Review: “Patient Zero” by Tananarive Due

Patient ZeroPatient Zero by Tananarive Due
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a compelling mix of naivete and knowing, 10 y.o. Jay has both been protected from and thrust upon the harsh realities of truth in this short tale of pandemic apocalypse.

At 6, Jay saw his Dad come home sick to Georgia from Alaska’s oil wells. In short order, Jay’s parents and only brother died of the disease and Jay both sickened and recovered. Now incorrectly dubbed “Patient Zero,” Jay has lived in a large observation, reverse-isolation room at the CDC for 4 years. Innumerable blood draws have been taken from him, but between his fun nurse, Veronica, and optimistic tutor, Ms. Manigat, he keeps his spirits up.

He is denied windows to the outside world, television and all news. Blackouts start to push into his world. Food shortages. Staffers start to disappear. Others scream terrible things at him in their frustration.

His tutor starts to secretly teach Jay survival skills and the codes to get out of the building just in case a day comes when nobody comes to give him food . . .

Appearing in the anthology, Ghost Summer, this short story first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 2000.
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Review: “Vanishings” by Tananarive Due

4 of 5 stars.

A terminal illness in a family member affects the entire family. This vignette captures the moment of awareness about how much has changed and been left numbingly un-realized in the face of a young girl’s battle with cancer. Each person’s ebbing there-ness for each other is a vanishing act, if not betrayal. Within an anthology of urban fantasy, magic and horror, this brief tale of realism holds its own.

Nidra stumbles through life as a single mother of 2 girls ever since her husband vanished a year prior in a bizarre auto accident–the car was found totaled, his body was not found. She suspects he saw his out and took it. Better that than to face the prospect of watching his youngest daughter die of cancer.

Sharlene can’t live the unburdened life of the typical teenager–not with her younger sister so sick and getting sicker and her mom in a haze not seeing it. Her resentment manifests in bad grades, especially for the teacher romantically distracting her mother.

Asia knows she’s wasting away. The kids at school call her Ghost as if she’s already passed . . .

This tale appears in the anthology, Ghost Summer by Prime Books.
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Review: “Trial Day” by Tananarive Due

3 of 5 stars.

Through the filter of a young girl with her mix of knowing and naivety, this story shows the fear of living in racially segregated America in which lynchings go uninvestigated and black teens are given the death penalty for alleged robberies.

9 y.o. Lettie lives with her business-owning Daddy and cruel stepmother who resents her husband’s two kids by different moms. Brother [Wallace Lee] lives an hour deeper into Klan country with his poverty-stricken mother. Lettie’s mother, also poor, is an Obeah priestess living nearby. Brother, 15 y.o., has been accused of a crime and “justice” wants to act quicker than a defense can be scraped together. With his mother of low means, Brother stands little chance of avoiding “The Chair” unless his middle-class father is willing to stand up for him. But there’s no guarantee that his father will do so . . .

The themes of this story fit as topically today as when it was written ten years ago–possibly more. However, the tale doesn’t resolve which is a disappointment and especially confounding with a throw-away final line implying a long life for Lettie and no resolution on the trial and family conundrum.

Appearing in the anthology, Ghost Summer, this short story first appeared in Mojo: Conjure Stories, ed. Nalo Hopkinson (Aspect / Warner Books).
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Review: “Aftermoon” by Tananarive Due

3 of 5 stars.

This is a different sort of Werewolf tale–it’s not about taming urges, but hiding genetics. Dysmorphia, feeling uncomfortable in one’s own body, is not uncommon in “monster” stories. But often the dysmorphia is related to gender or sexuality. In this case, it’s hard not to see the werewolf as a stand-in for race.

Kenya is a NYC werewolf, but she keeps her urges suppressed. And since her “Gramp” passed when she was 13, she hasn’t known another person of her “condition.”

A day after a full moon and with her senses still sensitive, Kenya is drawn to the office of Dermatologist Jack Reeves. He knows what she is and runs a support group for werewolves. For those that want to pass as “sheep,” he helps control the hair-issue. For those that prefer to indulge their urges with like-minded individuals, he runs retreats.

Kenya must decide what her wants are . . .

