Short Story Review: “Adramelech” by Sean Hazlett

2 of 5 stars.

Demon-possessions and demon-interactions [or in this tale something residing between the two] are more often related from an observer POV, perhaps by the battler of said demon [think: Exocist]. This tale opts for the potentially more Lovecraftian POV of the person possessed or enslaved when something unknown, dark and undefined takes over the narrator and creates a 200-pg journal in an ancient dead language. The book itself then has dark power, which is also Lovecraftian.

Unfortunately, the demonic book and the series of experts consulted all drop out of the narrative as the tale pulls back and lets decades elapse showing a demon-slaved human do a couple dark things to feed his demon dead orphans in exchange for his questionable gift of being able to possess another human temporarily in order to get them to do what he wants. His own body lies inert while this is going on. The body possession implications get short-changed narratively, too.

A longer form of this tale would perhaps explore a few of the issues and situations raised, along with the relationships of the people affected by the demon.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Darkness Upon the Deep” by Hristo Goshev

4 of 5 stars.

Appearing in Aurora Wolf, a literary journal, this dark Sci-Fi tale looms in Lovecraft’s shadow. Lovecraft wrote of the dark horror strung between the stars. It was vast and maddeningly near-indescribable. And many an author has failed to depict said horror by underdescribing it–writing only works when one writes something. This tale nails it, finding the balance in describing a sensory-deprived situation.

A human battleship, The Bastion, in the Vega system finds itself outmaneuvered and outnumbered in a space battle. They warp into subspace to escape, but not before losing their best pilot in a diversionary tactic. The lost pilot is the speaker’s best friend and blood brother.

The Bastion emerges from warp to find itself–nowhere. No light of stars close or distant. No radio waves. Nothing. Just vast empty impossible space immeasurably beyond all that is known. The physics doesn’t add up, with gravitational waves detected but no mass anywhere. The situation is tantamount to descent into a sensory deprivation tank from which one cannot emerge. The psychological trauma of the situation immediately starts to play out in the madness of the crew. Time itself starts to falter, or is it merely everyone’s grasp on it without points of reference?

The speaker is gripped between his complicated emotions in losing his best friend in a heroic gesture that amounted to the ship ending up like this, and the current situation as it is with madness and suicides thinning the helpful ranks of comrades.

This tale is recommended. It can be found through the journal link above.

I received access of this short story directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker

4 of 5 stars.

Lovecraft [and his legions of admirers and adherents] leans into vague descriptions of the horror and awe “strung between the stars” as if there was no way to describe in concrete terms such vastness without losing its edge. And yet this tale manages the task brilliantly.

Centuries prior, an alien envoy plops down in the nearly inaccessible Antarctic. It calls itself “Envoy” but has never answered a single question beyond that. “Envoy from where? Envoy for whom?” The massive being controls the temperature and weather around it, and yet cannot be viewed by satellite, camera or other forms of tech. Yearly, it calls upon ambassadors from a couple nations to visit. A trained team of pilots escort the terrified diplomats to and from the experience. And they leave token gifts then depart with vague notions of duty fulfilled, but nothing gained.

This opening is similar to Warren Ellis’ graphic novel, Trees, in which massive alien towers descend to Earth decades prior, and then . . . nothing. They resist human interference and probing. Their reason, and if they have a reason, remains unknown. In this tale, a glint of the reason presents itself . . .

The pilots, for the first time ever, get word from the Envoy to leave despite the ambassadors not yet returning. Indeed, the ambassadors from Poland and Madagascar are no longer outside the great being. They’ve disappeared. Inside. The thing. That’s never happened before. Disobeying the order and their terror, the pilots approach the Envoy to investigate . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

3 of 5 stars.

When the purest substance on earth, unicorn horn, is used to make a dildo, every demon for millennia wants to get their . . . hands . . . on it.

