Short Story Review: “Ten Thousand Miles” by Connie Wilkins

4 of 5 stars.

The horrors of war get a fresh treatment in this tale set in a Union hospital encampment at the edge of the Louisiana swamp. A virtual limbo, the miasma-filled camp is staged for confusion as first Rebels overtake the camp and then a Union gunship takes aim amid the roiling mists and smoke.

The camp is largely manned by “African-descent” former slaves fighting for freedom. Two main characters hold down the hospital tent. Gem is an elderly African-American woman disguised as a man to help the freedom effort. It reads more queer/trans in the narrator’s use of male pronouns for male-guised Gem. Gem’s also attuned to the restless spirits awaiting reunion with the still battling living.

The narrating surgeon is a widowed white Quaker son and grandson of Quaker abolitionists that were at the forefront of the Indiana portion of the Underground Railroad. He’s also haunted by spirits in the form of his deceased wife. The camp is filled with her beloved moths of every size and color, and they serve as a constant reminder of her.

This moving tale shifts from black to white, male to female, living to dead, substantial to spiritual all amidst the roiling mists and flocking moths . . . It’s recommended.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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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 Los Angeles Women’s Auxiliary Superhero League” by Elana Fortin

2 of 5 stars.

This tale sees adults with emerging superpowers–just not necessarily very useful ones. Camille learns of her ability to disappear when see wishes to get out of the way or not be noticed during a red carpet event. Only, her ensuing disappearing act isn’t just metaphoric. Later, she learns that her two friends had previously learned of their superpowers. Together, they decide to band together for the greater good. End of story. ??

It reads as a prelude to a story that’s not forthcoming. This would be okay if the emphasis was on the characters and not the circumstances. What’s included is not enough for story or even tale status. It’s a story pitch, or the kernel to something that could be.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle

DiraeDirae by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The myth of The Furies [“Dirae” in Greek] gets revamped for the modern era in this short story where folklore meets urban fantasy for a new type of urban legend. The Furies of myth were the vengeful spirits of wronged women. They could drive offending men to death or madness.

In this tale the narrator is the newly formed Fury who slowly builds into a recognizable consciousness as she finds her form and pieces together accumulations of experience and memory. Her role as a defender/protector that doesn’t seem quite biological, though trending that way, is also reminiscent of golems of Jewish folklore.

She doesn’t feel conflicted about her justice against those that would harm children and women. But she does long to understand her own origin and purpose. Some local police that catch repeated sight of her at crime scenes would like to know the same thing, albeit for different reasons.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’d previously read this author’s “Salt Wine”.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Strange Desserts of Professor Natalie Doom” by Kat Beyer

3 of 5 stars.

This quizzical tale follows the precocious experiments of the title character who as a young girl caused mayhem in her father’s mad scientist laboratory. Scientific curiosity leads her down a path of experimenting on herself and her fellow classmates, and dabbling with and manipulating anything she can until she’s banished from the lab.

Gender expectations emerge in the parental roles and the allowances made for the daughter. The mother limits her own experimenting to cooking. The daughter, banished from the lab, starts to apply her mad scientist tendencies to food while her mother turns a blind eye. Best not to think about a brownie with a heartbeat . . .

Eventually, the tale shows what became of the daughter [HINT: she’s a professor in the title] and how she challenges the limited expectations of her gender and the dearth of women in science.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Kabu-Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Kabu KabuKabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This anthology is a collection of short mostly speculative stories with tinges of sci-fi, fantasy, folktale and the supernatural. A few come from the same world in which a few individuals have the ability to fly. These are excerpts from the author’s unpublished novel. Many fall short of feeling fully developed, resting instead at vignette status. None stand far above or below the rest.

One commonality throughout the collection is Nigeria as a background, often with American narrators. The uneasy pairing of Nigerian and American interests and values is the greatest strength to the anthology.

