Short Story Review: “It Helps If You Sing” by Ramsey Campbell

It Helps if you SingIt Helps if you Sing by Ramsey Campbell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Religious indoctrination is likened to the mindless motivations of zombies in this short horror story. The metaphor is unsubtle at best while the world-building is undeveloped, since it’s not about the story–merely the satire. A developed story with a subtle metaphor would be more effective.

Curiously, the acceptance of the religion–Christianity in this tale–also numbs the body and comes with castration by its adherents. To become a zombie, is to become less than human; to accept religion, is to become less than human. Ironically, the un-Christian practice of Obeah [voodoo] is the means to creating the intentional zombies in this tale.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read and reviewed this author’s short story, “Respects”.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Salted by Aaron Galvin

Salted (Salt series, #1)Salted by Aaron Galvin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Folklores around the world tell of transmorphic sea creatures shifting into human shape and blending in with the unaware local human populous: mermaids [merrows, sirens], selkies [silkies], and kelpies to name some more common forms. Often, a form of seduction transpires between the folk-creature and some humans. The deceptions often escalate to kidnapping, rape and slavery of either humans lured into the drowning sea or sea-folk trapped into a terrestrial existence until said time that they can escape back into the sea.

This imaginative urban fantasy creates a rich and elaborate world of sea-folk and humans in a modern setting. Selkies, seal people, are an enslaving society with a strict caste system. The form of seal one can transform into matters. With leopard seals [“lepers”] being the most dangerous. Though sea lions [“racers”] and elephant seals can be quite formidable, too. No less than 7 species of seal/selkie appear. But more importantly, most are enslaved. Others are slave owners, slavers, runaway slave catchers, and slave abolitionists. Humans are as oblivious to the horrors around them as most people are today of the ongoing existence of modern human trafficking present still in the modern US and Europe.

To be clear, through a well-developed veneer of urban fantasy and folklore this is a story about modern slavery from many nuanced vantage points. And that is brilliant. It can also be quite disturbing to see the abuse, violence and heavily suggested rape.

As the opening volume to a series, the world construct will only get richer as other transmorphic folk are seen minimally but with the suggestion that the interactions and history between the selkies and the dolphin-folk merrows, orca-folk [“orcs”], and shark-folk [“nomads”] is equally as complex once one descends beneath the ocean’s surface.

Interestingly, some liberties are taken with the folk traditions. The young adult hero of the tale is an “orc”, unbeknownst to him, living in landlocked Indiana. So, sea-folk can be oblivious to their own status–for generations. Also, it’s suggested humans can be transformed into sea-folk, ie a non-selkie can become an enslaved selkie. Finally, though not elaborated, a form of glamour magic exists around the sea-folk such that humans cannot see a half-transformed merrow as anything other than a dolphin. Whereas, other sea-folk can see every stage of the transformation from dolphin form to mer to human.

This novel and series is recommended. I received my copy of this novel directly from the author.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: “Tapestried”

i.
My back braces against westerly wind chill.
The earth, warm / moist, sinks slightly with weight.
I could plow around trees to a point on the horizon.
I feel powerfully solitary, pioneering—
Strong thin arms grip my shoulders, hold my head.
They take the bulk of gust and root in firmament.
         I want to go. “Then go.”
         I must go. “Yes.”
I lift from arms fresh / intoxicated, turn back to clarity.
         You’re going? “No, you are.”
         I want to go. “Then go.”
         I must go. “I’ll be here,”
–miles and years from where she started.

ii.
She:
         wife / mother / teacher
stands at the focal point of the yard
         among yellow grass / flowers and white feathers
embraces / absorbs the life warmth of the tapestried landscape
         lot & garden, pasture & field
         pieced together by endless fence.

iii.
The once nimble fingers delicately work the fabric
         piecing decades of memories
        stitching the generations together
                 with expanding spiraling lines.
She:
         mother / grandmother / teacher
braces the soft head / plush arms
places the child in the quilt center.

iv.
         With her back windward,
she lifts her steady arms and cupped hands.
Fingers spread slightly letting wings unfold / dry.
Delicate legs make way to widening fingertips.
         It wants to go. “Then go.”
         It must go. “I’ll be here.”
Butterfly glides leaf-like upward from yard center.
Spiraling arcs take it farther yet
         lot & garden, pasture & field
                 inseparably below
         horizon ahead.
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Original Poetry: “Daughter of Bilitis: for Del Martin (1921-2008)”

