Short Story Review: “Blossom” by Chan McConnell

3 of 5 stars.

Despite the innocuous title, this vignette is about violence–horrible, horrible violence. A parallel is drawn. A zombie is a human that has become so inhuman as to destroy and consume that of another human. A rapist is a human that has become so inhuman as to destroy and consume that of another human . . .

When your income hit the high six figures there was no such animal as date rape.

Based on the amount of money a privileged and empowered man spent over dinner, he assumed his right to have sex with his date. He doesn’t ask permission or create safe words. He destroys her clothes cutting them off. Ties her up to be kinky and puts a mask on her that suffocates her. Everything could have been consensual if he had only asked or cared.

Panting, he lumbered immediately to the bathroom. When he returned, Amelia had not changed position, and he finally noticed she was no longer breathing.

Sometimes it went down that way, he thought. The price of true passion, however aberrant. But she was still moist and poised at the ready, so he opted to have one more go.

The metaphor is completed in the second half of the vignette. Perhaps a bit heavy handedly, but the point is made. There’s not enough plot for a short story here, but that’s not the purpose. Tables turn quickly, if not misogynistically. While she’s eating through the leather mask and his face with one orifice, another orifice seems to have grown teeth and castrated the rich rapist . . .

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

3 of 5 stars.

When the purest substance on earth, unicorn horn, is used to make a dildo, every demon for millennia wants to get their . . . hands . . . on it.

Two demon brothel madams battle over NYC turf. Each would like to add the aforementioned rumored item to their arsenal and jump into action when it hits Chinatown. The scrap up comes down to a dead Jimmy Wong, an ambitious double-crossing sorceress, and a lesbian store owner of rare books.

The tale comes across plenty noir, but more Lovecraft than detective. There’s much world-building for a short story, stretching this tale to the extremes with what’s left unexplained.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Cripple and Starfish”–4 stars
     “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur”–3 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge”–2 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Saga, Volume 7 by Brain K. Vaughan [w/ Fiona Staples]

Saga, Vol. 7Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Saga series consistently delivers a nuanced tale spanning a multitude of cultures, ideologies, personal motivations, and sexualities. Led by the brilliant artwork by Fiona Staples and the clever and canny writing of Brian K Vaughan, this epic tale follows the star-crossed lovers, their multi-racial lovechild, their few allies, and their many enemies across years and light years and they hop from star system to star system in an effort to get away from bounty hunters and the war that divides their respective races.

This installment sees much of the cast including the protagonists stuck on a comet embroiled in an endless civil war. Religious dogma takes center stage as multiple analogies to Middle Eastern conflicts play out across the page. The cultures of the hero couple also have hands in the civil war as the comet is fuel-rich, and to the winners go the spoils.

Most clear, is that there can be no winners in such a deeply embedded war. This issue is about loss and its many facets. There is loss of innocence. Loss of potential. Loss of loved ones. And even genocide.

This entire series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read:
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Hell Dancer by Wol-vriey

Hell DancerHell Dancer by Wol-vriey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This novel is thinly plotted Torture Porn. All scenes involve either torture/ graphic murder, graphic sex of various kinky varieties, urination, defecation or a combination of any and all of these.

Most of the characters manage to be porn stars or serial killers, all of whom have sexually degrading episodes from their past that get used to fill the pages between almost plot-relevant scenes of equally degrading torture porn. The few other characters are not left likable either in that they have no backstory or development or no redeeming qualities. One’s meant to like the police officer who apparently thinks it was okay to punish her husband for masturbating by anally raping him with a nightstick in a non-consensual way. This, described graphically multiplied by all scenes of the book = Hell Dancer.

Lovecraftian elements are window dressing, ultimately not building any true sense of a multi-dimensional world of horror.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Xan & Ink by Zak Zyz

Xan and InkXan and Ink by Zak Zyz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This highly imaginative fantasy novel develops in unexpected ways taking what seems to be a fairly typical quest by a ragtag quartet and wending the plot into depths from which there’s possibly no return. Both a strength and weakness to the novel is the original quest, saving the kingdom from invading monstrous arthropods, being so sidelined that resolution sits off the horizon. One can only assume that there are planned sequels. Or the entire quest was a red herring, which might yet be the case even with subsequent chapters in this saga.

The original quartet [mage and warrior brothers, a female slave, and warrior-priest religious zealot] are turned out of a kingdom’s prison to regain honor by clearing the land of a growing menace. Their back stories are left under-explored with the exception of the slave. Their quest sends them in the direction of the deadly valley of insects whence the scourge emerged. They also find themselves in areas influenced by two separate mysterious but powerful people: Xan the ranger and Ink the dark wizard. Between these two influences, the quartet ricochet pulling them further from their original quest.

These two titular characters, Xan and Ink, become the focus of the novel, if not the main characters. Again, this calls into question whether the quartet was also a red herring. Yet, these two characters remain enigmatic despite becoming focal. Their motives and histories never become clear to the page.

The great pleasure of the book is in rich, organic descriptions that verge on poetic.

Meanwhile, the depth of detail in erotic scenes worthy of smut zines is not for the prudish. Nor are they critical to the plot.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Record of a Growth” by Fanny Charrasse

3 of 5 stars.

Paranoia taints one’s view of the world. It can lead to second-guessing what one experiences and obsessing over the details. Schizophrenic paranoia takes that to another level with the entire baseline for reality getting reset.

This tale lies along the paranoia spectrum as at first Phil is only slightly annoyed by his girlfriend’s obsession with a mole on her belly that she thinks is growing. She wants him to measure it, but he mockingly measures a red stain on the wall that he claims to be worried about.

A few days later, the stain on the wall catches Phil’s attention–it does indeed look bigger, much bigger. Then, he starts to notice red stains everywhere. More each day . . .

While considered sci-fi by the author and publisher, I’d classify this tale as absurdism or horror-lite. There are no social context clues as to the framework of society merely a close-up on Phil’s world. Sci-fi usually hints at the larger state of the world or society.

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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Short Story Review: “Mother Black Cap’s Revenge” by George F.

4 of 5 stars.

Hearing and accepting that Truth is Stranger Than Fiction is one thing–experiencing it as only Camden, London can dish it is a whole different matter. My own experience with Camden came in the years before the internet and cellular telephones. Homosexuality was still unprotected in most places, and gay marriage existed nowhere. Camden in London, The Village in NYC, Boystown [Lakeview] in Chicago, Montrose in Houston–these were refuges for young and old disaffected queer. Many people had been disowned by family. Suicides were endemic.

I was a teenaged queer wisp from rural Illinois/Iowa who’d never even been on a plane. My first flight was solo to London, and that night I was in Camden. And I was home. Amid street protests and purple-haired goddesses in layers of black gossamer. A Middle-Eastern dwarf on a crate spouting the most impressive chain of English swear words all hyphenated together while in a fight with an Afro-Caribbean giant, arms flapping like pennants, taunting the shorter man. I was no longer the freak among normals.

This tale laments the gentrification trend shuttering the great bohemian establishments of yesteryear. When a long time pub-refuge is chained up, a group of queer punk radicals take over the building against the objections of the owners to throw one last endless party:

Tattoos and bare flesh, wild eye make-up and hair extensions, clean-cut twinks and hairy bears, butch femmes and mohawked crusties–a riot of sexualities and modifications and bizarre, wondrous in-betweens and ambiguities. Male and female collapse into one another and back out the other side. The dance-floor is packed, heaving with bodies grinding and bouncing against one another in a sweaty, amorphous confusion, or effortlessly whirling around like protons and electrons blasted free from the bonds of physics.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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