Short Story Review: “Mortal Bait” by Richard Bowes

3 of 5 stars.

New York City plays a strong second character in this 1940s detective noir with a psychological, supernatural bent. Fae and elves both exist on the periphery of humanity within elusive alternate dimensions. They’re at war with each other, and neither tolerates much from humanity. But they’re more than willing to turn humans into unwitting pawns in their long-running hostilities.

Detective Sam Grant takes the cases that look to involve other dimensions. Amid his own WWI flashbacks, he tries to discern what’s real, supernatural, and merely a figment. Unfortunately, both fae and elves have the ability to read minds and scramble memories. Supernatural interference resembles both PTSD and schizophrenia . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed Bowes’ excellent “Sleep Walking Now and Then”.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Window Seat on a Train

Two platform clocks mock the overcoats.
They’re eight seconds incongruous.
One celebrates raindrops-splattering-across-slick-concrete-&-heated-rails
           the-panicked-retreat-of-pigeons-who-have-learned-nothing-for-centuries
           the-marking-of-seconds-shivers-&-motes.
The other acknowledges flies-that-orbit-too-close-on-sickly-hot-days
           the-clink-of-coins-in-the-trembling-hands-of-vagrants
           the-dots-&-iotas-until-an-approaching-train-whistles.
They are eight seconds incongruous;
neither is correct according to my watch.
The train ignores all three.

Each briefcase settles and resettles into its overpadded seat.
Most face stiffly forward; but I have a window–
a suppressed lurch–the film reluctantly unreels.
The platform sidles off and hazily grows distant.
All too soon, the post-post-post-tree-post-tree-post-barn-gate-
drive-house-barn-post-post-tree-post-tree-post-post-post
of each passing farm marks the sound of the tracks.
From further pastures, knowing cattle note the train,
saddened by the abrupt disturbance.
Beyond, mists shroud still hills.
Hamlets nestle into the valleyed nooks.
Each is a Brigadoon.
A mute flurry-o’-leaves distracts.
Wind!
           whipping-grasses-into-frenzied-swirls-&-cowlicky-whorls
           coaxing even the trees into the tidal pull.
The cold window belies the fresh breezes
trying to penetrate my stagnant capsule.
Factories with immediately dispersing smoke appear.
Terrace houses appear.
A station lazily approaches—minutes behind schedule.
Overcoats are waiting.
The standstill matches the tinted-glass staleness.
 
 
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “The Ghastly Bird” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

The strength of science lies in the scientific method–form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, collect data from the test, and check the conclusions. If that isn’t enough, peer review has other independent scientists check the work and cross check the methodology. Science is not just another form of faith like a godless religion, despite the implications of some unscientific skewing of the term “theory”.

Fictional scientists should act like scientists, at least somewhat.

In this tale, Zev is an ornithologist, a zoologist that studies birds. He moves to the island nation of Mauritius to teach because his favorite LIVING bird is the dodo. That’s right, he profoundly has faith that the dodo isn’t extinct. Without empirical or observational evidence, he also decides that the dodo is an intelligent animal and friendly. Due to his beliefs, his girlfriend leaves him and he hides his dodo faith from colleagues. [As well he should considering his very unscientific stance.]

One day while observing the many bird feeders he maintains on the back of his property, Zev witnesses a dodo emerge from the forest. Or does he? . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Last Witness by K. J. Parker

The Last WitnessThe Last Witness by K.J. Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Memory is a tricksy thing. When toyed like in the movie Memento, it’s a solid foundation for a slippery psychological thriller. One’s sense of self and purpose is only as good as what one makes of one’s memories.

In this fantasy-thriller novella, the roguish narrator is a dark hero–perhaps a superhero–with the ability to steal away specific memories from other people. He can do almost whatever he wants, and blank any potential witnesses. This doesn’t work out for his relationships with his family, nor his lover. They’re too complicated, with too many intertwined memories.

The cad becomes a memory-thief for hire, and there’s good money in it from the sort that would hire him. But memories stolen become his own, and it’s not always easy to tell which memories are which or from whom. He half-knows places and people like near constant deja vu . . . As the ultimate witness to so many crimes [because he took the memories on], assassins are often sent his way. But they can be blanked, too, while revealing their patron . . .

One day he takes on charity case, the victim has been assaulted and likely raped. He’s loath to own these memories, but he accepts the case and a few coins. In the avataristic realm where the thought-thievery takes place, the victim’s avatar shockingly appears to defend her memory. She, too, is a memory thief . . .

In a realm with two memory thieves whose lives become entwined, nothing can be trusted.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Heaven Thunders the Truth” and The Things We Do For Love.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

E-Magazine Review: Blindspot: Testing Reality, Issue 1

3 of 5 stars.

In an effort to promote French sci-fi and to bridge the American and French sci-fi communities, Angle Mort was founded in 2010. That team has now launched this magazine, edited by Julien Wacquez, in its mission to translate French science fiction into English.

The first issue of Blindspot contains four short stories, which I’ve previously reviewed, and interviews with all four contributing authors and a contributing artist. The interviews are a great touch to really delve into the author’s mindset.

Judging by these four stories, French and American sci-fi are distant cousins separated more than by mere language. This is not a bad thing. It’s akin to watching French and American film. Most American films feel Hollywood for better or for worse. English-language sci-fi tends toward fantasy–building elaborate apocalyptic scenarios or layered off-planet societies etc. These four French tales are veered toward the existential in a way less embraced by American writing which usually stops at depicting psychological benders if not straight forward tales.

The included tales are:
Dunyach, Jean-Claude–“Landscape with Intruders”–3 stars
D’Asciano, Jean-Luc Andre–“The First Tree in the Forest”–4 stars
Hotait, Darine–“I Come From Future”–2 stars
Charrasse, Fanny–“Record of a Growth”–3 stars

I look forward to future issues as the tales broaden the definition of science fiction and the interviews provide invaluable insight. I received my copy of this issue directly from one of the editors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Record of a Growth” by Fanny Charrasse

3 of 5 stars.

Paranoia taints one’s view of the world. It can lead to second-guessing what one experiences and obsessing over the details. Schizophrenic paranoia takes that to another level with the entire baseline for reality getting reset.

This tale lies along the paranoia spectrum as at first Phil is only slightly annoyed by his girlfriend’s obsession with a mole on her belly that she thinks is growing. She wants him to measure it, but he mockingly measures a red stain on the wall that he claims to be worried about.

A few days later, the stain on the wall catches Phil’s attention–it does indeed look bigger, much bigger. Then, he starts to notice red stains everywhere. More each day . . .

While considered sci-fi by the author and publisher, I’d classify this tale as absurdism or horror-lite. There are no social context clues as to the framework of society merely a close-up on Phil’s world. Sci-fi usually hints at the larger state of the world or society.

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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]