Anthology Review: Echoes of the Soul by Daniela Alibrandi

ECHOES OF THE SOUL: Short Novels, Poems and ThoughtsECHOES OF THE SOUL: Short Novels, Poems and Thoughts by Daniela Alibrandi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection of poems, thoughts, modern fables and vignettes is translated to English from the original Italian. It felt translated in its stilted prose verging on romanticized abstract cliche. The fables, too, felt un-nuanced and heavy-handed with a goal in mind but stunted development. One could wonder what has been lost in the translation process.

No particular poem or tale stood out as better or worse than the rest. One did heavily push into speculative fiction territory with its bleak image of a future society completely divorced from its past and elderly citizens. Another, veered toward folktale centering on an Italian equivalent of Santa Claus, the Befana. This diversity of genres adds flavor to the mix.

My favorite moments were mere couple-line descriptions that had something new to offer:

[from “The Kiss of Old People”]
Those two were still seeking something from each other, worth waiting for. Perhaps there is always something that lovers can receive, even if it is the tacit and intimate promise of dying together.

[from “The Reunion”]
. . . memories were bursting from the fog in which they seemed to have dissolved.

[from “Those Four Minutes”]
He opened the bathroom, as bare as the rest of the house, with only a razor and a toothbrush left on the edge of the sink. It was an environment without a story.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Review: “Running Shoes” by Ken Liu

1 of 5 stars.

Several serious global issues are rolled into one overly simplified fable lacking any nuance. Nicely, it’s very short.

Giang is a 14 y.o. laborer in a Vietnamese shoe factory. Due to a workplace accident, her father is too injured to work. Her mother works long hours to pay the father’s medical bills. Giang’s wages pay for food, housing and her brother’s schooling.

As she falls behind, Giang is punished with laps [clearly not while wearing the expensive running shoes that she makes]. As soon as she gets back to her station, she’s is fatally wounded and her consciousness goes into a pair of shoes and Giang-the-shoes is shipped to Boston where she is Bobby’s Christmas gift. A year later, Bobby gets new shoes since Giang-shoes have started to weather. He knots the laces and tosses the shoes up over an electric line. Because consumerism.

Issues mentioned: child labor, over-long workday hours, workplace safety, gender inequity in education, American consumerism and waste. All of these are serious issues that would merit deeper treatment.

“Running Shoes” appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in SQ Mag, Issue 16, September 2014. I have previously reviewed Liu’s “The Long Haul: From the Annuls of Transportation, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009″.
 
 
 
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Review: “Combustion Hour” by Yoon Ha Lee

3 of 5 stars.

This allegorical tale paints a bizarre, if not surreal, picture of responsibilities, actions and consequences in the face of disaster. By working within the theater of the absurd, fables can lessen the accusatory nature of the moral, like sugar for bitter medicine. However, this tale is not made easy with its shifting dimensions and construction and the shifting second person narration that fails to incorporate the you in any meaningful position since it wavers from the hero character to that of his cautious crew and back again.

The world of this tale is a puppet world of cloth in two dimensions, and it’s the shadow world of those puppets. It’s the light that creates the shadows of being and the absence of light that cancels out the beings with lack of contrast. It’s also the fire that initiates the light and the fire that destroys the cloth-&-paper of the puppets. The tale reads as a trippy prose poem, but loses strength with its loose definitions therein.

The lights are dimming on the world, whether by fault or neglect. The queen with her scepter as a symbol of power sends the Knight of Pyres on a quest for the Jewel of Mirrors held by the philosopher-king to the east. [Oddly, the jewel is a book. But it is all smoke and mirrors in that it doesn’t matter.] Before the philosopher-king submits, he challenges the knight in his belief that the knight has no heart: Heart isn’t what you have. It’s what you do. The jewel/book and the eastern subjects are brought back to the queen who disposes of the book and reveals her real plan for the subjects. The knight, considering his heart, opts not to blindly follow orders, but to take action . . .

