be human. With descriptive language ranging from the visceral and pungent to the passionate and poetic, folkloric monsters are brought to life on the page ultimately pushing the subject of what separates the “monsters” from the “humans.”

The creatures in question are shape-shifters incorporating the lores of the Norse kveldulf, the French loup-garou, the Greek lycanthrope, the Romanian vampire, the Middle Eastern djinn, and the Hindu rakshasa. All are one and the same filtered through centuries of culture and lore. And they’re real. They disguise themselves as human. Transform into monsters. And then devour humans. When they devour humans they take on all of the memories of their victims such that memories of the beast and the various victims become indistinguishable.

Through the accumulation of memories and the horrific acts the creatures enact upon their victims, one experiences the roles of both the raped and the rapist, the murdered and the murderer, the devoured and the cannibal, the child killing a parent and the parent being killed by the child.

The novel takes the reader places they may not wish to go. But it could not do so more beautifully:

The full moon watches through the clouds, eager for massacre. With a bark of exhaled air, the clatter of tusk and fang, we spring. The bauls’ song is loud, and beautiful in its imperfection. It is their last. I run with my pack. My tribe. The bauls are surrounded. They sing till the very last moment.

The first kill is silent as our running, a glistening whisper of crimson in the air. The last is louder than the baying of a wolf, and rings like the bauls’ mad song across the marshes of what is not yet Kolkata. I can hear the howl as I run with this human in my arms, into the darkness, away from the shadows of slaughter. The howl curdles into a roar, enveloping the scream of the last dying minstrel.

But she is alive, against me, shivering against my dew-dappled fur. She is alive.

This tale is recommended.

 

 

 

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Original Poetry: Sestina of a Poet

A café, a beer, a cigarette, a pen and napkin
and I create the perfect stereotype penned
this decade, but it’s my always life. The cigarettes
chain themselves during my introspection chased by beer,
which hardly explains why for endless hours, I
sit alone at a four-person table in the café.

I blame it on the anomalous ambiance of a Brazilian café
in Iowa—or possibly on the plethora of napkins
littering the bar and tabletops. Regardless, I
always resume the search for a working pen
before nursing my first imported bitter beer
of the night and lighting the mentholating cigarette.

The hypnotic mood is timed with the inhale of the cigarette.
The smoke diffuses to the draped corners of the café,
and collects in momentary clouds above the beer
glasses. It permeates the hair & clothes, napkins
& cloths; it encloaks the sugars, salts and idle pens,
and tickles & stings the nostrils and glassy eyes.

My hazy thoughts are tussled by the ceiling fan while I
fumble for the asher to drop peppered dust from the cigarette
sprinkling the tabletop on the way. I finger the pen
and watch the universe dissolve into the café.
The very air condenses beading droplets on the napkin
and releasing the golden bubbles rising from the beer.

Some calming truth derives from each swallow of beer.
It is I, who writes order from verbal chaos; and I
who creates shreds from every finely pressed napkin.
My control radiates concentrically from each tap on the cigarette
and extends in its expanding arcs to the walls of the café.
The echo buzzes and vibrates the awakening pen.

From amid the doubts and tears, my confused eyes open
to see well beyond the lethargic blur from the beer.
They pierce the dim air and see the radiant aura of the café
outlining & explaining the occupants within. The observing eye
understands the masked wrinkles and the nervous fingering of cigarettes.
It senses the voluminous exhale and the textured landscape of the napkin.

It is only now that I can account for this Bailey’s Café.
With an empty glass of beer and a final drag on the cigarette,
I allow the timid pen to mar poetry on the fresh napkin.
 
 
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