You are the defiant devotion of a half-century of modern, queer courtship
     resolving with your domestic vows.
You are the equanimity that surmounts court-forced annulment
     on your anniversary by reenacting your marriage while California
     patiently waits.
You are the tympani echoing from the bayside Pacific cathedrals since
     nineteen-fifty-five. Daughters of Bilitis beckon while mouthing, Qui vive.
You are the silent vanguard among our disaffected communities huddled
     in gay ghettoes bracing against communist brands and police
     who strip your Chicago sister-dykes.
You are the deviant teacher of variant knowledge, unbarring our doors
      and expunging our records of psychopathologies.
You are the asterisk and footnote to the legal chapter that quietly registers
     as an obvious coda.
You are the legend that, in death, no proposition can amend again.
 
 
 
[This poem was written in 2008 upon Del Martin’s passing to honor her work in promoting equality for a half-century. She and her partner were the first same-sex marriage in California before it was later nullified by the courts and voters. Del died before the proposition was overturned and before a single court upheld marriage equality.]
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson

4 of 5 stars.

A beautiful background and strong hook open this sci-fi short story when a woman comfortably awakens in her bed only to see Earth looming overhead through the skydome in her bedroom compartment. Her husband, the only other resident of the lunar biodome [and of the moon, period] isn’t in the bed with her. The casual mystery of his absence turns serious when she finds him in the rainforest dome beneath the chittering bush babies. Dead. Of a stab wound.

NASA confirms that the cameras system winked out hours earlier in an apparent glitch. Suicide? Sleepwalking murder? Or something more nefarious? Gwen keeps her head long enough to reach out the her ex she wronged years earlier. He’s the detective and mystery writer. He’s the ex-fiancee she left for his roommate–her now dead husband on a satellite with a current living human population of 1.

Gwen and Jonas have 5 days to solve the mystery before less caring governmental and business forces come up to clean up and cover up the mess . . .

The tale unspools on multiple timelines after the opening. There’s the baggage-laden history of Jonas and Gwen filtering the lens of the current time murder mystery. Jonas doesn’t sit comfortable in his equal mistrust of Gwen and of government and business interests. Nor has he forgiven his ex-roommate. The pace, tone, and voice make this a winner.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Of Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell

Of Plagues and PriestessesOf Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A clear world-building fantasy, this novel paints nearly everything and everybody without nuanced shades of gray. The trio of Priestesses [the maiden, the mother and the crone] are everything good and righteous in the world. Their white light magic can revive the dead, purify water and cast out dark monsters and magic. Residing in the capital city of the central kingdom [Valorholme], their influence lords over all other realms. They’re also comically masochistic, self-righteously insufferable and largely unlikable as they impose their will on everybody.

The opposing nation of Briarcroft is depicted as all that is evil. Curiously, the sun never shines there and nothing but briars grow there despite lying just west of the mountains bordering Valorholme. Briarcroft understandably wants to bring the sun back to their land and to be freed from dependence on the whims of self-righteous Valorholme. Their reliance on dragons and ghouls to achieve their means are less noble.

The tale borrows heavily from Greek and Biblical mythos as it introduces unstoppable heroes of inhuman proportion. This includes wholesale attributing the Heruclean slaying of the Hydra to a living hero of this novel.

The narrative prefers to jump from epic confrontation to epic confrontation without character development. Substories with merit, such as the conflict between the royals and religious orders of Valorholme, are left unfilled. Characters slip from the narrative when they should not. And disjointed scenes sit uneasily within the tale such as the one-off vampire castle. Missing from this tale is a single character that feels relatable and real, if not likable.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza

4 of 5 stars.

As robotics and artificial intelligence make huge advances, questions about the borders of humanity surface in science fiction. In this profoundly moving tale a military man merges his mind into the AI of the mech suit he pilots. He lives completely within the suit, never emerging. Does this make him more than mere man? Or less?

After a harrowing battle in which he took a lot of shrapnel, the pilot abandons his ordered post to see his little girl, Flora. It’s that familial connection that he craves–needs–more than any other. Flora doesn’t flinch upon recognizing the massive automaton stalking her path home from school. She’s familiar with the suit and the burden.

Meanwhile, the pilot can only express himself through the limited vocabulary of the mech. And memory gaps and glitches keep freezing him up and blocking his feeds . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]