Short Story Review: “Bodies and Heads” by Steve Rasnic Tem

2 of 5 stars.

This tale presents a unique form of zombie expanding the definition toward the breaking point. These “zombies” seem alien, if not Lovecraftian, compared to most forms in that they arrange their body parts disassociating from some parts as if they suffered from the very real neurological condition of Alien Limb Syndrome in which a limb [usually an arm] acts independently of the person conscious mind.

What is unclear is how these rearranged bodies are supposed to work. The rearrangement is highly sexualized with genitals playing new roles [think: penises as tongues and vaginas as monstrous mouths]. Metaphorically, the horror lies in repressed sexuality and sexual hangups. But there remains an inconsistency in the “zombie” representation with a newsreel scene depicting a zombie dismemberment in which some of these new vital parts are cleaved without ill-effect to the creature.

The tale’s akin to a fever-dream, not adding up once one wakes up.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read Tem’s “The Cabinet Child” and “The Still, Cold Air”, both of which I rated 4 of 5 stars.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned” by Edward Bryant

Sad Last Love at the Diner of the DamnedSad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned by Edward Bryant
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Graphic descriptions of rape should not be thrown around lightly. There are certainly stories where rape figures into the plot if not standing central to the entire story. When it is written about, all of the characters from the perpetrators and witnesses to the victims must feel real even in the unreal world of urban fantasy. This tale doesn’t pass the test. An analogy can be made between the extreme violation of rape and the live cannibalism of zombies, even to the extent of showing an acquaintance or relative turn zombie or rapist. Perhaps the unreal, palatable violence of fantastical zombie predation is made real and shocking by the analogy to rape. However, characters acting as caricatures and inconsistent treatment of the zombies lessens any analogy to be made here. Needless to say–spoiler alert–this tale includes graphic rape.

Martha works at the Diner in her small rural Southern Colorado town. She harbors a crush on the deputy sheriff, Bobby Mack, seemingly the only person in town [woman or man, priest or layman] not coming on to her. On the morning the zombie apocalypse becomes real for this small community, the men are surprisingly ready. Hernandez flippantly remarks that one of the 6 old women clawing at the front glass of the Diner is his mother. He then proceeds to go outside and shoot her in the head before turning the gun on the other undead. Considering that these are the first zombies he’s ever seen, that’s pretty fast adjusting to the new reality. Or he’s just that psychopathic . . .

In this small town, both the living and the undead are predators.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Anthology Review: Writers of the Future, Volume 33 edited by David Farland

Writers of the Future: Volume 33Writers of the Future: Volume 33 by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This annual competition and anthology never fails to introduce emergent voices in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. The open-to-all format leads to a pleasantly wide diversity. The anthology also always includes a short story written by L. Ron Hubbard and a couple other guests writers. These were far less impressive than the contests winners–as usual.

Five stories stood out for me, all meriting 4 of 5 stars:
“Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson is a murder mystery set on a moonbase. When the detective is the only other person on the moon, things are interesting . . .
“The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza is a profoundly moving tale about a military man that merged his thoughts and memories with that of the AI in his mech suit. The blurred lines between human and android lead to interesting developments.
“Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker is a Lovecraftian tale of a centuries-old alien envoy to Earth plopped down in the Antarctic. After centuries of sitting there, the reasons for the visit remain elusive. But this trip is different . . .
“Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery conveys the generational gap and the loss of traditional lore through the metaphor of magic. The older generations know lots of magic, but the next knows very little and it’s increasingly useless. But yet, it’s no less endearing to share . . .
“The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen depicts one man’s aging through his descent from being an able wizard to a mere illusionist living within his memories of former greatness. Pride, wisdom, and self-worth all tug at his grip on reality.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the included contest winners:
Atkins, Molly Elizabeth–“Obsidian Spire”–3 stars
Hildebrandt, Ziporah–“The Long Dizzy Down”–3 stars
Merilainen, Ville–“The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove”–3 stars
Roberts, Andrew L.–“Tears for Shülna”–3 stars
Dinjos, Walter–“The Woodcutters’ Deity”–2 stars
Hazlett, Sean–“Adramelech”–2 stars
Kagmi, C. L.–“The Drake Equation”–2 stars
Marley, Jake–“Acquisition”–2 stars
Rose, Anton–“A Glowing Heart”–2 stars

Also included are:
Hubbard, L. Ron–“The Devil’s Rescue”–3 stars
McCaffrey, Todd–“The Dragon Killer’s Daughter”–2 stars
Sawyer, Robert J.–“Gator”–2 stars

I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I previously enjoyed previous years’ Writers of the Future Volume 31 and Writers of the Future Volume 32 also edited by David Farland. Both of the previous anthologies rated 4 stars.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen

4 of 5 stars.

