Short Story Review: “Seven Minutes in Heaven” by Nadia Bulkin

2 of 5 stars.

Disaster can strike anywhere and anyone. Survivors might ask Why there and to them and not here and to us? Sometimes, being a superstitious species, we seek supernatural answers as to why a tornado might destroy one farm and not its neighbor.

This tale dives into one such situation when an entire mountain town is snuffed out in one night. The narrator, living in the next village over, was too young to remember the incidence and the cause. As a teen, already the local mythos shrouds the event in mystery. Mostly, it’s not talked about.

The narrator grows up, however, obsessed with death. And, with the truth about the village that suffocated in a poison cloud released from an industrial accident. Her town was next in the wind path, and yet . . . and that’s where the mystery kicks in. Why them? Who were we to survive?

This interesting topic is worthy of exploring, but develops unevenly in this tale and jumps the shark with a college roommate that serves only one improbable purpose.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Absolute Zero”, “Everything Dies, Baby”, “I Believe That We Will Win”, and “Only Unity Saves the Damned”.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro” by Usman T. Malik

4 of 5 stars.

Scars permanently brand bodies and psyches alike. Entire cities, cultures and landscapes can be scarred. A scar embeds a story, perhaps a cautionary tale or a lesson learned or even a worse fate avoided. The ruins of an ancient city and culture are a two-fold scar. The first upon the city’s former glory; the second upon nature trying to restore itself.

Beneath her hijab, Noor hides the physical scars of her former life in America and the suicide bombing her “martyred” brother expected her to help with. Now she teaches in Pakistan at a boys school where neither new teachers nor female teacher are well-treated. Her one friend is an older female teacher. Together with an arrogant, sexist male teacher and a dozen boys, they charter a bus to Mohenjo-Daro to see ancient ruins from a pre-Islamic culture.

Rumored to be haunted or worse, Mohenjo-Daro becomes more than just a quick tour when Taliban shoot up a private school not far from the site. Roads are assumed to be in terrorist hands and cell service cuts out leaving the small group stranded with little food, shelter or information as night brings chilling cold and an unsettling fog.

A couple boys disappear into the ruins and unearthly noises emanate from within as Noor tries to focus through her cluster headache and cramps . . .

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s excellent The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn and his “Resurrection Points”.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “I Believe That We Will Win” by Nadia Bulkin

2 of 5 stars.

Religious fervor and fanaticism of one belief system are inexplicable to followers of other beliefs. This is especially true when the fanaticism accompanies bodily sacrifice or mutilation.

This tale is a chronicle of faux history detailing the decades-long relationship between the Church of the Holy Star and athletic success. Emerging from a period of famine and starvation, a small church finds a new purpose after the pastor’s daughter, Sasha, achieves great success in artistic gymnastics. In a religious fervor, she sacrifices herself on the church’s alter allowing the faithful to eat. From then on, St. Sasha is revered and the practice of “Champions” sacrificing themselves for other congregants to eat becomes the norm.

An offshoot plot line follows an athlete that left the fold, not wanting to kill herself. Then another follows a schism in the church when some break away to keep doing as they’ve been doing with self-sacrificing athletes and cannibalism, while the main church moves on to forcibly hunting its next “Champion” as they also more openly revere Lovecraft’s Azathoth, God That Devours Worlds . . .

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Absolute Zero”, “Everything Dies, Baby” and “Only Unity Saves the Damned”.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Falcon-and-Sparrows” by Yoon Ha Lee

2 of 5 stars.

The rites of culture and religion threaten to pass into hollow routine unless meaningfulness is re-upped.

In this subtle tale, the narrator is born of two people from opposite sides of a civil war. Her outsider status helps her to see through the cultural trappings of her hometown. A childhood game of “Falcons-and-Sparrows” [ie “Tag” mixed with “Blind Man’s Bluff”] serves as a metaphor for what she experiences around her. In the game, a blindfolded falcon tries to find the sparrows eluding him.

The narrator heads to the local shrine and queues up for the scribes as per routine. The scribes chronicle the prayers of the devotees, each on its own piece of paper which is then folded [into a sparrow] and released. But she notices that the scribes aren’t actually writing anything down or listening to the prayers. The papers already have writings and drawings on them . . .

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Combustion Hour” and “Wine”.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

3 of 5 stars.

The skirmish between religion and science rears from time to time and place to place with little accomplished nor acceded. Often, the dialogue between the two sides is really two dialogues, one held by each side without a truly common language or lens building understanding. This tale re-enacts that dance as two young girls from different mindsets attempt to understand the incomprehensible.

Dancy has been following the path of her angel further away from her family and into unknown parts. But her angel doesn’t stick around, so Dancy finds herself on a rural road in Alabama with seemingly a dragon flying overhead. Jezzie appears and leads Dancy to the safety of her secret studying lair where she examines reptiles and reads books on evolution and Earth science. Dancy doesn’t trust a girl named, Jezebel, after a harlot idolater.

Dancy mistrusts evolutionary science as it contradicts the Bible of Genesis. Jezzie distrusts the dismissal of science by religionists. And then there’s the dragon . . . Jezzie points out the dragon is really a pterosaur but she cannot scientifically explain what it’s doing in Alabama 70 million years after it went extinct . . .

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I’ve previously read Kiernan’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
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