Short Story Review: “Caro in Carno” by Helen Marshall

4 of 5 stars.

The transition into death has many religious and folk accounts evoking the fantastical and supernatural. This beautiful, dark tale nods toward many predecessors while carving its own path through the lore. The title refers to the Latin for flesh, body and home. The body is a vessel, a home–for the soul, yes, and other things including the potential for further generations of life.

Caroline, aka Caro, at 13 has outlived her parents and resides with her elderly Nan in a vast house of spiraling caverns carved into a salt cliff over the ocean, each room narrower and deeper into the cliff than the last. Atop the cliff lies the sleeping village where Caro goes to fetch potatoes and onions from the grocer in exchange for salt. She’s enamored with Tom, the grocer’s son, but respectfully keeps her thoughts and emotions in check.

One day Tom is sadder than usual and begs kind treatment for his mother. A couple weeks later, the villagers lower a platform to the mouth of Nan’s cavern, and on it lies the grocer’s wife, dead, as all of the villagers are when lowered to the cave. There Caro helps her Nan transport the body through the spiraling chambers, deep into the salt gullet of the Earth until Caro can go no further.

On her next trip to the village, Caro is unwelcomed by Tom, who in his grief blames her for his mother’s death. She runs off with few potatoes and no onions despite dwindling supplies at home. Nan heads to the village for the first time in years to right this wrong. For 3 days, Nan doesn’t return. And when she does, she’s lowered down on the platform . . .

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read Marshall’s “All My Love, A Fishhook” and “Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta”–both are very good.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” by Elizabeth Bear

4 of 5 stars.

Sometimes it takes a very alien world to tell a very human story. And sometimes when one thinks that the world doesn’t appreciate them, that both friends and strangers alike dismiss one’s accomplishments, it takes to a mirror to realize that the negativity is inside oneself. Elizabeth Bear tackles complex issues of the mind and heart in a most imaginative setting.

Humans have settled outposts on Venus–a very wet, ocean-covered Venus rife with unique fauna [think: James Cameron’s Avatar] and topography. The 2 main continents are larger, flatter Aphrodite and volcanic, jungled Ishtar. The human settlements opted for the easier Aphrodite where ruins of an ancient intelligent culture were found, always in the more inaccessible areas of the continent.

Dharthi ill-advisedly ventures alone into the thick jungles of Ishtar where so-called velociraptors and swamp tigers and worse prey on anything moving. Protected by her skin-suit and canny survival knowledge for Venus, Dharthi feels pushed to these extremes to be professionally appreciated at the university on Aphrodite. Her girlfriend, Kraken, gets ample academic glory for every little finding she makes and Dharthi just wants an ounce of that for once.

Her theory that the extinct civilization preferred the rougher terrains of Aphrodite because they emerged from the naturally rougher topographies of Ishtar, pushes her to find evidence of an ancient city of greater significance than the tiny abandoned ruins so far found. Connected by a neural link, Kraken follows Dharthi’s progress with both encouragement and respectful detachment as Dharthi finds more than she was looking for . . .

This tale appears in a couple “best of” anthologies. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan, I received from Netgalley. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, I received directly from Prime Books. I have consistently enjoyed many others of Bear’s stories:
     “The Hand is Quicker–“–4 stars
     “The Horrid Glory of Its Wings”–4 stars
     “Madam Damnable’s Sewing Circle”–4 stars
     “One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King”–4 stars
     “Swell”–4 stars
     [w/ Sarah Monette]–“The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward–4 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

2 of 5 stars.

Drawing from Lovecraft’s mythos which includes realms disinterested from that of humans and Earth, this tale centers on an Underrealm of ghouls of half-ghouls. The politics and prophesies of that realm would sit as easily in human history.

The tale, told by a peddler, emerges as a folktale with a suggestion of history, albeit a history from a different realm. Plot and tension are glossed over in favor of info-dumps of the rules and politics of the Lovecraftian mythos. It has potential to be an epic tale in that it centers around a ruling couple of half-ghouls that are also twins. Their rise to power had been prophesied, so too had the king’s undoing by his eldest daughter. To eliminate the threat, he makes plans to have his sister killed while still pregnant with his heir. One of his advisers holds loyalty to the queen and aids in her escape to the Upper Realm [that of humans] where the daughter can be born . . .

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read Kiernan’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

3 of 5 stars.

The skirmish between religion and science rears from time to time and place to place with little accomplished nor acceded. Often, the dialogue between the two sides is really two dialogues, one held by each side without a truly common language or lens building understanding. This tale re-enacts that dance as two young girls from different mindsets attempt to understand the incomprehensible.

