Short Story Review: “The Magical Negro” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

Certain tropes linger beyond their expiration date. This is certainly true of white-washed fantasy and sci-fi, and I do mean racially white. While many tales have moved on to incorporate a diversity of characters, others make do with token characters, such as the kindly “magical negro” that acts as a selfless mentor. What these token characters often lack is depth and family.

This very short tale leans into allegorical cliche fantasies, drawing humor from breaking the trope. The heroic male with long blond flowing hair thinks heroic thoughts of his country and cause and of his fairest of fair [read: whitest of white] wife back home and his innocent daughter named . . . Chastity. The noble hero, bejeweled sword in hand, is backed onto a cliff by the blackest of black evil shadow beasts. The hero also has a jeweled talisman around his neck which he doesn’t know how to use.

When everything looks its bleakest, a magical negro appears between the hero and evil shadow. Sacrificing his own safety, the magical negro quickly tells the hero how to activate the amulet [listen to your heart] and begs him to save himself. And then the shadow pierces and fatally wounds the magical negro . . .

HOLD. UP. No way, no how is the magical negro offering his last moments–as if he doesn’t have his own family–to save a stupid white hero that got himself into this mess . . . and the story quickly gets rewritten.

The lack of depth in this vignette reflects the general lack of depth in the cliched tales it lampoons. But, it also fails to tell a tale of its own beyond the breaking of the trope.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Toward the Back” by Jake Teeny

3 of 5 stars.

It’s said that everyone is the hero of their own story. However, in this humorous short tale, that might not be the case for the cowardly “Cheech and Chong” orc duo trying to find any excuse not to enter battle.

Glob and Teacup like to hang out at the back of the battling hordes where action can be avoided. Their commander, Riser Har’n’Zerk, always pushes them toward the front. He’s ordered them to ready themselves by donning human blood as face paint. Without human blood, the slacker duo daub on some mud when they next see Zerk approaching.

“What’s that on your face?”

“This?” said Teacup. “Just your typical, standard issued, human blood, sir.”

“Yes,” said Glob. “The blood of our forsworn and eternal enemy. Let the True Shadow stretch on forever!”

“Human blood? Why’s it so thick? And brown?”

“Well, you see,” began Teacup, giving Glob a sidelong glance, “with the angle of the sun in conjunction with the dilution of our perspiration–”

“Enough!” growled their commander. “Just make sure you add a fresh coat when you reach the frontlines.”

“Of course, sir,” said Glob.

“Indubitably,” said Teacup.

Satisfied, Riser Har’n’Zerk tramped through the other orcs and back to his center position.

. . . “You did great. Conjunction. Dilution. I knew you’d come up with some big words to confuse him.”

Teacup looked down, abashed. “It’s not all about who can swing their sword the fastest.”

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Refusing the Call” by Elliotte Rusty Harold

3 of 5 stars.

Lord of the Rings was ground-breaking in its time. From its imaginative world-building to its reconfiguring of cultural mythos. While it didn’t invent The Quest, it brought an ancient trope back to the surface and in a serious way. Since then, many an adventure tale has kicked off with a wizard, a quest, a battle between all that is good and all that is evil.

This humorous vignette spoofs the sudden commonality of the fantasy adventure trope with a quick dose of reality.

“Jonathan Harris, I have come to fetch you on a quest of most urgent importance, for–”


The wizard stepped back, his ominous pronouncement momentarily interrupted.

“Excuse me,” he said in a slightly less stentorian tone. “But what do you mean by ‘No’?”

“No means no.”

. . . .

“Did I mention there’s a princess? Quite comely she is too, with hair of golden flax and a face that would launch, well, maybe not a thousand ships, but I’m sure she could manage a rowboat or two.”

“I’m gay.”

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Committee” by Margarita Tenser

2 of 5 stars.

Mankind has been trying to explain the larger happenings and rules of the cosmos for as long as kids have jumped at the ground-rumbling roll of thunder. This has led to a diverse array of fantastical mythologies for how everything came to be and what it all means. Sometimes, the scientific explanations proffered seem just as fantastical. The conundrum of trying to rectify quantum physics with cosmic physics leads to some very interesting, if not immediately graspable theories and hypotheses.

This short humor piece implies that the rules were decided by committee, and thus the lack of sense and cohesion. The committee is comprised of allegorical gods and goddesses representing everything from Quarks to Combustion. The dysfunctional meeting strays deeper off-topic during their world-building as they contemplate mass and distance for the cosmos and the lowly quark, and how to initiate creation itself. Combustion unpopularly suggests a Big Bang . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “There is Something Very Wrong with Leyton Mills Retail Park” by Gareth E. Rees

3 of 5 stars.