The heart of many humans lives gone astray is succinctly depicted in this short tale of nostalgia, pride, illusion, wisdom and self-worth. A quartet of characters embody different ratios of these elements in a beautiful metaphor for the aging process. One can embrace where one is in life while honoring one’s past self, or one can flounder in the memories of better, more able times losing the grasp of what can accomplish today.

40 years ago, Bhajan was the very talented court magician for the maharaja. Really, he was more wizard than magician, then. In this position, he uncovered an assassination plot by Ranjeet the Usurper, but he revealed it publicly, embarrassing the maharaja. Ranjeet was banished to the desert to die. Bhajan was turned out from the court.

Now, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the coronation of the maharaja, Bhajan returns to audition for a place in the festival. With age his magics have dwindled to mere illusions. But he savors these illusions as remnants of his better days and takes a drug to immerse himself in them. His illusions are not enough to invite him into the festivities.

He also thinks he’s uncovered a plot by the somehow still alive Ranjeet to finish what he attempted 40 years ago. Who would trust a drug-addled illusionist once publicly shamed? He turns to the wise maharani, wife of the maharaja, with his concerns . . .

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.]

Short Story Review: “The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove” by Ville Merilainen

3 of 5 stars.

This is a fantastical folktale in which 3 sisters journey to the world tree in order to bring Spring back in a world of endless winter. They’re guided by a parable etched in stone along the journey that tells of a brave wolf, a clever fox and a little dove that journeyed through winter to the river of the Swan King. Wolf faced the Swan King who stood in the way of the verdant fields beyond. The fox came up with a plan. And the little dove found the acorn that brought forth Spring. But not before the wolf sacrificed herself for the plan to work.

The sisters try to follow the parable as a guide while avoiding the fate of the characters within the parable. They are also armed with the knowledge that their parents died trying to do the same thing. Rose [the wolf] was trained in the ways of the sword by her mother. The narrator [the fox] was trained in the ways of magic by her father. Lily [the dove] was born during the parents attempts to thaw the world tree. They sacrificed themselves so that she might live to try again.

The world tree is protected by wolves that seek to bring down all of the trios making pilgrimage to bring about Spring.

This tale works in its form as a fantastical short story. World building is minimal and narrow-focused. Character building is reduced to the narrowly defined parameters of the parable.

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.]

Short Story Review: “Adramelech” by Sean Hazlett

2 of 5 stars.

Demon-possessions and demon-interactions [or in this tale something residing between the two] are more often related from an observer POV, perhaps by the battler of said demon [think: Exocist]. This tale opts for the potentially more Lovecraftian POV of the person possessed or enslaved when something unknown, dark and undefined takes over the narrator and creates a 200-pg journal in an ancient dead language. The book itself then has dark power, which is also Lovecraftian.

Unfortunately, the demonic book and the series of experts consulted all drop out of the narrative as the tale pulls back and lets decades elapse showing a demon-slaved human do a couple dark things to feed his demon dead orphans in exchange for his questionable gift of being able to possess another human temporarily in order to get them to do what he wants. His own body lies inert while this is going on. The body possession implications get short-changed narratively, too.

A longer form of this tale would perhaps explore a few of the issues and situations raised, along with the relationships of the people affected by the demon.

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.]

Short Story Review: “Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery

4 of 5 stars.

Family is complicated. Small towns that emulate an extended family can also be complicated. Not everyone expresses themselves well nor in a manner compatible with how others would wish to be treated. Nor are peoples’ talents and interests the same throughout the group. But it can also be those same differences that make the relationship or family or small town more interesting.

John’s dad knew quite a few magic spells. None were overly practical, but they could prove entertaining at times. Especially if he wasn’t trying so hard. His dad wasn’t known for expressing himself well or being overly nice. He was also overtly disappointed that each of his children could perform exactly 1 magic spell. One could make flowers grow. One could change the temperature by a few degrees. And one could make a quiet bubble of a few feet diameter.

Others magic families found the same things–the next generation could only master a single random spell. The second generation could do none-of-the-above.

What a beautiful metaphor for the many changes between the generations and the transition from rural America to modern urbanized America . . .

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.]