Short Story Review: “When We Change” by Mason Ian Bundschuh

3 of 5 stars.

The hardest part was not killing the kids, but cutting them up to fit in the furnace. All we had in the cabin was a carving knife and a small hand saw.

There’s no mincing genre with that opening line–this is horror, dehumanized and owned. Not flushing out into a full story, this tale remains a kernel which could have expanded into many directions without overstaying its welcome. More would have been more in this case. That is not to say that what little is offered doesn’t work–it does. It just doesn’t develop. Half of the tale is dealing with the living memories of the 2 deceased kids without offering any explanations.

Only two hints are given for what has led to this horrific opening action and those two hints don’t mesh easily together. 1) “We never should have moved back. I thought it had ended with the murder-suicide of my great-uncle so long ago.” So, it could be the house, or a haunt. Something supernatural is going on. 2) Later, the narrator’s wife acknowledges that she expects to change and she doesn’t want to live through it. Huh–not much to go on. She was reading the Innsmouth Times which references the Lovecraft Universe where people physically morph away from their humanity.

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Turquoiseblood by Cecelia Isaac

TurquoisebloodTurquoiseblood by Cecelia Isaac
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a word–brilliant. This novel deftly weaves 2 narratives of adopted albino women separated by 200 years but joined by their shared ostracism, small country and their involvement in trying to solve murderous political machinations during their respective eras. Each thread is its own political thriller touching on like locations and motivations across mountainous Rak.

Nothing about this premise should work. And yet it slays. Each thread reverberates through the other without compromising itself.

In the earlier steampunk-like era with magic-fueled airships crossing the mountains and lowlands, Pristina Aikaterine is the feared huntress daughter of Rajin, the country’s only wielder of magic and a national hero for his role in freeing Rak from its occupation. She has been burned by her rash defense of the magic essence gleaned from the death of magical creatures [think ivory from elephants, or whale oil from whales]. Almost no magical animals are to be found anymore. Pristina tries to convince others that someone’s trying to gain the knowledge of magic and start a political revolution.

200 years later, no one wields magic. No airships ply the skies. Pristina Aikaterine is known in legend as the traitor that aided the short-lived revolution. In the absence of hunters of magical creatures, dragons have become more common including the largest and grandest of the dragons–the Imperials. Dragons and humans have decent relations except in the rare cases that an Imperial goes insanely and murderously rogue. At that point, it’s known as a Turquoiseblood, and there is no return from the state.

After the murder of her partner Red, Anya goes Turquoiseblood, destroying a castle and scores of mountainous villages. Dying, she crashes in a blizzard in the remotest of villages where young outcast and illiterate Kiri propels her back to life and out of the rogue state. Anya, in return, takes Kiri on a broad tour of the kingdom educating her along the way in the ways of language, reading, history and courtly behavior. Their investigation of Red’s murder [and the collection of his essence] points the finger at someone trying to revive the forgotten practice of wielding magic . . .

I received my copy of this novel directly from the authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Nation of Disease: The Rise & Fall of a Canadian Legend” by Jonathan Sharp

3 of 5 stars.

Literature purporting to be a journal or article adds an air of impartiality, but also separation of ownership. Tone matters. In this case, the tale claims to be a magazine news article reporting the facts of a horrific situation. However since the article merely reports it after the fact, the tale itself is not horror but rather realistic fiction that hints at a potential larger supernatural element, or more accurately at the belief in supernatural involvement by those firsthand participants in the story.

The setting is a murder of a musician at Austin’s annual South by Southwest Festival by his fellow band member–during a stage performance. The tale reads like a police blotter with a modicum of extra reporting to reveal witness statements and descriptions of found witness video from online sources. While “crime of passion” or drugs might seem like obvious explanations, this article implies that the goth-metal musicians dealt in the occult and were artistically attempting to tap into a larger, ultra-dimensional unseen force musically.

