Short Story Review: “A Shot of Salt Water” by Lisa L. Hannett

2 of 5 stars.

Rich folklore emerges from coastal villages in fishing cultures from selkies to mer with creatures with one foot in the sea and another on land.

This quizzical tale bucks most of the lore to redefine mermaids as a female-dominated fishing culture of mixed ancestry, both human and what would traditionally be considered as mer. The ocean-born members of society are stolen/kidnapped from the unnamed gilled people.

The strengths of the tale are in the flipping of gender expectations within the culture as the men are waiting for the women to come home from sea, but also have to worry about infidelity. Also, the exuberance of music is beautifully described.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Female Factory”, “Forever, Miss Tapekwa County”, and “In Syllables of Elder Seas”.




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Short Story Review: “The Secret Life of Little Wormwood Scrubs” by Courttia Newland

4 of 5 stars.

Cities and their neighborhoods evolve over time. In the larger metropolises, this also reflects the movements of ethnicities through the neighborhoods, and the inevitable pushback against change, whether rooted in xenophobia or not. In the years since 9-11 and the subsequent bombings in London, Madrid and elsewhere, there’s also been the growing anti-Muslim sentiments clashing with the natural immigration from Middle Eastern countries where opportunities are fewer.

In this tale, a young, male Muslim, Khalil, in London does what comes naturally to him in his newfound freedom, living on his own–he jogs through his neighborhood’s park. Nevermind that the park used to be dodgy and unsafe, things have changed. Such as the Thai restaurant on the corner growing posher by the day. But, today isn’t like every other day in London. The day prior, 4 young male Muslims bombed the city and everyone’s on guard. Khalil cannot help but to watch his back and make sure everyone sees he’s on the up and up.

While jogging in a muckier, swampy part of the park where the stream used to be, Khalil finds a suspicious rucksack. Should he call it in? Or would he just be making himself a target? Will other people in the park find him suspicious for stopping to look at an abandoned rucksack? In the end, he decides to quickly jog out of there–leaving the tracks of his trainers impressed upon the swampy earth . . .

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through
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Short Story Review: “Cassandra” by Ken Liu

3 of 5 stars.

It’s said that everyone’s the hero of their own story. People justify their actions, and can hide behind the explanation that they are misunderstood if disagreed with.

The philosophical minutia of this argument play out in this tale in which a “Cassandra” can see the horrible crimes the others are going to do: domestic violence, murder-robberies, mass shootings–she sees it all. And aims to stop it, before the crime is committed.

BUT, she’s using extreme means to put down these offenders that haven’t actually offended yet. That makes her the crime-doer according to the caped superhero who’s determined to stop her vigilante justice. She’s dubbed, the super-villain . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Long Haul: From the Annuls of Transportation, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009″ and “Running Shoes”




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Short Story Review: “Beating the Bounds” by Aki Schilz

3 of 5 stars.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 epitomizes the unconventional ode that manages to honor and note flaws simultaneously. [My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun . . . ] And then centuries later comes this prose poem ode to the lesser known neighborhood of London, Hanwell.

A collage of scenes and locally notable sites span the decades as echoes. Perhaps the best of Hanwell is past, perhaps it was never realized. The ode could be the voice of a tour guide, pointing out here where the Blitz wiped the slate clean to there where today’s young lovers hide in the recesses of bushes grinding in orgiastic frenzy. Nothing is worth hiding–nothing is worth showing.

How do I get to Hanwell?

Depends on what your plans are. If you are able to time-travel, I recommend a horse bus. If your intentions are nefarious or Crossrail-related, you can get here by tying a blindfold aroud your head and spining really fast, then choosing the direction in which you feel least like falling. Keep walking. In fact, run . . .

How do I get out of Hanwell?

