Anthology Review: Superheroes edited by Rich Horton

SuperheroesSuperheroes by Rich Horton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superheroes have been enjoying a century of popularity, building on their predecessors the folk heroes, heroes of tall tales, and mythic heroes. The most successful of heroes are the ones that despite their uber-human status, grapple with their humanity and oh-so-human weaknesses. They also exemplify the potential contradiction between pubic and private personae.

This enjoyable anthology brings together 16 tales of larger-than-life heroes dealing with common themes: family, relationships, and aging. My favorite tale was Matthew Johnson’s “Heroic Measures” meriting 5 stars. This heart-stirring/heart-breaking tale shows familiar, unnamed characters–with a very strong resemblance to Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthur–grappling with the painful sorrow of old age. The very nature of heroism and bravery earns a new definition in this tale.

My honorable mentions, each with 4 stars, are:
“Super. Family.” by Ian Donald Keeling. Sparring with one’s supervillain nemesis may make the papers, but raising teens is the real struggle . . .
Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi. The road to recovery is difficult and unappeciated. But it’s also necessary for this reformed supervillain just trying to do right by his loved ones.
Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar. Culture and politics clash when multinational superheroes try to do right by “the people.”

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the tales. Also included are:
Beagle, Peter S.–“Dirae”–3 stars
Beyer, Kat–“The Strange Desserts of Professor Natalie Doom”–3 stars
Bobet, Leah–“Wild Card”–3 stars
Gregory, Daryl–“The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm”–3 stars
Kelly, James Patrick–“The Biggest”–3 stars
Marcade, Jei D.–“Superhero Girl”–3 stars
Ronald, Margaret–“Sunlight Society”–3 stars
Schutz, Aaron–“Dr. Death vs. the Vampire”–3 stars
Emshwiller, Carol–“Grandma”–2 stars
Fortin, Elana–“The Los Angeles Women’s Auxiliary Superhero League”–2 stars
Link, Kelly–“Secret Identity”–2 stars
McDonald, Ian–“Tonight We Fly”–2 stars

I’ve previously reviewed a couple anthologies edited by Rich Horton:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015–4 stars
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi

4 of 5 stars.

Redemption and rehabilitation aren’t uncommon themes in literature. Here, a man struggles to stay true to his word, a word he’s broken before to those he loves.

Marshall was born with hereditary superpowers. But his single mother has never revealed the identity of his absentee father. So, Marshall grows up with a mental list of potential candidates. But growing up is hard, and Marshall finds himself surrounded by bad influences and users. He becomes a supervillain named Downfall in a gang of supervillains.

For the sake of his wife, Allison, he quits the gang and moniker and promises to lead an upstanding life. A bad decision, and relapse, finds Marshall busted in a bank robbery with his old gang and tossed in prison for 5 years. It’s 2 years before his wife even visits. But he vows to steer straight and is released on good behavior after a few more years.

Life on parole isn’t easy. Especially when one particularly beloved superhero, The Imperial, has made it his personal mission to reveal Marshall’s true identity wherever Marshall and Allison try to hang their hat. They can’t put down roots, or relax–they cannot start a family in circumstances like this. So, when The Imperial turns up murdered, it’s awfully ironic the feds want Marshall’s help to find the perpetrator. Or, is it?

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Los Angeles Women’s Auxiliary Superhero League” by Elana Fortin

2 of 5 stars.

This tale sees adults with emerging superpowers–just not necessarily very useful ones. Camille learns of her ability to disappear when see wishes to get out of the way or not be noticed during a red carpet event. Only, her ensuing disappearing act isn’t just metaphoric. Later, she learns that her two friends had previously learned of their superpowers. Together, they decide to band together for the greater good. End of story. ??

It reads as a prelude to a story that’s not forthcoming. This would be okay if the emphasis was on the characters and not the circumstances. What’s included is not enough for story or even tale status. It’s a story pitch, or the kernel to something that could be.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Grandma” by Carol Emshwiller

2 of 5 stars.

Like Matthew Johnson’s excellent “Heroic Measures”, this tale depicts a former superhero succumbing to old age as they interact with a loved one. In this case, the superhero was of the Wonder Woman or Supergirl variety. Her end-of-life sees her living a secluded life with her youngest granddaughter who narrates the tale.