The strength of this story is not in what it shows about the crime itself or the individuals involved, but rather in the implications of what is not seen in this type of reporting. The first-hand accounts of those involved are absent. In the mainstreaming and normalizing process of report stories, real and perceived supernatural evidence and implications are edited out. Journalism would abide nothing else outside of a supermarket checkout rag. Demons, whether present or in the mind of the perpetrator, do not make the final cut. Rather, a musical genre stands scapegoat in the face of tragedy.

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’d previously reviewed this author’s “Skoptsy”, which was quite compelling.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Pushing Back” by J. C. Hemphill

3 of 5 stars.

Detective stories are common enough–and this one opens on an interrogation room just to press the theme, but this vignette gives the perp’s POV. Sikowitz is innocent, which clearly the detective does not belief.

This is a horror story, as it would be for anyone stumbling across a dead body and a scene that defies easy description.

“So how ’bout the blood on your hands? Was that unwelcome, too?”

“Of course. That wasn’t . . ”

Sikowitz couldn’t finish. Not with the pain expanding in his abdomen. It came out of nowhere and made him forget the accusing stare coming from the opposite side of the table . . . He shut his eyes, willing the pain away.

“Uh-huh. That doesn’t explain the bloody hands. But lemme guess. You were trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

In this very brief vignette, Sikowitz’ composure erodes as rapidly as his health, and he starts spilling his story as quickly as his body will allow: there was his friend’s dead, cold body . . . and yet movement . . . and sudden things bursting from the corpse like the dinner scene in Alien . . .

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Iden-Inshi” by Greg Stolze

4 of 5 stars.

The best diary-entry fiction captures change in the narration and narrator over time, such as in The Color Purple and Flowers for Algernon. Here, a story deftly morphs from thriller with a sense of humor to a sci-fi horror over 4 months of entries. The change happens slowly and in the tightly realized voice of a scientist in unique circumstances.

A Western biologist has been kidnapped and forced to ply her genetic trade for the North Korean regime. The scientist in her drives her to record her experiments and theories through successes and failures in the lab despite her thriller-worthy circumstances. Perhaps her naivety and perceived notion of being indispensable allows a dry humor to infuse her earlier entries in her toilet paper journal.

[from 12/18/11]
I wonder how Kim Jong Un heard about me. There aren’t a lot of biogeneticists willing to stand up and say “Clones aren’t crimes against god, they’re just retroactive twins, calm DOWN Rick Santorum!” And to be fair, I never did say that. I just went ahead.

It says something very dark about our morality that the only people sensible enough to pursue human cloning are narco-billionaires and tinpot tyrants.

She’s been tasked with making human clones and carefully notes the results of weeks and months of gamete inserion, DNA subdivision, and implantation. The failures add up and her managers have some turnover to facilitate better results.

1/21/12
DNA subdivided and they insisted I implant it . . . Wants me to perform the insertion on a couple dozen ova, says we’ll try to implant the best 5-6. With an adequate rate of implantation, that could give us 2-3 deformed dictator clones dying before puberty.

1/27/12
11 out of 30 attempted insertions were successful, 4 of them looked like they just might be viable, one was pretty good. We’re starting the implantations tomorrow.

2/2/12
All 5 failed to implant.

2/14/12
Happy Valentine’s Day. I winked at one of the guards. He ignored me.

A new project manager, Kiro from Japan, takes over after his daughter is kidnapped forcing his compliance. He brings a mysteriously compact non-human DNA with him to try the experiments on. The success at all steps is remarkably high and seemingly more human with further development. Implantation happens in 29 surrogates . . .

The tone change is abrupt as Kiro and the Western scientist endure confinement and beatings to later find out that all 29 surrogates died horribly, hemorrhaging clone ova within days of implantation . . .

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’d previously reviewed this author’s “I Saw the Light”, which was equally compelling.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Through the Ocular, Darkly” by Martin Clark

3 of 5 stars.

