Short Story Review: “Asunder” by Nnedi Okorafor

4 of 5 stars.

This short, interesting “love story” [as defined by the author] emerges from the remnants of a scrapped novel. I would label the tale, a modern folk tale. The quizzical use of the second-person POV is explained by the tale’s relationship to the characters of the discarded novel.

A boy and girl meet and instantly fall in love, a very true love. Six years later, they marry–never leaving each other’s side. They consider themselves One. Everybody considers them One. Even their families note the loss of their respective children for the sake of this One-ness. The two spend so much time so close to each other that they grow together literally with their hair weaving together into inseparable locks.

It takes the couple 4 more years to consummate the marriage and they only grow closer yet. Until, she becomes pregnant. . .

I really like that this tale turns the normal theme of a child representing the one-ness of a couple on its head by being the divider. It’s the unevenness of pregnancy that shows there was never One-ness to begin with–it was all well-meaning illusion. The couple must be separated [from their common locks] to redefine their love.

In short, the tale is lovely.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “In the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden” by Sunny Singh

4 of 5 stars.

The easiest of romances is the distant crush, the imagination’s relationship with a stranger. It gives pleasant (albeit false) memories and adds a bit of happiness to an otherwise lonely reality. This is the tale of a distant crush, a wordless crush. A crush of routine and inferred meaning.

Graham lives a lonely, guarded life–half out of necessity. He works in intelligence, switching up his routes through town, sticking to the foods and drinks and patterns that he’s used to. He notices when things change–that’s what makes him good at his job. He establishes a pattern in his home neighborhood of London, of finishing a crossword on a bench in the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden–always the same bench–and then heading to his quiet pub for a single pint.

One Spring a woman alights on his bench and reads for a spell. Then some weeks later, she comes again. And he notices. Soon, he expects her arrival and notices her aged, simple beauty. But they don’t talk, nor even share a glance. But he crushes on her.

One day, he catches her name when she takes a phone call–Catherine. But he doesn’t use it. However, eventually they learn to say Goodbye to each other. And later yet, Hello . . .

The organic growth of the relationship of strangers is beautifully depicted, as is the interplay between Graham external and internal lives.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” by Catherynne M. Valente

The Long Goodnight of Violet WildThe Long Goodnight of Violet Wild by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a subject, Death is often treated with allegory–and sometimes even absurdist allegory. This cloying tale wraps itself in cleverness making no bones about being absurdist and allegorical. While some images work–such as metaphysical, purple squirrels pregnant with possible futures–most of the tale reads as an ungrounded Suessical nightmare.

Violet lives in the Purple Country where everything and everyone is a shade of purple and named after a shade of purple. Her best friend, and paramour, Orchid, is taken from her by the time-space squirrels as all lovers are eventually fated to be parted by time. Violet takes on a journey across the rainbow of countries with her mammoth and unicorn to find Orchid and bring him back from death.

The representational aspect of language and metaphor changes across the countries with “loved one” variously meaning “needed one”, “one she’d eat”, “one she’d kill”, “hated one” and sometimes even straight forwardly meaning “loved one.” Emotions and concepts of money, tears, time, sorrow, stories etc. all flux in their symbolism. The cleverness is saccharine.

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 Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture”, “The Lily and the Horn”, “Palimpsest”, and “Urchins, While Swimming”.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Frost Burn by K.T. Munson and Nichelle Rae

Frost BurnFrost Burn by K.T. Munson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cast of likable characters elevates this other-world fantasy as 2 queendoms, bitter rivals from ancient times, are forced to deal with each other as their planets succumbs to global warming. As disasters rattle the nations, a small handful of heroes and royals from each lean on each other and their magic abilities to avert complete annihilation.

The original premise of a Fire Nation headed by fire-wielding magic-users versus a Frost Nation with ice magic seemed too dichotomous, too convenient. Though it’s interesting that the climate and living conditions of each nation would outright kill a citizen of the other. By the end, the history and mythology embrace the premise making it work. Even better, was the inclusion of third parties and rebels with agendas of their own. I expected, and perhaps wanted, more from the larger of the rebellions–it almost felt like a dropped plot.

Romance takes a healthy chunk of this novel without overwhelming it for the non-romance reader, such as myself. It’s a sub-plot and coda that never hijacks the greater tale, thankfully. The chapters alternate between Fire and Frost POVs, more or less. The countering views add nuance to the tale.

I received my copy of this novel directly from one of the authors after previously reviewing her thoroughly enjoyable pirate fantasy novel, 1001 Islands, which deservedly made my Best Reads of 2015 list.
 
 
 
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Review: 1001 Islands

1001 Islands1001 Islands by K.T. Munson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not since The Princess Bride, have I seen this many rogues gathered into one story. This pirate-abduction fantasy romp is highly enjoyable.

The Princess Roxana of Port Royal has been a royal, outspoken thorn-in-the-rear that has already cost herself one arranged marriage with one of the other two outer isle kingdoms. She makes for a feisty victim for the dreaded raider of the inner isles known as The Silence, aka Morgan. He’s witty, brooding, romantic and never acting as one expects.

A pair of Kingsmen of Port Royal are split up with separate plans to save, and/or ransom the princess. Caliel leaves first and finds himself amid a society of inner isle independents protected by The Silence, but led by the enigmatic and charismatic Emelia. Tomas leaves 2nd with the ransom gold and finds schemes aplenty in every uncharted bay.

Finally, perhaps the most dastardly and disgusting villain in print creates a swath of destruction with everybody in the crosshairs, raping old women and young boys as he goes [thankfully off-page].

Cultures and personalities clash, perspectives are challenged, and cannons discharge all before supernatural forces, elemental old-beings, rear their heads . . .

