Short Story Review: “Grandma” by Carol Emshwiller

2 of 5 stars.

Like Matthew Johnson’s excellent “Heroic Measures”, this tale depicts a former superhero succumbing to old age as they interact with a loved one. In this case, the superhero was of the Wonder Woman or Supergirl variety. Her end-of-life sees her living a secluded life with her youngest granddaughter who narrates the tale.

Little insight is given into the grandma’s motivations beyond “not wanting to be a bother” as her abilities become increasingly limited. The granddaughter is a compromised POV, as she clearly feels inadequate carrying the family mantle and yet aspires for some sort of greater life despite an overall lack of super-talent.

The narrator can neither face the truth, her grandmother’s legacy, nor the public.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Super. Family.” by Ian Donald Keeling

4 of 5 stars.

Along the course of every father-daughter relationship, there’s the moment things change. The little girl is no longer a little girl anymore and the father–no matter how invincible and unknowable he seemed–proves all too human. Adult mysteries fail to remain mysteries to the ever more canny offspring.

This tale captures the wonder and bafflement of that moment, when the daughter’s curses and disappointments can slash the parent as deeply as any knife. The loss of innocence is rarely subtle.

However, here it is larger than life. The father is a superhero, one of the greatest and strongest. And yet his identity has remained a secret to even his two daughters. Mom, too, was an active superhero once. But now she’s home raising the third child that came along well after the others. The relationship between the parents is strained to say the least. And the strain is not nearly as lost on the daughters as the parents have hoped.

For a man that’s nearly invincible to the rest of the world, his daughters and wife find and exploit his vulnerability to his very family . . .

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Palm Tree Bandit” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

This very short tale reflects the familial tales told within families about particular ancestors. A young girl is told this tale about her great-grandmother, “Yaya,” while getting her hair braided by her grandmother [or mother]. It comes across as a girl-power, folk tale.

Yaya lived in a village with a strong gender divide in what was allowed. Especially banned for women was the climbing and tapping of palm trees since palm tree sap is an intoxicant. Yaya felt less constrained by the rules and defied the ban in a toyful manner making the male leaders into fools. Slowly, the gender constraint slides away as others carry on the playful defiance throughout the village and on into neighboring ones.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Perfection of the Steam-Powered Armour” by Adria Laycraft

4 of 5 stars.

The ideals of peace, especially pervasive in Eastern philosophy, naturally conflict with the Samurai culture and warmongering of many emperors.

In a steampunk version of East Asia, the pressure of a warmongering culture fissures the relationship between a father and his 10 y.o. son. Jin desperately wants to avoid conscription into the emperor’s army as he’s not a warrior. Nor does he want that future life for his son. Jin’s a tinkerer by trade and has struck a deal with a general whereby if he can make the perfect steam-powered battle armor which can turn any man into a warrior by turning a person’s natural flow of energy into deadly movements, then he and his family will be socially elevated to the class of society not drafted.

Failure in this bargain equals death.

When the he arrives, the general puts scrawny son Wen into the suit and forces him to fight his top warrior with Jin coaching from the sidelines. The suit is good, very good. But Wen doesn’t believe any form of violence is the solution, and stays his hand allowing the warrior to pummel him. The general gives Jin and Wen one day to retry the dual . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Corpsemouth” by John Langan

2 of 5 stars.

The pre-Christian lore of many cultures is rife with monsters and magic, curses and heroes. Such is the case with the Scottish Corpsemouth, a titan-like old god that eats bodies and souls of the living and dead, both mortal and immortal. One particular legend tells of a time when Merlin summoned the monster for a battle and then banished it again before it got out of hand . . .

After the death of his Scottish immigrant father, a young American man travels with his mother and sister back to his father’s hometown to find closure. The relationship between the man and his father was on the mend, but not fully healed.

This disjointed tale veers between the man’s fantastical dreams upon arriving in Scotland and his various interactions with his father’s family. The disparate dreams all seem informed by local lore and the unsettled paternal relationship.

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 “Bloom”, “Children of the Fang”, “Outside the House, Watching for the Crows”, and “The Wide, Carnivorous Sky”

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma

Fabulous BeastsFabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The darkest of family secrets: rape, incest, murder and betrayal coil and writhe beneath the skin in this dark novelette set among the seedier neighborhoods outside Liverpool. Two timelines entwine to show how ugly little Lola along with her pretty sister-cousin, Tallulah, escapes her horror-filled past to become scientifically-successful, if not still socially awkward Eliza on the arm of her beautiful, celebrity lover, Georgia. More than just her name was sloughed off to become the adult survivor that she is.

The violence and psychologically scarred upbringing ring with fear and quiet desperation.

The novella contains a fantastical, dysmorphic element not unusual with themes of abuse, gender dysphoria, or abnormal sexuality. Adult Eliza works as a herpetologist with a specialty in vipers. She embodies many elements of the snakes she loves to overcome her family secrets and to escape her past.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books.

 

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Absence of Words” by Swapna Kishore

4 of 5 stars.

Dysfunctional family relationships and dynamics can fester for years as a wedge splitting the generations. This tale leans into an allegorical interpretation of just such a scenario when three generations of women in one family struggle with anger issues that they tend to unleash upon each other.

Years earlier after a missed curfew, mother and daughter blew things out of proportion with unchecked emotion and nastiness. This was followed by the grandmother and mother having words, and then finally the granddaughter and grandmother having words. The grandmother has been electively mute ever since, or so the other two assume, each taking on a mantle of guilt.

However, the silence runs deeper than the grandmother not speaking. Whenever one or both of the younger women are in the presence of the grandmother, ALL sound ceases . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books.

 

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]