I rated and reviewed all of the component short stories to this collection:
     “Asunder”–4 stars
     “The Baboon War”–3 stars
     “Bakasi Man”–3 stars
     “Biafra”–2 stars
     “The Black Stain”–2 stars
     “The Carpet”–2 stars
     “The Ghastly Bird”–2 stars
     “The House of Deformities”–3 stars
     “How Inyang Got Her Wings”–3 stars
     “Icon”–3 stars
     [w/ Alan Dean Foster]–“Kabu Kabu”–2 stars
     “Long Juju Man”–2 stars
     “The Magical Negro”–2 stars
     “Moom!”–2 stars
     “On the Road”–2 stars
     “The Palm Tree Bandit”–3 stars
     “The Popular Mechanic”–2 stars
     “Spider the Artist”–4 stars
     “Tumaki”–3 stars
     “The Winds of Harmattan”–2 stars
     “Windseekers”–2 stars

Also by this author, I’ve previously read:
     “Hello, Moto”–2 stars
     Binti [Binti, #1]–4 stars
 
 
 
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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 Winds of Harmattan” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

This tale is an undeveloped, lesser version of Okorafor’s “How Inyang Got Her Wings”. Originally, the 2 tales were meant to be a part of the same longer novel with this tale of magic and superhero-like abilities acting as a cautionary tale showing what could go wrong when a strong, independent woman in a male-dominated society exerts her power without looking out for herself. It was never meant to stand alone and act as the antithesis of empower which it ends up doing here. Whereas, “HIGHW” is empowering and insightful.

In both tales, isolated women in Nigerian tribal villages earn the ability to leave their respective villages–by flying out. The flying is linked to mature female sexuality. In both cases, the women are deemed witches and sentenced to poisoning. The outcomes differ greatly.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “How Inyang Got Her Wings” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

A coming-of-age story becomes an origins story when an awkward younger sister learns to embrace her gender and sexuality despite the cultural barriers erected around her. The clear metaphor for “getting her wings” as she starts her first menstrual cycle and members of the opposite sex start to treat her differently becomes poignant as the tribal culture she’s born into kills women that don’t submit to the existing patriarchy.

This tale strongly paints the cultural ideals Inyang accepts as truths, such as “Fat” = “Gorgeous.” Families with money fatten their daughters to make them more attractive brides-to-be. Inyang feels this intimately as she watches her sisters [born to higher ranked wives] treated to the fattening rituals while she is given up as “not marriage material.” [Her mother is a lower ranked third wife, and a few physical oddities cause Inyang to stand out, too.]

Her differences challenge her ability to fit into the broader culture of the village, as differences also equate to witchcraft which is treated harshly. Suspected witches are given a lethal poison from the jungle as a test. If the poison kills them, it proves the victim was a witch. Her survival depends on her leaving the only family and home she knows . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Ripper by Angela Slatter

RipperRipper by Angela Slatter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The intrigue and mystery of notorious crimes has a long memory. None more so than Jack the Ripper, the sordid landscape Whitechapel London, and the horror of five grotesquely mutilated bodies. The five victims were all female prostitutes. This surely put the target on them, but did it also slow the investigation? Would more resources have been allocated to this unsolved crime if the victims had been from a more distinguished caste of society? Did sexist double standards play a role in what has undoubtedly a sexist Victorian England?

Historically fictive accounts of the Ripper have embraced the detective and thriller genres and sometimes even steampunk. Here, the novella takes an urban fantasy approach with witchcraft and supernatural motives layered onto the detective and thriller genres. Most satisfyingly, the gender issues are explored and embraced at many levels. What double standards led to the women becoming prostitutes? What were the current relationships with men for these married [yes, married] women? Importantly, it also asks whether the male investigators were adequately inspired to solve the crimes and right headed in their efforts to do so.

Apprentice Investigator Kit Caswell wants to unravel the secrets surrounding the gruesome murders of 2 local Whitechapel prostitutes. But Kit has secrets, too, that could aid and undermine the investigation. She’s illegally impersonating a man to hold the job. That’s the only way she can earn enough to support her less-than-sane mother and her sickly younger brother. She happens to be good at her job. But she has her naysayers in the department, along with her advocates.

Out on the street, one particular neighborhood denizen sees right through Kit’s disguise. Mary Jane is a low-level witch, friend of both deceased, and a prostitute with a target on her back . . .

This highly recommended 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”, “A Good Husband”, and “The Song of Sighs”


 

 

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