Short Story Review: “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm” by Daryl Gregory

3 of 5 stars.

In a world of superheroes and supervillians, monster robots and steampunk automated men, this is the tale of a simple girl. She’s one of the few seemingly not semi-automated, nor animal-hybridized. She works on a crew welding together the next mega robot. Unfortunately for her, she lives and works in a country under the leadership of Lord Grimm who’s deemed a supervillian by the American superheroes who declare war against the small island nation every so often much to the detriment of the everyday folks who reside there.

The true theme of the tale is the civilian fallout from war. They’re the ignored pawns doing what they can to avoid being crushed in their homes by forces bigger than them. They rally around the injured and irradiated. And, try to restore a semblance of community at every peaceful opportunity.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Moom!” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

This very short vignette reads like a modern animal folk tale. A swordfish, after attacking an underwater oil pipe, earns the right to be transformed into a larger, more dangerous being. In its words–a monster.

Due to the animal POV not being overly anthropromorhphized, little in the way of plot and motivation is explained. The epilogue tag attempts to tie the tale to actual recent history events, but remains disjointed from the tale.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Bone Swans of Amandale by C. S. E. Cooney

The Bone Swans of AmandaleThe Bone Swans of Amandale by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The original Grim’s fairy tales, unlike their Americanized, Disney-ified versions, are dark and morbid tales. This novella taps right into that bizarre, macabre canon, even borrowing the known Pied Piper, to tell this tale of murdered and mutilated children, a power hungry ogress and magical races on the brink of extinction by genocide.

The hero of the tale is a morphing were-rat who’s in love with a were-swan, despite the cold, entitled royalty of the were-swans. The ogress-mayor of a nearby human village is using a legion of twenty children to hunt the were-swans and then the magic of a murdered child-turned-juniper tree to transforms the bones of the murdered swans into self-playing musical instruments.

And somehow, this convoluted premise works.

The hero-rat, his beloved swan who’s now the last of her people, a few mutilated kids that refused to play their role in the ogress’ machinations, and the rat’s friend The Pied Piper, scheme together to end the ritual of the ogress and to save the last swan.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I previously read this author’s brilliantly intricate novella The Two Paupers and the short story “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Lost Children” by Alison McBain

3 of 5 stars.

Many traditional characters from mythos and folklore, such as The Wicked Witch of the West and Maleficent, have received revisionist treatment turning their untold tale into a humanized one. Here, the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur gets a fresh telling with an altered situation.

King Minos refuses to sacrifice his favorite bull to Poseidon. His wife loves the bull even more and births twin minotaurs after “loving” the bull. The king is, as expected, angry, embarrassed, ashamed. When the female and male twins hit their teens, the king seals them in a labyrinth and forces his wife to feed them lest they starve.

Years later, the oracle sends Athenians to the Minotaurs to sacrifice a boy and girl in order to stave off a plague. Little does everyone know that the minotaurs are rather non-violent. But since the children do not emerge from the labyrinth, everyone is satisfied.

Except the plague rages. And another couple kids are sent in. Then a third set. By the time of the third pair of “sacrifices”, the queen has been stricken with plague so Theseus enters the labyrinth . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Mother by Philip Fracassi

MOTHERMOTHER by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The emotional nuances of a relationship falling apart condense first into an eeriness before solidifying into a full blown horror fest. A relationship going bad follows the illogical, meandering paths of the participants’ imaginations. First, it’s the little irritations and angers that one can barely put one’s finger on. On the flip side, as things go sour, there are the little excuses one tells oneself trying to take an optimistic stand. The contradiction is compellingly depicted here.

From the start, Howard narrates with honesty and foreboding:

I know Julie loved me once. I know it as fact, like the warmth of sunshine on my skin.

. . . We married the day after graduation, exchanging vows in the campus church . . . All of our friends attended. It is a day I will never forget, because it was the happiest we ever were. The happiest we would ever be.

The demise of the marriage of Howard and Julie tilts and careens recklessly from silent truce to grating bitterness. Howard’s obvious obliviousness to his own antiquated sexism erodes Julie’s respect for him despite his successful career. Her own lack of success fuels her insecurities.

Despite the clear breakdown, the couple decide to have a baby in an effort to mend the family. Because that never goes wrong . . .

Not that this is an “American Beauty” style domestic horror. It’s not, despite Howard’s affair. No, when the horror comes, it’s Lovecraftian or Kafkaesque in nature. Transformative, irreversible horror.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’d previously read his excellent horror novella, Altar.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross

Dog CountryDog Country by Malcolm F. Cross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And what’s a person who’s been only really trained for war do after being forcibly taken out of the war? This question is an escalation of the issues raised by the transition of a soldier to civilian life. Conflict arises as the soldier is underprepared for the transition, and the civilians fail to understand the POV of the soldier. This sci-fi tale grasps this scenario and runs with it.

By the 22nd Century, genetically engineered, clone soldiers that contain a blend dog and human DNA are made for war. Until they are freed in a half-assed attempt to mainstream the young pups. Despite the efforts of many adoption parents, most of the dogs end up back in the military with whole divisions populated by gen-mods.

Edane, a gen-mod dog, survives the Tajik War but not on his own terms. He lost an arm and was sent home. He’s unsettled with how it all played out and struggles to come to terms with his sense of not belonging in civilian life. His adoptive mothers and his girlfriend likewise fail to see his POV. Edane finds an almost satisfactory answer in the semi-pro Military Simulation Leagues. And then another war comes along . . .

This novel brilliantly captures both the failed communication and understanding between the military and civilian POVs and a strikingly realistic mindset of a gen-mod dog-human struggling to read social cues and emotions that he wasn’t raised to read.

Secondarily, it poses an interesting scenario with a crowd-fund revolution hiring a mercenary army to overthrow a dictatorship.

Slowing the flow of the novel is the time-jumping between the Tajik War and later points. Also, the similarity of names to denote the clone aspect of the gen-mods obfuscates the individuality necessary to pull off this multiple POV novel. Overall, this novel is very good and recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “A Shot of Salt Water” by Lisa L. Hannett

2 of 5 stars.

Rich folklore emerges from coastal villages in fishing cultures from selkies to mer with creatures with one foot in the sea and another on land.

This quizzical tale bucks most of the lore to redefine mermaids as a female-dominated fishing culture of mixed ancestry, both human and what would traditionally be considered as mer. The ocean-born members of society are stolen/kidnapped from the unnamed gilled people.

The strengths of the tale are in the flipping of gender expectations within the culture as the men are waiting for the women to come home from sea, but also have to worry about infidelity. Also, the exuberance of music is beautifully described.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Female Factory”, “Forever, Miss Tapekwa County”, and “In Syllables of Elder Seas”.

 

 

 

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