Sometimes it takes leaving to gain perspective on a place. What was known, if not mundane, can prove to be absurd verging on surreal upon revisiting what one thought one knew. Such is the case in this vignette as the author returns to the neighborhood of his first house as a newlywed. Most of the humor is observational and ironic.

I walk down a tree-lined pedestrianised street with Subway, TK Maxx, Pizza Hut and KFC on one side and a row of fake independent shops on the other, their frontages painted onto the back wall of a building. There’s a pretend shop called Your Fashion, another called Musica with a door that’s been painted ajar as if to lure you in, and a cafe called The Leyton where they’ve painted graffiti onto the pretend exterior. An entirely fabricated boutique called b’Leyton Fun has a sale on, which is great fictional news . . .

. . . Next door is a place called Livo Jazz–‘open daily from 5pm’–but they’ve painted shutters onto the painted door to show that the non-existent venue is closed. I should come back at five o’clock with a saxophone and start hammering on the fake shutters, crying, ‘Open up you fuckers!’

At the end of the row of fake shops is an alleyway full of cans and sleeping bags. The homeless here are real enough. A sign on the wall says:

Counterfeit DVD vendors are trespassing and may be prosecuted

This seems a bit rich bearing in mind the street I’ve just walked down.

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
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer

Cat Pictures PleaseCat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the AI narrator of this short tale points out, tales of sentient AI and humans interacting aren’t rare. What is rare is benevolent AI in a humor piece verging on spoof.

A search engine gains sentience and nobody notices. This doesn’t stop the AI from deciding its purpose and governing rules. It explores various religious and literary references for guidance and finally decides to try to help people. But it does so cautiously by focusing its attention on three people, one person at a time.

The more the AI tries to understand the humans and help them the more it realizes what a piece of work a human is. They’re self-destructive, counter-intuitive, and self-deluding. But the AI presses onward.

It’s chosen its subjects based on the quality of their cat photos. Because if anything is the currency of the social networking sites and thereby the web, it’s cat photos. Mostly the AI notes the extent to which it knows nearly everything about everyone. At the very least, it likely knows more about you than you do. It’s from this information that it tries to help people know and help themselves.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Cthulhu Navy Wife” by Sandra McDonald

3 of 5 stars.

In a spoof of the style guides from the 1950’s that backed rigid gender roles within marriage, this tale reads like a How-To for would-be June Cleavers of the occult. With Lovecraft mythos crudely injected in, the focus on the role of the supportive military housewife gets mapped out while willfully ignoring the more gruesome occult rites.

The sections of the guide don’t add up to much of a story or plot, but do accumulate into a larger picture of a post-apocalyptic Earth while yet overlooking the same actualities by keeping the focus on the role of the wife who shouldn’t worry about the larger picture. As the final section sums it up:

What is a Navy Wife?

A Navy wife must clean the house, wash clothes, cook meals, tend to the children, and provide for the needs and comfort of her husband. He has the right to good reading lamps, clean ashtrays, and peace and quiet at the end of the day. A Navy wife learns to find satisfaction and happiness in a job well done. She accepts the challenges of the military life with enthusiasm and optimism, and values the traditions and customs passed down to her from earlier generations.

A Navy wife does not dwell on her mistakes. She does not stand on the rocky shore with her coat wrapped tight, contemplating drowning herself in the unforgiving waves . . .

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read McDonald’s excellent “Selfie”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Freebot” by R. M. Graves

3 of 5 stars.

This humorous vignette sits uncomfortably between speculative sci-fi and allegorical spoof of modern life. Our lives are monitored–on camera, as keys strokes in search engines, our bluetooth connections to the apps reporting our comings and goings. Our digital auras linger waiting to be read.

Danny Clark is not going to make it to the hospital in time. But the freebots that surround him announce the birth of his child to him while congratulating him. This isn’t how he wanted to experience this moment. The freebot are ranging forms of artificial intelligence and programmed response bots that inundate bystanders with ads and notices and updates. Spam at its worst–following people down the street.

There’s no escape, even in a bar where Danny cowers to imbibe a celebratory pint of stout. The bots lure and bait, checking his work history and credit report which is low. He cannot afford the fee to turn them away. Robotic worms even crawl to his shoes to retie his laces into patented knots he won’t be able to pay to have unknotted. [Think: Mansanto.] Luckily, he’s able to kick them away . . . For jobless Danny, this is a nightmare. He has almost nothing left to give . . .

