Short Story Review: “Vermont Muster” by Nick Mamatas

2 of 5 stars.

This tale feels more Lovecraftian than ghost story when a teenager lights a candle and sternos a can of soup in front of his high school’s engraved image of a local hero that returned home from fighting in the Civil War.

A confluence of strange events ensues. The teenager has a seizure before he can start his seance. [But he is accustomed to having seizures.] His borrowed video camera captures an unexplained image in front of the engraving at the same time as the seizure. Civil War enacters from all over start to arrive into town after being compelled in their dreams–and they find it very difficult to leave again . . .

Much is packed into this short tale. However, a clear explanation and resolution are not.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman. I’ve previously read this author’s “Hideous Interview with Brief Man”.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Advertisements

Graphic Novel Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (Paper Girls, #1)Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the writer of the brilliant Saga graphic series comes a new series that upon first introduction seems the lovechild of a feminist Stand By Me and Lovecraft. Four 12-y.o. girls newly break into the “Boys Only” club of newspaper delivery. One has also become the first local female altar “boy.” Tough as these preteens may be, they’re still suburban Cleveland 12 y.o. females armed only with their newspapers and bicycles. For safety’s sake, they pair up to avoid harassment and worse to get through Halloween pre-dawn as roving teen boys are still out pranking.

Set in 1988, the nostalgia factor is high for me from music and movie references to the levels of technology and video games. [My brother turned 13 within a week of this story setting.] It’s also accompanied by 1980s homophobia and AIDS-phobia, but not without getting called out by a couple more enlightened characters. This is no mere nostalgia ride, it’s divergent history and urban fantasy with most people seemingly disappeared or raptured away while the girls are on their routes. Also, massive pterodactyl-like beasts fill the air with riders no less, and alien-speaking mutant or mutilated teen boys lurk in the shadows. It’s almost Lovecraftian in its WTF-is-going-on approach, but then information starts to roll. Multi-dimensional time and space jumping pawns in a future[?] battle between teens and old-timers–this is metaphor in the extreme.

Artist Cliff Chiang makes good use of his material. The story sits in the “High Potential” box for this volume with the expectation that more answers and greater world-building will play out soon in subsequent volumes.

I’ve previously read Vaughan’s:
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 7–4 stars

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]