Appearing in the anthology, Ghost Summer, this short story first appeared in Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, ed. Sheree R. Thomas (Aspect / Warner Books).
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Review: “Like Daughter” by Tananarive Due

3 of 5 stars.

This vignette explores possible motivations and consequences of human cloning from a close-but-not-involved perspective. It does not resolve the set-up, nor develop it further into a story.

Paige receives a disturbing voice message from Denise, her childhood BFF who’s the mother of Paige’s goddaughter. The message announces that Denise’s husband has left and that Paige needs to take goddaughter, Neecy, for the better welfare of the child–Denise is losing it.

Paige is haunted by memories of Denise’s terrible childhood: the bruises from her father, the incest and STD at the hands of her uncle, the multi-abortion pills through high school. Paige’s mother admonished Paige to take care of Denise, because no one else would . . .

Paige may have failed in that regard, but now she has a second chance in Neecy, Denise’s human trial clone . . .

Appearing in the anthology, Ghost Summer, this short story first appeared in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, ed. Sheree R. Thomas (Aspect / Warner Books).
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Review: “Free Jim’s Mine” by Tananarive Due

4 of 5 stars.

A pregnant, runaway slave and her husband, a Cherokee skirting the Trail of Tears, face all their fears in this horror short story with an allegorical bent.

Lottie is wet and exhausted and still not out of Georgia, as she and her Cherokee husband, William, hide from every white man and barking dog. The Appalachians loom large and foreboding as they contemplate how to get north or at least as far as North Carolina where they know of a Quaker that helps escaped slaves. Lottie’s pregnancy and the hope for a better future that it represents drives them toward the unknown and away from the beatings, threats and misery behind them.

With things not going smoothly, they seek refuge with Lottie’s free Uncle Jim that owns a gold mine. Jim’s fortune may have come at a steep supernatural price. And, now he’s unwilling to risk himself further. In a moment of prophesy, threat or promise, Uncle Jim shuttles them into the pitch black, flooded mine but warns that they can’t both expect to survive the night . . .

Appearing in the anthology, Ghost Summer, this short story first appeared in Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, eds. Daniel Jose Older & Rose Fox (Crossed Genres Publications).
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Review: Animal Land, an Allegorical Fable by Leland James

Animal Land, An Allegorical FableAnimal Land, An Allegorical Fable by Leland James
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This fully illustrated allegorical take on WWII aims to introduce major components of the war to children in the form of a free verse narrative poem divided into stanzas of shape poetry. Thankfully, the seriousness of war is not reduced to cloying couplets. The shapes of the stanzas are arbitrary and add nothing to the poetry, but the alliteration is chewed to good effect, appropriate for a story completely “peopled” with animals.

Comparisons have been made to Aesop’s Fables (possibly) and Animal Farm (not at all), but these miss the mark. Unlike Animal Farm and Watership Down using animals to portray forms of governments, this story merely replaces people with animals for a heavily stripped-down, simplified version of WWII. Unlike The Complete Maus which showed the horrors of the war albeit with animals, this tale does not hit anything from the war except with the broadest of strokes. The occupations of mainland Europe are off-page and largely undescribed [with the exception of misleadingly mentioning enslaving the citizens of occupied countries].

The allegorical version of the Holocaust is boiled down to an irrational hatred and caging of songbirds. Zero atrocities are shown or described. The Russian front is reduced to a single winter siege. The Americans [Eagles] sweep in and end the war quickly, while the British hold out. It’s all too simplified, or misleading to be of educational value. This is a war without rationing nor air raids that accidentally implies the Japanese were in the European campaign for the first half of the story.

The strength of this story is in getting its point across about leaders and leadership. Winston Churchill [a badger], Franklin Roosevelt [an eagle] and Adolph Hitler [a mutant crocodile with a dog’s head] all are described, [and wonderfully drawn by illustrator Anne Zimanski]. The case is made for action over capitulation and being pro-active rather than reactive. It also snipes at decisions by committee and potentially the role of the UN, in general. The hawkish propaganda is clear when inactive leaders are depicted as sleeping possums.

I received my copy of the book when the author contacted me directly through The Book Review Directory, a blog.
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