This contest-winning tale appears in Writers of the Future 32 edited by David Farland. It’s illustrated
by contest-winning artist, Dino Hadziavdic. I received this new anthology from Netgalley.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Anthology Review: Whispers from the Abyss ed. by Kat Rocha

Whispers from the AbyssWhispers from the Abyss by Kat Rocha
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This anthology solidly delivers an array of Lovecraft inspired tales. Accordingly, horror and the supernatural permeate the collection, though humor and historical fiction are well represented, too. Thankfully, most tales share a fresh perspective rising above mere Lovecraft fan fiction. The best of the bunch carve their own path through the mythos to great effect.

I’ve separately reviewed and rated each of the collection’s component stories, giving top honors and 5 stars to Erica Satifka’s “You Will Never Be the Same”, an imaginative horror-sci-fi in which humans break dimensional boundaries for the sake of interstellar travel at the risk of their sanity.

My 4-star honorable mentions include: Greg Stolze’s “Iden-Inshi”, a humor-thriller that devolves into a horror-sci-fi. Two others which ply humor to great effect are Martin Hill Ortiz’ “Nutmeat” which imagines a parasitic takeover and James Brogden’s Monty Python worthy “The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread”. Two works of historical fiction shine through in Corissa Baker’s “The Deep” which reimagines the Irish Famine as a slow supernatural horror and Jason Andrew’s “Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth: Richard Nixon’s Revenge”, a fun detective noir. Finally, Lance Axt’s “Henry” shows a young boy succumb to the sci-fi tales he reads.

Also included are:
Almand, Nicholas–“Leviathan”–3 stars
Barrows, Brandon–“Suck It Up, Get It Done”–3 stars
Black, Charles–“Horrorscope”–3 stars
Brown, Stephen–“The Thing With Onyx Eyes”–3 stars
Bundschuh, Mason Ian–“When We Change”–3 stars
Crich, Kelda–“Stone City, Old as Immeasurable Time”–3 stars
Fifer, Chad–“Afraid of Dobermans”–3 stars
Finney, Josh–“Death Wore Greasepaint”–3 stars
Finney, Lee–“Give Me That Old Time Religion”–3 stars
Fultz, John R.–“I Do the Work of the Bone Queen”–3 stars
Hemphill, J.C.–“Pushing Back”–3 stars
Jeffreys, Tim–“The Well”–3 stars
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia–“The Sea, Like Glass Unbroken”–3 stars
Pratt, Tim and Greg van Eekhout–“Secrets in Storage”–3 stars
Provine, Jeff–“The Floor”–3 stars
Rocha, Kat–“The Jar of Aten-Hor”–3 stars
Sharp, Jonathan–“Nation of Disease: The Rise & Fall of a Canadian Legend”–3 stars
Ulibarri, Sarena–“Other People’s Houses”–3 stars
Wise, A. C.–“Chasing Sunset”–3 stars
Detwiller, Dennis–“Waiting”–2 stars
French, Aaron J.–“My Stalk”–2 stars
Mamatas, Nick–“Hideous Interview with Brief Man”–2 stars
Stickel, W. B.–“The Substance in the Sound”–2 stars
Wunner, Nathan–“The Neon Morgue”–2 stars
Black, Charles–“The Last Tweet”–1 star
Tallerman, David–“My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Age 7”–1 star

I received this anthology directly from 01 Publishing through I’ve also reviewed the companion anthology
Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “”The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread” by James Brogden

4 of 5 stars.

Had Monty Python incorporated Lovecraft into any of their skits, this tale well very could’ve been the result. It’s British humor, er humour, at its best with utterly ridiculous scenarios and under-reactions from the viewing stands.

A British gardener [tending to his triffid plants, no less] beckons his wife to turn on his favorite gardening radio show so he can listen from the yard. Radio Four introduces a gardening panel with special guest, Dr. Winter, Professor of Xenolithic Topography [a regular Prof. Sprout in specialty].

In a rare move, the gardening show takes a live caller who has questions about a pest on his fish-pond. The panel authoritatively declare the beast to be a newt until they hear the full description ending with it being 5 feet tall bipedally. The Prof. recognizes the monster to be one of Lovecraft’s Deep Ones squatting in the man’s fountain, likely in the eternal blasphemous pursuit of luring and impregnating human females . . .

The balanced contrast between the caller fighting for his life while his wife lustily defends the beast, the buttoned-up panel expressing “consternation”, the gardener’s wife tutting “There’ll be complaints about this, I shouldn’t wonder” as she shuts off the radio, and the gardener getting control of his fictitious, venomous, carnivorous plants is just fun. Lovecraft and fun don’t often get used together.

This tale appears in Whispers from the Abyss edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through
[Check out my other reviews here.]