Short Story Review: “Eat Me” by Robert R. McCammon

3 of 5 stars.

While this short tale centers on zombies, it’s less a zombie tale and more an allegory. About love. Especially about finding love in the later stages of life. And in that, it’s sweet. If not a little gory.

Jim is a zombie. But then again, everybody is a zombie these days. But Jim is a particularly lonely zombie. In his prime, that would be when he was still living, he had his work to keep him feeling fulfilled and set to a comforting routine. But in death, the busywork doesn’t even matter. Nor does his timeliness. So Jim is left to his thoughts and he thinks about the one thing that he thinks matters–love. And he wanders the streets mindless of where he’s going, as he dwells on the elusive subject of love.

All around him, Jim sees other zombies shuffling along in their various states of decay looking all the worse for it. None look particularly happy; they all seem lonely. He stumbles upon a nightclub with its harsh music and skeletons grinding up against each other in some sort of bizarre courting ritual. The entire scene is so far from his comfortable Brahms music in his calm house. In one corner he sees a beautiful, well she would have been beautiful in her prime before she lost her nose and a few fingers . . ., he sees a beautiful female who also looks uncomfortable being in the nigthclub . . .

This sweet tale shows that it’s never too late to find love and to accept love. It’s never too late to change one’s habits. And when one finds love, to allow it to completely consume you. Yes, consume, because that’s what zombies do. And it’s beautiful.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Deep End” which I highly liked.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar

4 of 5 stars.

This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.

Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.

Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .

The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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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: “Kabu Kabu” by Nnedi Okorafor and Alan Dean Foster

2 of 5 stars.

The landscape of Chicago gets imbued with specters of the Nigerian Igbo culture in this short story. Not unlike Jarmusch’s Night on Earth which shows the flavor of five major world cities from the backseat of taxis, this tale veers through the narrative from the backseat of an illegal cab in Chicago which bears an uncanny resemblance to a Nigerian kabu kabu, ie car for hire.

Ngozi’s hesitance to fly to Nigeria for her sister’s wedding rises to the top as she confronts both her lack of knowledge and yet her pride in her native culture. She doesn’t speak the language nor recognize much of the cultural iconography. The kabu kabu, in return, gives her more of a ride and lesson than she originally planned when it stops to pick up 3 other passengers much to her discomfort. In short order, she’s missed her flight at O’Hare and been robbed of her credit cards and cell phone. Allegorically, she’s stripped of her western safety net.

Her journey bounces from a confused Chicago landscape through otherworldly highways on her fantastical trek to the land of her parents.

This tale would be strengthened by a coherent sense of Chicago’s landscape rather than naming landmarks and streets that don’t pertain to any sensible trip to the airport. Also, the three passengers–who they are or what they represent–could also be made more clear. The second is barely human, if at all, and the third is drenched in human blood. Some sort of explanation is in order.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Magical Negro” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

Certain tropes linger beyond their expiration date. This is certainly true of white-washed fantasy and sci-fi, and I do mean racially white. While many tales have moved on to incorporate a diversity of characters, others make do with token characters, such as the kindly “magical negro” that acts as a selfless mentor. What these token characters often lack is depth and family.

This very short tale leans into allegorical cliche fantasies, drawing humor from breaking the trope. The heroic male with long blond flowing hair thinks heroic thoughts of his country and cause and of his fairest of fair [read: whitest of white] wife back home and his innocent daughter named . . . Chastity. The noble hero, bejeweled sword in hand, is backed onto a cliff by the blackest of black evil shadow beasts. The hero also has a jeweled talisman around his neck which he doesn’t know how to use.

When everything looks its bleakest, a magical negro appears between the hero and evil shadow. Sacrificing his own safety, the magical negro quickly tells the hero how to activate the amulet [listen to your heart] and begs him to save himself. And then the shadow pierces and fatally wounds the magical negro . . .

HOLD. UP. No way, no how is the magical negro offering his last moments–as if he doesn’t have his own family–to save a stupid white hero that got himself into this mess . . . and the story quickly gets rewritten.

The lack of depth in this vignette reflects the general lack of depth in the cliched tales it lampoons. But, it also fails to tell a tale of its own beyond the breaking of the trope.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Committee” by Margarita Tenser

2 of 5 stars.

Mankind has been trying to explain the larger happenings and rules of the cosmos for as long as kids have jumped at the ground-rumbling roll of thunder. This has led to a diverse array of fantastical mythologies for how everything came to be and what it all means. Sometimes, the scientific explanations proffered seem just as fantastical. The conundrum of trying to rectify quantum physics with cosmic physics leads to some very interesting, if not immediately graspable theories and hypotheses.

This short humor piece implies that the rules were decided by committee, and thus the lack of sense and cohesion. The committee is comprised of allegorical gods and goddesses representing everything from Quarks to Combustion. The dysfunctional meeting strays deeper off-topic during their world-building as they contemplate mass and distance for the cosmos and the lowly quark, and how to initiate creation itself. Combustion unpopularly suggests a Big Bang . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “I Come From Future” by Darine Hotait

2 of 5 stars.

Existentialism emerged from French art and philosophy melding into a disassociative POV. A narrator may or may not be aware of the socio-cultural constraints which dictate one’s worldview.

This tale’s narrator, Ob short for “object”, knows that his world, Future, is very limited in scope and that other realities exist beyond the range of Future. What Ob cannot be sure of is whether he is awake or dreaming or lucid. But Ob’s confident that there are other ways and mindsets, or at the very least, past ones.

In an allegorical bent, all Obs [as every object is an Ob] have 3 cartons. One for one’s memories, one for current thoughts [These are highly regulated.], and one for goals [These are forbidden.]. All Obs, despite potential immortality, receive precisely timed terminations at which time the contents of Carton 1, the memories, are destroyed. Except that Ob remembers some things from before . . . or Ob is dreaming it . . .

This tale appears in the magazine Blindspot: Testing Reality, Issue #1 by the founders of Angle Mort. Their mission is to translate French science fiction into English to bridge the American and French science fiction communities. I received my copy of this issue directly from one of the editors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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