Short Story Review: “Blade Between Oni and Hare” by Siobhan Gallagher

3 of 5 stars.

A modern day folktale with many fantastical elements drawing from Japanese inspiration conveys the hero’s journey in a rather concise, but overly simplified form. This hero has no big lessons to learn, only obstacles to surmount.

Kazuko finds herself floating for 3 days on the back of a dead squid after a great tentacled beast takes down her ship and the rest of the crew. Luckily, she has her katana. The large eye in the middle of her chest [put there by a demon] spots an island. But this island is full of curiosities from bloody melons falling from trees and wriggling to heavier-than-water wood that burns like charcoal. And a white hare. That speaks.

After leading Kazuko to and from a cave where a large spider-woman nests, the white hare promises safe transit from the island on the backs of crocodiles if only the girl will slay the troll-like oni that lives in the island forest . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 ed. by Paula Guran

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2010 EditionThe Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2010 Edition by Paula Guran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This anthology of the macabre and unsettling started what has now become an annual almanac of horror. I really enjoyed The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015. This predecessor includes a third more stories, but more is not always better.

Two tales merit top marks. “Lowland Sea” by Suzy McKee Charnas spectacularly brings together modern day slavery and an apocalypse in a work of speculative fiction. The beauty of this piece is in capturing the unique narrative voice of Miriam who witnesses the apocalypse years after her own world has been upended by her enslavement. Norman Prentiss’ “In the Porches of My Ears” is a double tale involving the same characters in all-too-real situations. The first tale embeds subtly if not uneasily before achieving a devastating paradigm shift with the second tale calling every detail of the first into question. It is the epitome of tragic without any elements of fantasy or speculation needed. No horrors other than what life is amply able to provide.

I have many honorable mentions that earned 4-stars:
Bear, Elizabeth–“The Horrid Glory of Its Wings”
Black, Holly–“The Coldest Girl in Coldtown”
Duffy, Steve–“Certain Death for a Known Person”
Laidlaw, Marc–“Leng”
Langan, John–“The Wide, Carnivorous Sky”
Mantooth, John–“The Water Tower”
O’Nan, Stewart–“Monsters”
Sedia, Ekaterina–“Cherrystone and Shards of Ice”
Tem, Steve Rasnic–“The Cabinet Child”

I’ve individually reviewed all of the included short stories and novellas. Also included are:
Dale Bailey & Nathan Ballingrud’s —“The Crevasse”–3 stars
Biancotti, Deborah–“Diamond Shell”–3 stars
Campbell, Ramsey–“Respects”–3 stars
Dinan, Kurt–“Nub Hut”–3 stars
Fried, Seth–“Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre”–3 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
Lanagan, Margo–“Sea-Hearts”–3 stars
Link, Kelly–“The Cinderella Game”–3 stars
McHugh, Maura–“Vic”–3 stars
Monette, Sarah–“White Charles”–3 stars
Pinborough, Sarah–“The Nowhere Man”–3 stars
Roden, Barbara–“The Brink of Eternity”–3 stars
Shepard, Lucius–Halloween Town–3 stars
Smith, Michael Marshall–“What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night”–3 stars
Straub, Peter–“Variations on a Theme from Seinfeld–3 stars
Tremblay, Paul–“Headstone in Your Pocket”–3 stars
Valente, Catherynne M.–“A Delicate Architecture”–3 stars
Armstrong, Kelley–“A Haunted House of Her Own”–2 stars
Atkins, Peter–“The Mystery”–2 stars
Bulkin, Nadia–“Everything Dies, Baby”–2 stars
Davies, Robert–“Bruise for Bruise”–2 stars
Files, Gemma–“The Jacaranda Smile”–2 stars
Houarner, Gerard–“The Other Box”–2 stars
Jones, Stephen Graham–“The Ones Who Got Away”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–;“Torn Away”–2 stars
McMahon, Gary–“Strange Scenes from an Unfinished Film”–2 stars
Phillips, Holly–“The Long, Cold Goodbye”–2 stars
Shea, Michael–“Copping Squid”–2 stars

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Long, Cold Goodbye” by Holly Phillips

2 of 5 stars.

This is a different sort of apocalyptic tale. A land is in its sunset, freezing to the point of no return. Those who could flee, fled. The rest are doing what they do until they die: dancing, drinking, despairing.

Berd searches for Sele, her elusive lifelong friend, but he’s a hard one to pin down. She’s also seeing things, perhaps due to the slow death of freezing. Ghosts and polar bears; witches and ice giants. She also sees a suicide–but that’s likely real. She sees her friends frozen stiff when she looks at them, but they move when she doesn’t. And they get around, to new places to be frozen.

The language of this slow demise, is bordering on exquisite. Unfortunately, the plot is a quandary. For much of the tale, I thought maybe Berd was dead–as that would explain her warped perceptions. But no, its just not clear what’s going on.

This tale was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Halloween Town by Lucius Shepard

3 of 5 stars.

This is the story of Clyde Ormoloo and the willow wan, but it’s also the story of Halloween, the spindly, skinny town that lies along the bottom of the Shilkonic Gorge, a meandering crack in the earth so narrow that on a clear day the sky appears to those hundreds of feet below as a crooked seam of blue mineral running through dark stone.

