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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Novel Review: Jen Air: The Little Queen by John Coutelier

Jen Air: The Little QueenJen Air: The Little Queen by J. Coutelier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This urban fantasy [with an emphasis on the supernatural fantastic] stands alone though it’s one of a series. Also, the title is a misnomer. Jen Air is but one half of a young adult, gal-pal duo. She gets less face time than her partner Kaya Cade, though she’s better developed. Kaya Cade, like most of the characters in the book, feels like a caricature. And despite the punctuation of the title, the little queen is a different character all together.

Kaya and Jen have a narratively muddled history of friendship and later non-friendship toward each other. But supernatural circumstances perhaps best described as killer faeries draw the two together. Jen brings the techie brains and Kaya brings spunk and little else as they try to unravel a scientifically dastardly plot involving lab-grown fae.

The best backstory is given to Jen Air, but not the narrative space to lean into that strength. Perhaps through the series, Jen’s own mysterious past gets explored. The best scenes are given to Kaya right at the beginning of Chapter 1, the opening lines of which should have opened the book to start it out on the right tone:

Kaya Cade didn’t believe in fate or destiny or in any form of confectionary with messages printed on, and yet some things she knew were just inevitable. It was just down to who she was, who her parents were, her environment–some combination of all those things meant she really had no choice in the decisions she made and so there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent her punching that smug idiot in the face and ending up in the back of a police car. Her only regret about it was that she couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Unfortunately, not 1 but 2 prologues are offered before this catchy hook. Neither prologue earns its keep. Aside from some questionable editorial choices to the plotting and dialogue, my copy carried a fair number of malaprops, missing words, and homophonic substitutions which ultimately distract from the fantasy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Original Poetry: A Song for My Grandmother

Two trumpeters standing tall . . .
From deep within, two trumpeters,
like a pipe organ warming up,
causing shivers and glassy eyes . . .
(It’s an anthem?)
Billows of fabric, flags, circle slowly.
Two trumpeters standing tall
announce
from deep within, an anthem;
and flags, mere billows of fabric,
grandiose flags arc upstroke skyward
in a burst of white doves on a blue sky
causing shivers and glassy eyes.
The crowd, two trumpeters,
a field of uniforms . . .

I am alone
on a high box in white spotlight—
The Moon (Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding).
I am alone and not seeing the crowd
in the blackness; voyeurs watching
me sing of death and longing.
Blue hair, white face, and painted brown
lips, hands clutching (bowing) an upright double-bass.
I am singing what he knew,
of what I’ve yet to know,
of what she knows; and I am alone.

She, my grandmother, straddling her cello,
bows the exhaustion, the longing;
with a trembling upstroke,
does not see the crowd in the blackness
anticipating.

The white doves, anticipating,
are waiting for their high box to open.

Trembling, she claims the microphone.
(It is an anthem.) From beyond
her girth-protected pharynx,
from deep within, like a pipe organ
warming up, she sings
of white doves in a field of blue.

She, the moon,
with wild brown hair and gypsy eyes,
has always sung through the blackness.
Her bone white in a blue sky
sees the anticipating crowds
from her high box on the upstroke.
She announces.

With billows of fabric trembling,
the white doves upstroke
toward a knowing moon.

Two trumpeters announce an anthem.

She, at the microphone, anticipates
the crowd and sings.
I am alone (but am I brave?)

White hair and a blue dress
are laid out on billowing fabric.
The bows are silent.
The brown earth lip-trembles
like a lover anticipating.
She, my grandmother,
does not see the brave crowd
in blackness singing,
causing shivers and glassy eyes.

The moon knows of longing
and sings from deep within.
It’s an anthem “of the brave,”
that she, at the microphone, sings.

He knew the moon.

I have yet to know the doves
that two trumpeters announce.
 
 
 
 
 
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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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Novel Review: World-Mart by Leigh M. Lane

World-MartWorld-Mart by Leigh M. Lane
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An interesting take on a possible dystopian future akin to that of Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 sees a world with climate change run amok, natural resources spent, and a near history of pandemic. An oligarchy, awkwardly dubbed The Corporate, maintains a severe caste system with its own easily discernible untouchables known as “deviants.” Between these 2 social layers lie 2 others: the Corps [of lower and middle managers in a world of bureaucracy] and the Mart [of lower tiers of white collar workers].

The tale is filtered through the lens of one nuclear family struggling to maintain their position at the bottom of the Corps tier. Mother Virginia maintains the homestead while also holding a job. Father George reviews case files without critically questioning anything. Teenaged daughter Shelley rides the line between dutiful daughter and curious, rebellious teen. And little Kurt has all the naivety of a typical privileged 7-y.o. Their world is rattled when Deviants execute a limited biological attack on the Humans [non-Deviants] in which a released virus turns the afflicted Deviant.

The premise is interesting. The execution is clunky at best. The world and its history fails to reveal itself organically, but rather relies on info-dumps worthy of droning history books. The characters and their motivations remain flat, and yet rushed. The entire book reads as the idea for a story, rather than as a story itself.

Also working against the story is the inconsistent narration. Most scenes offer the 3rd person POV of one member of the core family followed by a scene from another. Small scenes that couldn’t be witnessed by one of the 4 family members are then given to quick throw-away characters without establishing these one-time voices. Also awkward are scenes from Shelley’s POV. In conversation, she calls her parents Mom and Dad, but in narration from her POV, her parents are called their given names. There are also scenes that re-introduce characters seemingly for the first time who’ve already been introduced and vetted chapters earlier.

This title is meant to open a trilogy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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