Short Story Review: “It Helps If You Sing” by Ramsey Campbell

It Helps if you SingIt Helps if you Sing by Ramsey Campbell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Religious indoctrination is likened to the mindless motivations of zombies in this short horror story. The metaphor is unsubtle at best while the world-building is undeveloped, since it’s not about the story–merely the satire. A developed story with a subtle metaphor would be more effective.

Curiously, the acceptance of the religion–Christianity in this tale–also numbs the body and comes with castration by its adherents. To become a zombie, is to become less than human; to accept religion, is to become less than human. Ironically, the un-Christian practice of Obeah [voodoo] is the means to creating the intentional zombies in this tale.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read and reviewed this author’s short story, “Respects”.
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Novel Review: Of Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell

Of Plagues and PriestessesOf Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A clear world-building fantasy, this novel paints nearly everything and everybody without nuanced shades of gray. The trio of Priestesses [the maiden, the mother and the crone] are everything good and righteous in the world. Their white light magic can revive the dead, purify water and cast out dark monsters and magic. Residing in the capital city of the central kingdom [Valorholme], their influence lords over all other realms. They’re also comically masochistic, self-righteously insufferable and largely unlikable as they impose their will on everybody.

The opposing nation of Briarcroft is depicted as all that is evil. Curiously, the sun never shines there and nothing but briars grow there despite lying just west of the mountains bordering Valorholme. Briarcroft understandably wants to bring the sun back to their land and to be freed from dependence on the whims of self-righteous Valorholme. Their reliance on dragons and ghouls to achieve their means are less noble.

The tale borrows heavily from Greek and Biblical mythos as it introduces unstoppable heroes of inhuman proportion. This includes wholesale attributing the Heruclean slaying of the Hydra to a living hero of this novel.

The narrative prefers to jump from epic confrontation to epic confrontation without character development. Substories with merit, such as the conflict between the royals and religious orders of Valorholme, are left unfilled. Characters slip from the narrative when they should not. And disjointed scenes sit uneasily within the tale such as the one-off vampire castle. Missing from this tale is a single character that feels relatable and real, if not likable.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
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Novel Review: No Rest for the Wicked by Dane Cobain

No Rest for the WickedNo Rest for the Wicked by Dane Cobain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Science and Religion collide when researchers at the new CERN particle accelerator try to discover the elusive theoretical Boson-Higgs particle, aka the “God Particle.” Despite the misnomer, the particle’s existence has zero bearing on religion, nor does the research conducted prove or disprove or in any way relate to religion nor the existence of a deity. However, that’s a repeated subtheme in the tale here, that somehow CERN research set about to disprove God.

In the fantastical, speculative world of the story, the research unleashes hibernating “Angels.” And they are horrifying. [Think: Dr. Who‘s episode “Blink.”] Angels are supernatural, light-based beings who judge harshly and murder. What’s left unclear is where the angels get their moral-code from. It seems to assume the Bible which clashes with the narrative itself.

Working against the narrative is the short story plot stretched into a novel without further development and the highly disjointed first half of the book. Chapters aren’t chronological, but without a good enough reason to not be. They also jump characters frequently without distinguishing the importance of said characters. 3-4 interspersed chapters taking place a half-century before the events of the tale, would have worked just as well as a single flashback, or better yet, could’ve been omitted for the sake of pace as they added little to the tale.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through I previously read and reviewed this author’s Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home and
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Key” by Ilsa J. Bick

3 of 5 stars.

Modern day detective noir meets ancient Jewish mysticism in this tale of murder and convenient coincidence.

A Washington DC detective, Jason Saunders, and his new partner scope out the scene in a local park where a dead infant was found by a woman walking a dog. It happens to be the same park where a year earlier Saunders’ then partner committed suicide. A potential anti-Semitic hate crime had sent his Jewish partner along a downward spiral that ended with a self-administered bullet.

Fighting through the memories, Saunders notes a Kabbalah pendant around the neck of the dog walker. And his partner find a piece of cloth inscribed with Hebrew letters tucked under the tongue of the infant …

It may not matter if something supernatural is going on, or even if you belief something supernatural could go on, if others do believe . . .

The story presents a clash of faiths and levels of skepticism knotted into an investigative mess.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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
[Check out my other reviews here.]