Like the opening line [as seen above], this novella meanders and crosses back on itself in odd, unpredictable ways. Halloween, the town, seems to inhabit its own universe divorced from the rest of the world–like a Brigadoon, or a Bailey’s Cafe. People that need the escape from the outer world, sometimes find their way here. Indeed, the residents call the rest of the US, “the republic,” in acknowledgement of their other status.

Clyde, when hit in the head in a construction accident, finds that he can read people and their motivations and history all too easily in the light. His questioning intelligence soars beyond that of his old acquaintances. He escapes to the dim shadows of Halloween to find solace. But what he finds is a town steeped in its own sordid rituals and histories. Something in the river pulls people and dogs under. Something else skitters along the underside of the cliffs hunting all the cats, there’s 1 left. And nobody-but-nobody goes beyond the 3 pools of marinating walnuts at the edge of town where the genetics lab used to run business.

It’s a town of secrets and missing people . . .

This novella was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)Storm Front by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d prefer to think that I’m fashionably late to this party. This urban fantasy / wizarding detective noir series already led to a short-lived television series. I’ve also previously listened to the audible voiced by the extremely talented James Marsters. Now I’ve read the series opener to much guilty enjoyment.

Harry Dresden is a rough-around-the-edges Chicago wizard with a detective-for-hire shingle up in his window:

My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call.

I’m in the book.

Harry also aids the police as a consultant for things supernatural–anything to catch up on his rent. In this case, his own safety gets caught in the crosshairs as he bounces between a private missing person’s case and the police’s investigation into a double-homicide by occult means. The quest leads to confrontations with a mafioso, a demon and a vampire brothel madame. All in a day’s work.

Three other major characters round out the core cast of Harry’s world. On a personal level, Harry has a hot-and-cold relationship with Lead Police Detective Karrin Murphy. He’s guided by the ages-old spirit of Bob residing in the skull in Harry’s workshop, though Bob has his own agenda. Finally, Harry is under near constant surveillance from Morgan, warden of the White Counsel due to Harry’s own damaged past. Morgan is looking for any excuse to mete out punishment to the freelancer.

However, Harry lives by a code, a good code–albeit his own code, to enforce a safe place for those out-of-the-know, a place . . .

. . .where trolls stay the hell under their bridges and where elves don’t come swooping out to snatch children from their cradles. Where vampires respect the limits, and where faeries mind their p‘s and q‘s.

I’m looking forward to many future adventures with Dresden.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night” by Michael Marshall Smith

3 of 5 stars.

The imagination of kids arises in this tale, with all of its fears in place. However, when the child might actually be on to something, it’s the adults in for the real shock.

Maddy is afraid of the dark. So she gets a night light. Which her mother turns off after Maddy is sound asleep. When Maddy wakes in the middle of the night without a light, she tends to wake up her parents.

A deal is struck: Maddy stays out of her parents room and she gets to keep the light on all night.

Maddy wakes in the dark and cold. She cannot find her light or its switch. Nor her robe that hangs from her door or the door knob so she can get her parents. Her mom awakens and chastises Maddy for breaking their deal to find out that Maddy thinks she’s still in her room. Mom and Dad think they are in their room, but nobody can find a window, or switch, or door . . .

This short story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Crash by Michael Robertson

Crash (Crash, #1)Crash by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Graphic violence riddles this post-apocalyptic tale in which a global, financial crash brings society crashingly to its knees. The class system upheld by the banks is upended; the previously privileged cower from the unprivileged who have nothing left to lose.

Disturbing as the violence is, and it is fully described, it isn’t without precedent which is reason enough to include it. Class divides led to horrible unrest and atrocities even in the past few decades in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. Often times, in such conflicts, the men and boys are outright killed and the women and girls are brutalized in other ways. Such is the background here. At one point in the story as a gang of brutal looters destroy a gated community in London, a privileged woman makes the argument that “they worked hard for their success in life.” The looter correctly counters that she cannot even begin to know where the privilege got her in life. The tenuous balance is broken in this moment, and the system that has propped her life is swept away.

The story follows ex-banker Chris, resident of the gated community, cowering with his son Michael in his vast house that has lost electricity and water like everyone else’s. His wife and daughter just left him that morning. The looters tear into the neighborhood and terrorize each family in order, destroying each house in the process. The slow build until they arrive at Chris’ door along with the treatment of the neighbors adds the horror element.

Alternating chapters fill in the back story of the crash and the slow demise of Chris’ relationship with his wife and of his family life in general.

The story is bleak, but not entirely without hope thanks to a later-added epilogue. The series continues following other characters that are more minor in this episode. There’s definitely more to learn of this world and where the unrest will lead.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author after previously reviewing his thoroughly enjoyable zombie apocalypse novel series [The Alpha Plague, The Alpha Plague 2, and The Alpha Plague 3] which deservedly made my Best Reads of 2015 list. I also just recently read this author’s novel, New Reality: Truth, which is the opener to its own series.
 
 
 
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