Little insight is given into the grandma’s motivations beyond “not wanting to be a bother” as her abilities become increasingly limited. The granddaughter is a compromised POV, as she clearly feels inadequate carrying the family mantle and yet aspires for some sort of greater life despite an overall lack of super-talent.

The narrator can neither face the truth, her grandmother’s legacy, nor the public.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle

DiraeDirae by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The myth of The Furies [“Dirae” in Greek] gets revamped for the modern era in this short story where folklore meets urban fantasy for a new type of urban legend. The Furies of myth were the vengeful spirits of wronged women. They could drive offending men to death or madness.

In this tale the narrator is the newly formed Fury who slowly builds into a recognizable consciousness as she finds her form and pieces together accumulations of experience and memory. Her role as a defender/protector that doesn’t seem quite biological, though trending that way, is also reminiscent of golems of Jewish folklore.

She doesn’t feel conflicted about her justice against those that would harm children and women. But she does long to understand her own origin and purpose. Some local police that catch repeated sight of her at crime scenes would like to know the same thing, albeit for different reasons.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’d previously read this author’s “Salt Wine”.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Strange Medicine by Mike Russell

Strange MedicineStrange Medicine by Mike Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the author’s sophomore collection, following the highly enjoyable and equally absurdist Nothing Is Strange. Like its predecessor, “[t]his collection of absurdist vignettes follows in the footsteps of James Thurber, Bohumil Hrabal, and Donald Barthelme in offering social commentary on the modern human condition while riding the line between allegory and surrealism.”

If anything, this collection is tighter in its voice and subject matter. It’s equal parts “Man vs the Universe” and “Relationships between People.” Indeed, one vignette is titled “Dr. Dennis and the Universe” which contains perhaps the most quotable one-line of the entire collection with the thrice-repeated:

Sometimes the suffering of one individual is so great that it renders unjustifiable any purpose that the universe could possibly have.

Grief has never been better summarized.

Another tale seems to poignantly comment on today’s current American political mantra:

” . . . one has to adjust one’s beliefs if they are contradicted by evidence presented, doesn’t one?”

“No,” the Professor said, “one does not. I will never have to adjust my beliefs because my beliefs are correct. If evidence is ever presented that appears to contradict my beliefs, I can assure you that it will be the evidence that is at fault and not my beliefs.”

[from “Brain”]

My favorite tale was the allegorical, heart-warming/heart-breaking “Seventy-Two Bricks.” An engaged couple, Geoffrey and Tiffany, come across a seemingly misplaced bridge constructed of 72 bricks. Tiffany’s perplexed, but Geoffrey quickly finds two items laying at opposite ends of the bridge. He finds comfort in figuring out a connection between the disparate objects. Later that day, elsewhere, they find an identical bridge, and again two items at either end. Geoffrey notes the categorical connection, while Tiffany finds their initials right where she’d etched them into the first bridge.

Weeks later, the couple find a wall constructed of 72 bricks. Two items lie separated by the wall. And most curiously, the couple’s initials are etched into one of the bricks. Geoffrey despairs at not being able to determine the categorical connection between the 2 items and confesses that he has seen said bridges and walls his entire life. The bridges always cheer him, while the walls depress him. Not wanting to see her beloved despairing, Tiffany sets herself to the task of finding a categorical connection between the objects. When she does so, the wall transforms . . .

This collection is recommended. I received my copy of the collection directly from Strange Books through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Strange Desserts of Professor Natalie Doom” by Kat Beyer

3 of 5 stars.

This quizzical tale follows the precocious experiments of the title character who as a young girl caused mayhem in her father’s mad scientist laboratory. Scientific curiosity leads her down a path of experimenting on herself and her fellow classmates, and dabbling with and manipulating anything she can until she’s banished from the lab.

Gender expectations emerge in the parental roles and the allowances made for the daughter. The mother limits her own experimenting to cooking. The daughter, banished from the lab, starts to apply her mad scientist tendencies to food while her mother turns a blind eye. Best not to think about a brownie with a heartbeat . . .

Eventually, the tale shows what became of the daughter [HINT: she’s a professor in the title] and how she challenges the limited expectations of her gender and the dearth of women in science.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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