Soul-search till you realize your soul is happier being elsewhere. Feel nostalgic for about three years, before you’ve even left. Leave. Need transport? See above. Go the other way.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through
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Short Story Review: “Mary, Mary” by Kirstyn McDermott

2 of 5 stars.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley brought life to the monster of Frankenstein raising an early alarm on science crossing boundaries that ought not to be crossed. She also carved a new path as a female writer, holding her own in a male-dominated field and on subjects not deemed appropriate for her fair gender.

This fictionalized biographical tale is about the other Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of her more famous namesake. She, too, is a writer, but her relationships have her at a disadvantage. The earlier men in her life don’t stick around, not even when there is a child, Fanny, in the picture. Later, she does marry and have her more famous second daughter, Mary who was but a baby when her mother died.

The life of the elder Mary flashes through scenes remembered on the woman’s deathbed. Her truest companion is a ghost named The Grey Lady that helps her to see the lessons and truths in her vagabond life. This is all meant to be read as spirit and inspiration for the younger Mary who’ll grow without truly knowing her mother–unless there’s a ghost there to fill in the gaps . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.




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Anthology Review: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016 by Rich Horton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the title promises, this annual anthology solidly delivers. A broad swath of fantasy and science fiction sub-genres fill out the collection with my favorite 4 inclusions, each earning 5 stars, representing widely different fields: Off-Planet Sci-Fi, Artificial Intelligence Sci-Fi, Automaton Steampunk, and Rogue-and-Fae Fantasy. As different as they are, they’re all profoundly moving in their telling of the human condition through non-human and ultra-human means.

Vonda N. McIntyre’s “Little Sisters” dashes traditional notions of gender and sexuality in this brutal tale of war, violence, rape and conquest set among stars and species not exactly human.

Martin L. Shoemaker’s short story, “Today I Am Paul”, depicts an artificially intelligent medical companion bot as it realizes its humanity while helping the family tap into their own as their matriarch struggles with Alzheimer’s Disease.

This Evening’s Performance, a novella by Genevieve Valentine, mirrors the golden age of silent films in its steampunk-tinged tale of automatons displacing actors on the London stages.

C. S. E. Cooney’s novella, The Two Paupers, depicts two starving artists trying to be true to themselves and their friendship despite the machinations of family and life-or-death multidimensional politics. [The Fae do not play nicely.]

I’ve reviewed all of the included tales:
Bear, Elizabeth–“The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”–4 stars
Finlay, C. C.–“Time Bomb Time”–4 stars
Jingfang, Hao [w/ Ken Lui, trans.]–“Folding Beijing”–4 stars
Larson, Rich–“The King in the Cathedral”–4 stars
Ludwigsen, Will–“Acres of Perhaps”–4 stars
McGuire, Seanan–“Hello, Hello”–4 stars
Muir, Tamsyn–“The Deepwater Bride”–4 stars
Nayler, Ray–“Mutability”–4 stars
Bolander, Brooke–“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”–3 stars
Bossert, Gregory Norman–“Twelve and Tag”–3 stars
Dickinson, Seth–“Please Undo This Hurt”–3 stars
Dudak, Andy–“Asymptotic”–3 stars
Ings, Simon–“Drones”–3 stars
Kessel, John–“Consolation”–3 stars
Kritzer, Naomi–“Cat Pictures Please”–3 stars
McDonald, Ian–Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan”–3 stars
Pitkin, Joe–“The Daughters of John Demetrius”–3 stars
Sulway, Nike–“The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club”–3 stars
Barnes, John–“The Last Bringback”–2 stars
Brenchley, Chaz–“The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red, Red Coal”–2 stars
Campbell, Rebecca–“Unearthly Landscape by a Lady”–2 stars
Lee, Yoon Ha–“The Graphology of Hemorrhage”–2 stars
Link, Kelly–“The Game of Smash and Recovery”–2 stars
Ryman, Geoff–“Capitalism in the 22nd Century, or A.I.R.”–2 stars
Valente, Catherynne M.–“The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild”–2 stars
Zinos-Amaro, Alvaro–“Endless Forms Most Beautiful”–2 stars

I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015, also edited Rich Horton.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Two Paupers by C. S. E. Cooney

The Two Paupers (Dark Breakers Book 2)The Two Paupers by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many things hold true power in this world and in others just beyond the Veil: love, kindness, and creation [as in honest, unfettered artistic creation]. But none of these is necessarily the easiest path, and that is the crux of their power.

