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.
 
 
 
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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.
 
 
 
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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–”

“No.”

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.
 
 
 
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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.
 
 
 
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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 bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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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.
 
 
 
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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”.
 
 
 
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