Two demon brothel madams battle over NYC turf. Each would like to add the aforementioned rumored item to their arsenal and jump into action when it hits Chinatown. The scrap up comes down to a dead Jimmy Wong, an ambitious double-crossing sorceress, and a lesbian store owner of rare books.

The tale comes across plenty noir, but more Lovecraft than detective. There’s much world-building for a short story, stretching this tale to the extremes with what’s left unexplained.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Cripple and Starfish”–4 stars
     “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur”–3 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge”–2 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Case of the Stalking Shadows” by Joe R. Lansdale

The Case of the Stalking ShadowThe Case of the Stalking Shadow by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite the title of the tale and its inclusion in a supernatural detective anthology, this isn’t a detective story. It’s a supernatural ghost story with elements of Lovecraft in its default to unspeakable horror at its heart. I tend not to be moved by “unspeakable horror” since little tends to make it to the page to suggest horror. I find it akin to someone opening a box without letting you peek and then saying, “It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t you agree?” I wouldn’t know, you aren’t showing me what’s in the box . . .

Horror works best with immediacy–something at stake with an unsure outcome. The stakes are raised if the hero might possibly not make it out of the situation. The horror is diffused a level if the narrator is telling the story after the fact. [Let me guess, you survived the room full of knife-wielding clowns long enough to tell me this story . . .] It’s diffused even more when the tale is not even told by the person who experienced it. [So, your neighbor went on vacation and saw a shark . . . ok.] This tale follows option 3.

An allegedly ghost-skeptical narrator was at a book club where a person recounted a spirit encounter from decades earlier. This is multiple degrees from immediacy. And despite the narrator’s affirmation that the tale he heard made him a believer, little to the story is compelling in the re-retelling of a vague unspeakable horror.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “Godzilla’s Twelve-Step Program”–4 stars
     “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
     “Torn Away”–2 stars
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: The White Room and Other Stories by Ray Gardener

The White Room and Other StoriesThe White Room and Other Stories by Ray Gardener
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a collection of eighteen vignettes and modern day parables. Few rise to the level of being a true short story in that characters are left undeveloped, backgrounds are unexplored and plots remain overly contrived rather than organic.

Most of the themes revolve around philosophical issues: ethics, the nature of reality and God, and free-will vs determinism. However, repeatedly, they assume their own conclusions without truly offering multiple points of view. Many of the vignettes devolve into an unchallenged Socratic method of one person espousing ideas and another concurring. One-sided philosophical speculations can make for good fodder for stories and novels, but here the ideas remain kernels and are presented unexplored.

Most troubling was the reliance on characters having to narrate how brilliant or clever or devious they were without the actions, thoughts, or dialogue to show it. “Brilliant doctors and professors” would remain without a clear field of expertise which is troubling, as medical doctors are well aware of their specialty and tend to self-identify. The thin character constructions hinder the strengths of the tales and the immersion of the reader.

I received my copy of this collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: The Rotting Cities and Other Stories by Charles E. P. Murphy

The Rotting City and Other StoriesThe Rotting City and Other Stories by Charles E.P. Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection of four urban fantasies spans major common themes: zombies, vampires, urban legend, and dystopian apocalyptic. However, none of the tales are run-of-the-mill.

The opening novelette, “The Rotting City,” is the strongest of the bunch. The world is generations past an environmental apocalypse that sank most of the major cities of the world beneath the rising seas. The world economics and academics shifted to formerly third world countries. This is the backdrop to an archaeological excavation at Old London under the heavy eye of a xenophobic, dystopian regime. Unexpected ties to Lovecraftian lore brings this tale home. I highly recommend the tale.

“Graveyard Shift” is a forgettable vignette offering a slightly different perspective from the POV of a zombie.

“The Man Who Knew” is equal parts urban legend and supernatural ghost tale. This tale twists and turns to its surprising end.

Finally, “Down in the Cages” provides a new take on vampire/human relations. The vampire politics and mind games make for an interesting inclusion into the vampire canon. This tale is recommended.

I received my copy of this collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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