With a rogue’s tone not unlike Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards and a convoluted relationship between this realm and a Fae realm, such as in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, this novella presents a stand-alone sequel [indeed, I haven’t read the first, but will now . . .] in which two talented but struggling artists dance around some very grave issues. Gideon, the well-heeled sculptor, has been cursed to carve statues that come to life like warrior golems. He destroys them almost as soon as he makes them. Analiese, the farm-born writer living next door, sees one not yet destroyed the moment its eyes open. Knowing its fate, she steals it away to save it.

She hides the golem away at her newly married friend Elliot’s house. He’s a talented painter and married to the ex-Queen Nix of the Fae Realm. It’s one of the usurpers in Nix’s absence that has cursed Gideon to make warrior golems in order to build an army and secure secession to the throne.

Loyalty to each other, wit, talent and artistic vision all play an intricate role as each tries to secure the best outcome for all the players involved and keep the others safe from harm . . . In a word, this tale is brilliant.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.




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Short Story Review: “Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma

Fabulous BeastsFabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The darkest of family secrets: rape, incest, murder and betrayal coil and writhe beneath the skin in this dark novelette set among the seedier neighborhoods outside Liverpool. Two timelines entwine to show how ugly little Lola along with her pretty sister-cousin, Tallulah, escapes her horror-filled past to become scientifically-successful, if not still socially awkward Eliza on the arm of her beautiful, celebrity lover, Georgia. More than just her name was sloughed off to become the adult survivor that she is.

The violence and psychologically scarred upbringing ring with fear and quiet desperation.

The novella contains a fantastical, dysmorphic element not unusual with themes of abuse, gender dysphoria, or abnormal sexuality. Adult Eliza works as a herpetologist with a specialty in vipers. She embodies many elements of the snakes she loves to overcome her family secrets and to escape her past.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books.




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Damfino Plays for Table Stakes” by Ben Solomon

3 of 5 stars.

A literary rogue is a character that bends rules around themselves, acting independently and often cleverly or with a uniquely manipulative quality. Examples include: Robinhood, The Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride, any lead character in a tale by Patrick Rothfuss or Scott Lynch. Often found in fantasy, they can pop up in all genres.

This tale depicts a high stakes poker game between a rogue, Damfino, and a mafia boss. Damfino relentlessly wins and raises the stakes to include the lives of the mafioso’s henchmen. The tale is clever in Damfino’s game, but vague in his method. He denies luck plays a part. But clearly, he’s playing more than just cards . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
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Short Story Review: “Daniel’s Theory About Dolls” by Stephen Graham Jones

4 of 5 stars.

Tales of horror often showcase psychopaths among us. Creepier yet is when the psychopath is a child. Who’s reading the cues in the budding adult-sized problem? And who’s making excuses for the imp?

This creepy tale follows 2 brothers, 8 years apart in age, from the time that Daniel is 5 and speaks for the first time–on the occasion of their mother’s miscarriage of Baby Janine. After a private ritual of burying a baby coffin in the woods, the parents turn all attention to Daniel, overlooking and excusing any transgressions.

The older brother narrates his lifelong misgivings of Daniel’s antisocial behavior, starting with Daniel’s nighttime digging up of the “grave” in the woods that only holds a plastic girl doll just days after the funeral . . .

The thirty years scope of this short tale is fascinating as the boys become men and estranged and reunited over the course of later life events.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Elvis Room”, “Little Monsters” and “The Ones Who Got Away”.




[Check out my other reviews here.]