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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Novella Review: Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

SnapshotSnapshot by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like a blend between Minority Report and Inception this tale has police detectives enter highly detailed simulated scenes from the past to unravel crimes. These scenes are called snapshots, and only the investigators know that they are real as the simulations of everyone else only thinks they’re real unless proven otherwise.

Twists happen, as the investigators decide to step outside of the crimes they’re sent to investigate, in favor of some they aren’t . . .

While comparisons can be made to other tales, what’s really interesting in this tale is what it doesn’t explain. The actions are taking place essentially currently, except the world is not the Earth we know it to be. The United States is not what it was in this divergent timeline in which city-states populate North America. Also merely dangled off-page is the process by which “snapshots” are created. Intriguingly, some sort of biological element or cryptozoological creature is involved. This world begs for another tale to be set here.

I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “Dreamer”–4 stars
     Skin Deep (Legion, #2)–4 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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Novella Review: Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack

4 of 5 stars.

The mash-up of supernatural urban fantasy and detective noir works time and time again. For Chicago this means Harry Dresden. London has Bob Howard of Stross’ Equoid. Here, Pollack gives NYC a reality-bending, multiverse-traveling detective named Johnny Shade. His wife is dead [by a poltergeist] and his daughter trapped in the reality beyond. Johnny stays a half step ahead of doom and demise by a canny network of associates and lovers.

He’s oath-bound to accept any client with his card, which cannot be a good thing. Especially when his own self-created and later destroyed–or so he thought–doppelganger comes to hire Johnny Shade to “beat” the duplicate’s maker, ie Johnny himself. As the duplicate Johnny known as Johnny Rev tries to take substance from the realm of dreams, Shade turns to the help of his ex-lover the Dream Hunter who happens to be the illegitimate daughter of a formerly worshipped sun god and the Queen of Eyes [oracle of oracles] . . .

The layers of the history and worlds upon worlds tantalizes as around every corner lies another Johnny Shade anecdote or past lesson learned or lucked through. This tale is highly recommended.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

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Novel Review: The Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson

The Farthest CityThe Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much of the current divisive political climate echoes throughout this far-future sci-fi world. Dystopian ruling cultures have taken hold on multiple worlds in the galaxy and the ensuing conflicts are rapidly pushing planets toward an apocalyptic event horizon. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.

On Earth, humanity drove itself extinct in the biological and nuclear nightmare known as the Old War, or World War III. Their sentient AI survived them. The “Chines” evolved, expanded, and then restarted the human race from embryonic stock. After nurturing the humans and establishing them in mostly underground cities, the Chines abandoned eden to give the humans space and to create their own worlds deeper into the galaxy.

Interestingly and not inaccurately, for both humans and Chines, the other race is their mythic creator race. For humans, the promise of the Chines returning is their only hope when a hostile insectoid alien race arrives on Earth and threatens extinction of humans, again.

In alternating chapters, two separate and barely related storylines follow two distinct heroes and their very different responses to the threat on Earth.

Sheemi, a largely disgraced military grunt, is sent by her high ranking general father off-planet to find the new world of the Chines on a mission to obtain their help against the alien Hexi. Sheemi’s boredom in space leads to her sexual laxity and eventual, disgraceful pregnancy–all before finding hints of the Chines. The military space travel involves skirting parallel universes to make instantaneous deep space jumps.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Kellan is a living cultural myth–and not a liked one. “Special” humans emerge and are shunned in the new cities of Earth. Like a recessive gene or a latent computer program, some rare humans are born with the urge to either dig, tinker, draw or sing. The subject of their focus is always ancient Chines. Get the four together, and extraordinary doors and locks hidden across Earth open . . .

The breadth of the historic world-building is astounding. The fallibility of the protagonists is commendable. The novel is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Landscape with Intruders” by Jean-Claude Dunyach

3 of 5 stars.

Notably, the inaccurate model of electrons politely sticking to their orbits as they revolve around an atom’s nucleus resembles the simplified model of the solar system. Then again, the more accurate electron cloud of possibilities might be said to resemble the Oort cloud of comets. It’s all about scale. On Earth, humans inhabit the macro scale where we fail to notice mites, bacteria, viruses and nematodes. One can only wonder at the view from the micro perspective.

This tale delves into the notion of scale as a frontier scientist sets out on a lonely mission to look for disturbances in the Northern Canadian expanses that could be affecting animal migrations and possibly forest fires. What he finds after a naked drunken evening under the stars is his own body colonized like a memorably distasteful episode of pubic lice. Worse, the colonizers seem very aware of him . . .

This tale appears in the magazine Blindspot: Testing Reality, Issue #1 by the founders of Angle Mort. Their mission is to translate French science fiction into English to bridge the American and French science fiction communities. I received my copy of this issue directly from one of the editors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Two Paupers by C. S. E. Cooney

The Two Paupers (Dark Breakers Book 2)The Two Paupers by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many things hold true power in this world and in others just beyond the Veil: love, kindness, and creation [as in honest, unfettered artistic creation]. But none of these is necessarily the easiest path, and that is the crux of their power.

With a rogue’s tone not unlike Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards and a convoluted relationship between this realm and a Fae realm, such as in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, this novella presents a stand-alone sequel [indeed, I haven’t read the first, but will now . . .] in which two talented but struggling artists dance around some very grave issues. Gideon, the well-heeled sculptor, has been cursed to carve statues that come to life like warrior golems. He destroys them almost as soon as he makes them. Analiese, the farm-born writer living next door, sees one not yet destroyed the moment its eyes open. Knowing its fate, she steals it away to save it.

She hides the golem away at her newly married friend Elliot’s house. He’s a talented painter and married to the ex-Queen Nix of the Fae Realm. It’s one of the usurpers in Nix’s absence that has cursed Gideon to make warrior golems in order to build an army and secure secession to the throne.

Loyalty to each other, wit, talent and artistic vision all play an intricate role as each tries to secure the best outcome for all the players involved and keep the others safe from harm . . . In a word, this tale is brilliant.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.

 

 

 

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