“Combustion Hour” appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Tor.com, June 18, 2014. I’ve previously reviewed Lee’s “Wine”.
 
 
 
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Review: “The Scrivener” by Eleanor Arnason

4 of 5 stars.

Unabashedly updated meets folktale in this delightful, allegorical yarn. Halfway between helplessly idyllic and the big modern cities, lies a village with a scrivener who wished to be a storyteller. He’s a single father with 3 [naturally!] daughters: Ima [Imagination], Orna [Ornamentation], and Plot. His desire is for them to now be storytellers in his stead. They are less inclined, but aim to please their father. They each write a pathetic tale and then head to the elephantine, chain-smoking reviewer in town who dismisses their talents predictably [Respectively: All imagination with nothing to rein it in. Beautiful words choices but no syntactic sense. Driving action but zero development of character or mood.] She, the reviewer, recommends they visit the witch who resides deep in the dark woods aside the village.

Ima goes first. Her imagination has her terrified of the woods come dark. Luckily, she is found by a kindly woodsman who takes care of his mother. Ima is invited to spend the night in their cabin. That night, Ima discovers that they are werewolves, but they mean her no harm. The woodsman helps her find her way back out of he woods.

Orna goes second. She immediately discovers a nest of female forest spirits and spends weeks in a drunken orgy:

She had never experienced anything like this before. Of course it overwhelmed her. She dove into it like a kingfisher into the river and brought up her first real orgasm like a struggling, silver fish.

When the dryads start to hibernate for the winter, Orna returns home.

Plot goes third, right at the start of winter. She finds the elephantine witch efficiently and stays the winter to apprentice . . .

Pleasantly, the fable does have a moral or two. The lesser one being: story reviewers are siblings to evil witches–noted. The tale did not go where expected.

“The Scrivener” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Subterranean, Winter 2014.
 
 
 
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Review: “Lava” by Piers Anthony

1 of 5 stars.

In all blurbs about this anthology, Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, Piers Anthony and his story are lauded as the anchor. However, this is not a short story it is a exceedingly short [thankfully] ridiculous fable without a moral. But fable’s need a moral to be a fable so I’m not sure what that makes this piece except lacking. It’s also elitist, racist and sexist, but more on that later.

Jarvis is bored and lonely as his cruise ship is forced to dock on a quiet, tiny Polynesian island due to a hurricane that apparently does not come near the island. At an overlook to the island’s dormant but not extinct volcano, Jarvis dwells on his misery until he hears voices and a naked beautiful woman appears. She is Lava, the spirit of the volcano, ie she’s not flesh-and-blood real. But he wants to have sex with her, because [like a sex doll] she can be whatever he wants. In return, he must give her tokens of appreciation.

By the second day, Jarvis is in love with Lava, but seriously considers his situation for whole minutes before deciding that its ok that they cannot have flesh-and-blood children together, because they can just raise local islander children as their own. He gives Lava a token, a cheap plastic, lone cuff-link, but that’s good enough because its just a token. That’s all sex dolls / volcano spirits / women really need and he really wants to have sex with her. She’ll do that for a token, naturally.

But then they hear terrible news: since tourism has slowed due to the inactivity of the volcano, it’s going to be bulldozed to make way for a banana plantation. Because, we’re in a world where one can just bulldoze a volcano out of existence to make way for a banana plantation. [Please tell me this is a fable and not just highly misinformed.] Lava, the volcano spirit is distraught and informs the greater volcano of the plan. It responds by sending out building-busting tremors. But then, that was enough to scare everyone into changing their mind about the banana plantation. Yay, the island is saved all on that second day!! And the villagers will start worshiping the volcano again: “[The villagers] knew about pacifying volcanoes. Their ancestors had done it for centuries.” And really aren’t all island societies just on the verge of reverting to offering tokens to volcanoes in the ways of their ancestors? Sorry about the spoilers, but at least we got to the true moral of the fable. It was either: a) your sex doll will have sex with you if you insert a worthless token, or b) islanders only remember to worship active volcanoes. Which ever.
 
 
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