An alternate history rich with steampunk flavor enriches this character-establishing vignette. There is also a bit of plot with an ounce of tension. However, it is the protagonist that matters and where the tale leaves him. One gets the impression that this vignette provides the backstory for a character that we’ll see again.

Dr. Leon Prinz, European ex-pat to re-Christianized Constantinople, has just finished his commission to construct a neo-golem automaton. He accomplishes the task with steampunk flair by creating an assassin-ballerina powered by a flash-steam boiler–naturally.

His situation gets sticky when he’s volunteered under armed guard to figure out the workings to a large mysterious device that seems to be counting down to zero while also recording latitude, longitude, altitude and the date. He has about 20 hours to figure it out. The best guess is that it’s some sort of bomb with a radium core:

My hand quivered so. Rutherford-Curie generators were notoriously fickle, requiring near-constant adjustment by a team of expert technicians. Failure to adequately regulate the radium surges could prove catastrophic, as the world had learned to its cost. The complexity of an automated system which could accomplish such a task filled me with awe and dread in equal measure. Repairing to my study I took a pinch or two of cocaine, and, thus fortified, returned to the mental fray.

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be ed. by Kat Rocha

Whispers From The Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall BeWhispers From The Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be by Laird Barron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This anthology solidly delivers an array of Lovecraft inspired tales. Accordingly, horror and the supernatural permeate the collection with heavy doses of absurdist bents. While the horrific and unfathomable comprise the lion’s share, there is humor and heartfelt represented, too.

Most tales share a fresh perspective rising above Lovecraft fan fiction. The best of the bunch carve their own path through the mythos to great effect. I’ve separately reviewed and rated each of the collection’s component stories, giving top honors and 5 stars to “Shadow Transit” by Ferrett Steinmetz in which a mother is heartbreakingly losing her daughter to forces and voices beyond her understanding.

My 4-star honorable mentions include Robert Stahl’s “Gifts” which also tackles mental illness with compassion and originality. Three others raise the stakes on Lovecraftian horror: Martin James Hunter’s “The Dreadful Machine”, Jonathan Sharp’s “Skoptsy” and Greg Stolze’s “I Saw the Light”. Two more play with Lovecraft’s myth of the dysmorphic folks of Innsmouth. Deborah Walker’s “Baby Rhyme Time: Youngsters Enjoy Initiation at Innsmouth Public Library” takes a playful approach while David Busboom’s “The Vindication of Y’ha-nthlei” employs the 1930’s detective noir voice to wonderful results.

Also included are:
Barron, Laird–“Strident Caller”–3 stars
Enos, Joel–“Now We Are Nine”–3 stars
Fitch, Marc E.–“God Does Damn the Mind”–3 stars
Foster, John C.–“His Carnivorous Regard”–3 stars
Grey, Orrin–“The Labyrinth of Sleep”–3 stars
Hans, Sarah–“Shadows of the Darkest Jade”–3 stars
Palisano, John–“Lucky Chuck Takes the Sunshine Express”–3 stars
Paradias, Konstantine–“Echoes in Porcelain”–3 stars
Pinchuk, Tom–“Nyarlathotep’s Way”–3 stars
Wetmore, Kevin–“Notebook Concerning the Class Struggle in Dunwich, Found in the Ruins of a Construction Site”–3 stars
Wise, A. C.–“We Are Not These Bodies, Strung Between the Stars”–3 stars
Detwiller, Dennis–“The Knot”–2 stars
Fifer, Chad–“The Baby Downstairs”–2 stars
Goodfellow, Cody–“Red Americans”–2 stars
Hudson, Michael–“Five Minutes or Less”–2 stars
Wunner, Nathan–“Death May Die”–2 stars
Byers, Richard Lee–“Kickstarter”–1 star
Poots, Samuel–“The Thing in the Fridge”–1 star

I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. They have a Kickstarter Campaign now started and running through April 10, 2016 to expand the collection from e-form to print. As usual, the campaign includes many cool incentives– inspired by Lovecraft, naturally.

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