Short Story Review: “The Swell of the Cicadas” by Tenea D. Johnson

4 of 5 stars.

This is a lovely little ghost story in that it’s written from the POV of a Civil War battlefield ghost. In life, the speaker was not participating in the war, but rather Cat was shot by a stray bullet while crossing the adjacent woods while on an errand for her Mistress.

The slave’s ghost was left to mingle with those of the blues and grays left on the battle field and other non-participant causalities. While the world moved on from the war, the spirits were largely trapped in their animosities for decades until peace settled across the ghostly valley. Now, all of the spirits watch crowds of tourists come to gawk at their history oblivious to the unsettled around them.

This tale stands out in the interactions of the ghost with her environment. She notice of, reaction to and interaction with the play of the forest, the dappling sunlight through the leaves overhead, the whirr of the cicadas. Things as simple as wind and rain pull and disperse the ghost as she moves through her environment:

The sky darkened as the raindrops turned fat and multiplied. Cat struggled to keep her composition as parts of her were saturated and fell to the ground, trying desperately to rejoin the whole before she moved on. She slowed and waited for herself to catch up . . . Cat could see no more. Her vision blurred and prismed as the rain became a downpour and washed her away.

The night came and, painstakingly, she reconvened. As she materialized a wet wind blew through the grove, lifting the hem of Cat’s dress. She made it across the road and to the swollen ditch. She stood in the dark, at the edge of the water, willing herself to disappear. Around her the wilderness swelled with the sound of cicadas, until she could hear nothing but their reedy eruption. . . . She fell slowly, piece by piece into the water. Where the moonlight had moments ago picked out her edges, the glow of her was gone now, and each part of the spirit and once-flesh was lost to the liquid darkness.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Impostors” by Sarah Monette

3 of 5 stars.

Paranormal investigators handle the most curious of cases. The paranormal partnership of Mick and Jamie is a study in contrasts. Mick is ESP-sensitive and slight while Jamie is usually the muscle.

When a series of suicides are linked by strangely similar last words, Mick and Jamie are pulled in to investigate. The victims are all guiltily convinced they’re impostors in their own bodies. While it seems a curse, the victims seem unrelated and random . . . Motive remains elusive.

The strength of the tale is the character development. However, the case itself is nicely clever.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “A Night in Electric Squidland”–4 stars
     “Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home”–5 stars
     “White Charles”–3 stars
     [w/ Elizabeth Bear]–“The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward–4 stars

 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Apostates, Book 3: Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney

Lake of Fire (The Apostates #3)Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Apostates trilogy [plus 1 prequel short story] concludes with this installment. The grammatical errors and editorial missteps that plagued the trilogy opener pick back up here creating a confused if not painful read.

Taking place in North America, a dystopian government has come and gone after a nuclear apocalypse and environmental breakdown ended the United States. While speculative, the series tweaks history, too, creating a parallel universe to ours. The dystopian government, a cyber-backed theocracy under the long-lived rule of President Shrubb, and its ultimate undoing were the plot of the early books. But it makes reappearances here in scattered scenes throughout the book that usually lack indicators clarifying the chronology. They do little to aid this installment and much to pull the reader from the current storyline.

President Shrubb is a clear reference to President George W Bush and his anti-science, religiously inspired leadership. But from there, previous installments took an Orwellian development in layering society with acronyms of a doublespeak nature. It was clever and effective–then. Now in the wake of the theocracy, new governments have emerged in city-states across the continent to try to undo the damage. However, they’re still using the former system’s acronyms which places them out of context. The series also doubles down on the references to current politics veering the tale toward a Mad Magazine style spoof. Haliburton becomes Halibut. Google becomes Boooogie!. Rahm Emmanuel [current mayor of Chicago] becomes Ram Manual. It’s too much. And unnecessary. And all taking place in the throwback scenes not aiding the plot.

Other missteps doom the immersive quality of this tale. 1) Too many chapters starting with a couple long paragraphs that refuse to name the subject character, instead repeating “he/she” as if the subject should be a mystery. 2) Repeatedly defining terms which have been established. [“Pinging” is communicating via neural implant. So, always saying “pinging via neural implant” is redundant.] 3) Repeatedly comparing landmarks to current American ones, thereby not believing in its own overlay. ie Saying what a city or park used to be called. 4) The throwaway, sexist handling of crowd scenes with sweeping general terms. [The men did “x.” Women screamed. Children cried. Over and over again.]

