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.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Like Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry

Like Part of the FamilyLike Part of the Family by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While most detectives in such stories solve the main case at hand, not all own the case with such a deep sense of allegiance to the client. As the title implies, Sam Hunter, ex-PD and now a private dick, has a strong sense of loyalty and need to protect. Perhaps it comes with the territory–Sam’s a werewolf [No spoiler there.].

Sam’s main problem, and the reason he’s no longer on the force, is that he’ll go werewolf without regret on any molester/abuser using their power against the weak and disenfranchised. Call it evening the playing field, or better yet, reversing the tables.

The current client has put up with years of threats and abuse by the time she finds Sam. No, she didn’t report the previous black eyes and bruises. But after waking to find her ex-husband standing over her in her locked house, she’s convinced he’s out to kill her . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Signatures of the Dead” by Faith Hunter

Signatures of the Dead (Jane Yellowrock, #0.7)Signatures of the Dead by Faith Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quiet Appalachian town is rocked by the gruesome murder and partial consumption of a young family of 5. The local sheriff knows enough to know when he’s out of his league and requests the aid of a stay-at-home young mother, who’s also a genetic elemental earth witch. Her sensitivity to life, death and undeath could just provide the clues needed to stop the murders.

The witchcraft here is second to the settings and landscape, emerging organically. Molly, the earth witch, and her sisters, witches of other elements and a couple non-witch sisters, have their clear limitations to their knowledge and to their abilities.

Molly also receives aid from a Native American shapeshifter, Jane Yellowrock–the hero of a series by this author.

There are many ways a tale about witches, a shapeshifter, and a rogue pack of vampires could go very wrong. But allowing the landscape and the local culture to center the story makes this very strong.

This tale is highly recommended. It appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

Angel Catbird, Volume 1Angel Catbird, Volume 1 by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Graphic novels have evolved into sophisticated, often dark tales exploring complex psychologies and critiquing entire social systems. When the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, itself a dark and sophisticated social critique, decides to write a graphic novel, one could expect more than this pulpy, pun-filled origin story.

Artist Johnnie Christmas adequately draws this superhero landscape of were-animals and shapeshifters in the uninspired style of decades of superhero comic books. The art matches the cheesy dialogue and paper-thin plot. Every character wears their role on their sleeve.

Strig Fleedus, hero and soon-to-be superhero, is hired to complete the formula for a gene-slicer elixir. But upon completion, he has an accident while chasing his indoor cat that’s escaped outdoors. An owl gets into the mix and we get a cat-owl-human superhero . . . who seems largely unfazed by his new role.

It becomes clear that nothing deeply psychological will be explored when the female love-interest and coworker of Strig calls him out the next day. Firstly, without prompting, she announces that she’s a half-cat who can transform at will. Then, she states “It was that super-slicer you’re working on. The secret project. You spilled some on yourself, right?” So much for it being a “secret project.” Nor for any sense of reveal or “coming out.”

The true purpose of this graphic novel lies outside of the plot and panels. Many of the pages contain statistics, PSA style, about domestic cats and the dangers awaiting them outdoors. It also cites stats about the impact domestic cats have on native birds in the Americas and British Isles. The odd juxtaposition of the PSA and comic fails to elevate the conversation within the panels.

The series is not recommended.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: The Rotting Cities and Other Stories by Charles E. P. Murphy

The Rotting City and Other StoriesThe Rotting City and Other Stories by Charles E.P. Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection of four urban fantasies spans major common themes: zombies, vampires, urban legend, and dystopian apocalyptic. However, none of the tales are run-of-the-mill.

The opening novelette, “The Rotting City,” is the strongest of the bunch. The world is generations past an environmental apocalypse that sank most of the major cities of the world beneath the rising seas. The world economics and academics shifted to formerly third world countries. This is the backdrop to an archaeological excavation at Old London under the heavy eye of a xenophobic, dystopian regime. Unexpected ties to Lovecraftian lore brings this tale home. I highly recommend the tale.

“Graveyard Shift” is a forgettable vignette offering a slightly different perspective from the POV of a zombie.

“The Man Who Knew” is equal parts urban legend and supernatural ghost tale. This tale twists and turns to its surprising end.

Finally, “Down in the Cages” provides a new take on vampire/human relations. The vampire politics and mind games make for an interesting inclusion into the vampire canon. This tale is recommended.

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