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.]

Short Story Review: “Nutmeat” by Martin Hill Ortiz

4 of 5 stars.

Humor and horror may not make for a long-term marriage, but for a romp in the hay this duo satisfies. The horror element comes from the periodic antagonist–the parasite. Parasites are always good for a creep-out factor in that a host body and sometimes mind gets hi-jacked undeservedly and often unknowingly. Plenty of real-world examples exist that make bedbugs and lice look like house pets. The humor comes in the telling, and hopefully not just in my reading.

A pimply, daft young adult son of a walnut farmer is visited by a plant parasitologist from UC Davis who’s come around looking into reports of infestation at a walnut grove a few miles over. [At this point, the tale reminds me of Charles Stross’ Equoid in which dastardly parasitic snail-like mollusks invade a horse ranch creating a full-blown evil unicorn infestation–the horn is the shell of the snail . . . but I digress.] Dr. Lerner reports that mollusks–uh oh!–normally found parasitizing tube worms at black vents seem to have a relation that is using the walnut shells as a shell and the nutmeat for early sustenance.

But there is more going on than meets the eye. These clever, tentacled gastropods are known to enslave nearby bodies into doing their bidding, too. And the more complex a body they parasitize, the more complex they themselves become slowly taking over whole ecosystems. Btw, the neighbors from the nearby grove are missing . . .

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.]

Short Story Review: “Kickstarter” by Richard Lee Byers

1 of 5 stars.

This humor piece is all gimmick without story as it spoofs a kickstarter donor ad while plugging in terms, entities and places from the Lovecraft universe. Appropriate for Mad Magazine perhaps more than a literary anthology, the item provides more insights into the kickstarter ads that it spoofs than into Lovecraft which it purports as its subject.

Many of Lovecraft’s main topics, subjects, and locales get dragged into the ad: Dunwich, MA, Miskatonic, Cthulhu, R’lyeh, Eldritch, Squamous, and Azathoth. The names are dropped, but little context is given.

This tale appears in Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through  
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Trademark Bugs: A Legal History” by Adam Roberts

5 of 5 stars.

This highly stylized piece of speculative fiction masquerading as a work of legal synthesis would sit comfortably in The New Yorker as a wry essay lambasting the direction regional and world courts are headed in their decisions as it concerns corporations and the big pharmaceutical companies. It’s shocking, appalling, and brilliant.

The history, written as the 21st Century closes, examines how the trademarking and distribution of both genetically engineered pathogens and cures to those pathogens becomes the driving force of world economies, politics, and health. The business and the legal cases start around three guiding principles, The Porter Rules: the pathology itself must 1) “not be ‘excessively physically distressing’ or entail any long-term hazard to health, wellbeing or longevity”, 2) “be no more virulent than the baseline virus or bacterium, prior to any genetic adaption”, 3) be preventable by some means (later modified to ‘at least one mean’) not trademarked to the distributing company.”

Drolly, case law soon decides that sane people of legal age that elect not to take common-sense precautions to avoid catching the communicable diseases “have ipso facto given consent to being infected by Trademark Bugs.” This is known as the soap-and-water test. But as the years go by, even these decisions are amended in favor of Big Pharma:

The ‘soap-and-water’ test was tested in court in 2086, when it was claimed that the Bayer Bug ‘Emerald Rash’ survived soap. The outcome (Kawasaki-86d) was that ‘soap’ was taken, legally, to include a variety of proprietary antibacterial washes and wipes.

One is reminded of modern tobacco and GMO industry arguments when the “history” includes a quote from a Big Pharma legal representative saying “The distribution of Trademark Bugs (free at point of issue, I might add) is an actual, measurable and positive incitement to people to live more hygienic lives.” She later adds, “I understand that many people feel that these corporations are deliberately infecting them with designer germs in order to increase their profits by selling them the cures–but the facts are the facts. None of that is true. Trademark Bugs have made the world cleaner and healthier.”

There are far to many good quotes from this piece as the arguments are laid out as to how purposely infecting the population does not infringe on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It also shows Pharma expanding to take over the military and run bio-warfare in the name of humanitarianism, and the replacement of “a flat-rate one-person-one vote model to a corporate, buy-as-many-votes-as-you-like model.”

“Trademark Bugs: A Legal History” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Reach for Infinity.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: Zombie Haiku

Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry for Your...BrainsZombie Haiku: Good Poetry for Your…Brains by Ryan Mecum
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For a tongue-in-cheek spoof on both haiku and zombie-philia, this collection, which I’ve read twice, proves enjoyable enough to adorn one’s guest bathroom.

There is a structure and plot to the collection which purports to be a haiku journal. It captures the start of the epidemic and even the writer’s transformation to a zombie state. The start is rather like the oblivious start to the movie Shaun of the Dead.

My day starts off bad.
I’m running behind for work.
If I’m late, I’m dead.

Something on the news
about people acting odd,
so I switch to sports.

Dodging eye contact
from my neighbor’s awkward stare,
I leave my nice house.

As I start my car,
my neighbor just keeps staring
and doesn’t wave back.

Rarely does the poetry rise to true haiku status in context, but apparently even full-blown zombies can count out the 5-7-5 syllabic structure. But sometimes, it surprises:

My town is broken.
From this view, I see the end.
Below, they gather.

As I start walking,
I try to remember where
people like to hide.

It is hard to tell
who is food and who isn’t
in the nursing home.

Wheelchair pile-up!
Five old women on the ground,
helpless as babies.

At the beginning and end of the collection are overlaying notes from a second person who wrangled this journal out of the hands of the zombie-poet that bit him. How meta! It’s like re-reading Griffin and Sabine, but with gore. But why am I analyzing this? You get what you pay for with zombie poetry.

Blood is really warm.
It’s like drinking hot chocolate
but with more screaming.

Nothing left but bones.
Blood stains each building corner,
which some of us lick.

Down the empty streets,
my gurgles echo off walls
to which I moan back.

Nothing hurts me now.
Normally, the screwdriver
wouldn’t have gone there.

The crying baby
reminds me of fast food meals
with a prize inside.

[Check out my other reviews here.]