Finally, the book has an epilogue. And shouldn’t. The scene has no bearing and I suggest not reading it. It’s akin to the final episode of the television series “Lost”, reveling in itself but opening new, unexplained topics.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed the other books in this series:
     New Megiddo Rising (Apostates, #0)–4 stars
     The Apostates (Apostates, #1)–2 stars
     The Apostates: Remnants (Apostates, #2)–4 stars
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Saga, Volume 7 by Brain K. Vaughan [w/ Fiona Staples]

Saga, Vol. 7Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Saga series consistently delivers a nuanced tale spanning a multitude of cultures, ideologies, personal motivations, and sexualities. Led by the brilliant artwork by Fiona Staples and the clever and canny writing of Brian K Vaughan, this epic tale follows the star-crossed lovers, their multi-racial lovechild, their few allies, and their many enemies across years and light years and they hop from star system to star system in an effort to get away from bounty hunters and the war that divides their respective races.

This installment sees much of the cast including the protagonists stuck on a comet embroiled in an endless civil war. Religious dogma takes center stage as multiple analogies to Middle Eastern conflicts play out across the page. The cultures of the hero couple also have hands in the civil war as the comet is fuel-rich, and to the winners go the spoils.

Most clear, is that there can be no winners in such a deeply embedded war. This issue is about loss and its many facets. There is loss of innocence. Loss of potential. Loss of loved ones. And even genocide.

This entire series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read:
     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
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar

4 of 5 stars.

This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.

Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.

Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .

The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade

The Devil's Mouth (Alex Rains, Vampire Hunter, #1)The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With a particularly well-played prologue to hook the mood and scenery, this vampire hunter series starts on all the right notes. Vampires on the southern US border are preying on illegal immigrants directly and on a legal system that’d prefer to look the other way when it comes to trials of the disenfranchised.

The hero of this tale, Alex Rains, is a Taratino-ish cowboy that’d blend in with the characters of Kill Bill. The campy aw-shucks-t’aint-nothing attitude belies the sword-play martial arts. Early on, Alex meets the ex-cop Carmen desperate for the trail of her sister who’s gone missing after crossing into the New Mexican desert with an immigrant smuggler.

The breadth of the story is guilty fun, if not predictable.

Jen, the character to watch out for, plays medic to the vampire hunting crowd. She hints at a layer of society to which even Alex is unaware. This tease pays off in the brief but poignant epilogue. In a sea of errant author epilogues, this one hits the mark.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Kabu-Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Kabu KabuKabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This anthology is a collection of short mostly speculative stories with tinges of sci-fi, fantasy, folktale and the supernatural. A few come from the same world in which a few individuals have the ability to fly. These are excerpts from the author’s unpublished novel. Many fall short of feeling fully developed, resting instead at vignette status. None stand far above or below the rest.

One commonality throughout the collection is Nigeria as a background, often with American narrators. The uneasy pairing of Nigerian and American interests and values is the greatest strength to the anthology.

I rated and reviewed all of the component short stories to this collection:
     “Asunder”–4 stars
     “The Baboon War”–3 stars
     “Bakasi Man”–3 stars
     “Biafra”–2 stars
     “The Black Stain”–2 stars
     “The Carpet”–2 stars
     “The Ghastly Bird”–2 stars
     “The House of Deformities”–3 stars
     “How Inyang Got Her Wings”–3 stars
     “Icon”–3 stars
     [w/ Alan Dean Foster]–“Kabu Kabu”–2 stars
     “Long Juju Man”–2 stars
     “The Magical Negro”–2 stars
     “Moom!”–2 stars
     “On the Road”–2 stars
     “The Palm Tree Bandit”–3 stars
     “The Popular Mechanic”–2 stars
     “Spider the Artist”–4 stars
     “Tumaki”–3 stars
     “The Winds of Harmattan”–2 stars
     “Windseekers”–2 stars

Also by this author, I’ve previously read:
     “Hello, Moto”–2 stars
     Binti [Binti, #1]–4 stars
 
 
 
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