Dancy has been following the path of her angel further away from her family and into unknown parts. But her angel doesn’t stick around, so Dancy finds herself on a rural road in Alabama with seemingly a dragon flying overhead. Jezzie appears and leads Dancy to the safety of her secret studying lair where she examines reptiles and reads books on evolution and Earth science. Dancy doesn’t trust a girl named, Jezebel, after a harlot idolater.

Dancy mistrusts evolutionary science as it contradicts the Bible of Genesis. Jezzie distrusts the dismissal of science by religionists. And then there’s the dragon . . . Jezzie points out the dragon is really a pterosaur but she cannot scientifically explain what it’s doing in Alabama 70 million years after it went extinct . . .

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I’ve previously read Kiernan’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Deepwater Bride” by Tamsyn Muir

4 of 5 stars.

Clairvoyants often assume the lonely life of a Cassandra rather than deal with non-believers. It also allows the seer to step away from the horrors they’ve witnessed. But teens often crave acceptance from their peers, or the approval of one idolized individual. This contradiction abrades in this well-constructed tale.

Dozens of generations of Blake women have served as seers of the eldritch omens of Lovecraftian mythos. Every ripple from the Deepsea and Dark Chaos is read in wisps of smoke, the spatters of spittle and errant threads of spider webs. Hester need not even look that deeply as trees weep salt water, dead sharks end up flayed in the tops of trees, and salt rains from the clouds. Something big is happening.

She is meant to merely record what she sees, record her read of it, then document the actuality. But underneath her Goth exterior, she feels the deeper connection to the signs she reads. She even finds a kindred spirit in the family diary:

Underneath in ballpoint was written: Has noboy noticed that Blake crypto-fascist worship of these deities has never helped?? Family of sheeple.

Hester Blake sees that the Underwater Unfed God is rising to take a bride. She follows the signs to a fake-baked teen named Rainbow that acts like a Heather to her Veronica. And yet, Hester wants to be liked by the One Direction-worshiping popular girl. More awkwardly, Rainbow is just as fascinated by Hester . . .

This tale appears in a couple “best of” anthologies. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan, I received from Netgalley. The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, I also received directly from Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Original Poetry: Eulogy to Ezra Pound

I don’t know who perpetuated the lie
of the poet elite with his high-destined life
because in the end all things must die.

Ideas grow stale with time proving why
one person’s words are never enough.
I don’t know who perpetuated the lie.

Losing spirit, woman and man try
as one. Age will comfort the widowed wife,
because in the end all things must die.

Roman and Nazi Reichs wither and dry—
each society is just an autumn leaf.
I don’t know who perpetuated the lie—

Ptolemy? Not all revolves around our sky.
The Earth’s stay is universally brief,
because in the end all things must die.

And you, with your head and self-worth held high,
flaunt arrogance in your every belief.
I don’t know who perpetuated the lie—
not God? For even He must die.

 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “Calved” by Sam J. Miller

5 of 5 stars.

In the face of most everything changing, one thing that remains the same is generational differences in perspective largely driven by social and cultural change over time. This speculative tale uses as a backdrop a vastly different world after the poles have melted and much of the United States, Central Europe and India have flooded. Growing deserts ring the planet.

This sad yet beautiful tale focuses in on Dom, an American immigrant to Qaanaaq, Greenland after his native NYC is destroyed by floods, and the teenaged son, Thede, he barely seems to know anymore. Dom lives in one of the many immigrant shantytowns around Qaanaaq, now a resource-rich booming city of 2 million and counting [compared to its 2013 population of under 700 people–I looked it up]. The nearly absentee father is unskilled labor and mostly illiterate in the Scandinavian language of commerce, whereas his ex-wife has a better job and custody of Thede. Dom’s job on ice-boats pulling in icebergs for fresh water also keeps him away from his son.

Now he’s looking at signing unto a year stint on a boat, but loath to tell Thede who already pulls away as a teenager. The boy cringes when the father asks about friends, activities, school subjects, girls, and college plans. Even the ex-wife’s warning that Thede is 1) getting bullied, 2) in love and 3) attending the Institute after graduation provides Dom with few ins. All he has is his memories of the loving boy he knew and some shared rituals, one of which revolved around Thede trying on Dom’s beloved NYC t-shirt once a year for his birthday. In a desperate act of love, Dom gifts the tee to Thede–and it’s well received.

Thede wears it a half-dozen times before the tee disappears. Dom presses the point, watching the gulf between him and his son widen . . .

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]