This tale is a complete story without the promise of a sequel or trilogy, but hopefully this is not the last of this fantastical world. It is highly recommended.

I received my copy of the book when the author contacted me directly through The Book Review Directory, a blog.
 
 
 
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Review: The Things We Do For Love

The Things We Do For LoveThe Things We Do For Love by K. J. Parker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This novella follows 2 unlikable characters that Bonnie & Clyde their way around a fantasy country. They claim to love each other, until they don’t. [No spoiler here, the story opens with one confessing to the murder of the other after repeated attempts]. Their grasp of love, goodness, and justice are all skewed.

The tale meanders as the characters do–in a confused sort of way. Histories and flashbacks do not inform much beyond the fickleness of the characters that stand for nothing beyond themselves and their unshared desires.

The Things We Do For Love appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Subterranean Press Magazine, Summer 2014. I’ve previously reviewed Parker’s enjoyable “Heaven Thunders the Truth”.
 
 
 
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Review: Echo

EchoEcho by Lorena Glass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This opening novel of a planned trilogy is 2 parts romance, 1 part supernatural thriller, and 1 part historical fiction with the last 2 parts being the stronger half. In general, 2 eternally bound souls are cursed to repeatedly be separated and blessed to be reunited. Or potentially that, too, is part of the curse. Either way, there is no rest for the souls. The characters do not understand the true conditions that they fight against as seen with the very first narrator, Karissa.

The story opens on Karissa time-jumping from 2034 AD America to 460 AD Gaul as the Western Roman Empire is in its death throws. She understands neither of 2 objects that aided her journey: a time-cutting piece of technology, and a magic charm. We later learn that it is the charm that has bound her soul to Ian/Adregin/Evain. She thinks love is eternal and soulmates are real and reincarnation is a thing. However, the story shows that it’s a benevolent charm and a curse conspiring to keep the souls tethered, restless and forever harassed.

Karissa, who probably received the tech & charm from Ian wherever he’s originally from, uses it to find Ian’s spirit after he’s died. This takes her to Gaul where Adregin(Ian) is a Western Roman centurion. Luckily, in whatever form, the souls recognize each other.

Some clever construction emerges in the midpoint of this novel. The curse happens when an incarnation of Karissa named Iilassa kills a witch who has destroyed the charm. [A sympathetic elder creates a new charm for them, only–it’s probably the old charm.] The witch curses Iilassa/Karissa/?? and Ian/Adregin/Evain/?? for all eternity to restlessness and torment. The torment comes from nobody respecting the bounds of their relationship, family and neighbors not trusting them, and plenty of accusations of paganism and witchcraft–all factors to drive them apart or to keep them on the run. The elements of adversity can come in the form of anybody.

Sadly, death doesn’t bring peace to these souls, but reincarnates the soul with a drive to find the other to relive the torment.

The biggest wins here are seeing the diverse cultures: 460s Gaul, 590s Lapland, and 710s Cyprus. The historic events create the interest in the story. The constant adversity, including pirates and seducers, creates good tension.

The slow realization to the adversity makes the story painful at times. The near constant either bickering or prattling about love by the two protagonists is itself a form of torture. Hopefully later incarnations are a little surer of their feelings because the insecurities are numbing and undermine the story. Also, the near apologetic explanations of the tenets of Christianity throughout a book based on supernatural magic and a pagan curse are unnecessary.

The book ends on a jump to an unknown new destination which is promising. Hopefully, the emotional immaturity of the couple can be left behind as the adventure continues. Having time-jumping characters create a loop back to the original curse is a brilliant move, despite its enigma of what came first.

I received this novel directly from the author.
 
 
 
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Review: “Pernicious Romance” by Robert Reed

5 of 5 stars.

This is a brilliant tale in the form of an investigative report of a potentially terrorist or supernatural event including case studies of various victims. Hypotheses and victim reports hint at multiple realities or even a multiverse scenario.

70,000 people at a football stadium [athletes, marching band members, fans, security etc.] are rendered unconscious after the halftime show when a vehicular football helmet atomizes in a burst of EMP and light reportedly preceded by the scent of perfume. Dozens die in the blast. Most have re-awoken in the 16 months since the event, but hundreds remain unconscious but in states of high metabolism, high agitation, and high neural activity accompanied by rapid deep breathing.

Victims start to awaken a couple hours after the blast. The first to awaken reports being in another place for exactly 7 days. Her brother, who awoke minutes later, says he was elsewhere for 9 days. Each experienced a torrid love affair. A physics professor awakens to report being in an alien world for 2 weeks. The alternate realities vary in length up to 58 years in the case of a young woman who was unconscious for 15 fifteen months. She now speaks a different language and struggles to remember English. Her caretaker fiance can barely compete with her memories of a 50+ year marriage with descendants . . .

“Pernicious Romance” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Clarkesworld, November 2014.

I’ve also reviewed Reed’s “Every Hill Ends With Sky” which appears in this same anthology.
 
 
 
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Review: “Ghost Story” by John Grant

5 of 5 stars.

This brilliant supernatural tale with the undertones of an urban legend manages to turn on itself 2 or 3 times. A full explanation of the uncanny is never granted, but conjecture runs deep: doppleganger(?), fae(?), demons(?).

In Bristol, Dverna can easily see that her husband Nick is bothered by a phone call he has just received. He confesses the full breadth of the conversation to his loving, understanding wife. A long-time acquaintance that he hasn’t seen in about 7 years, Lindsay, has called to say that she is 3 months pregnant–with his child. Lindsay claims it came from their dalliance at her parents house in Edinburgh during his July business trip. And, Nick was supposed to stay with Lindsay’s parents on said trip. Only, he had a summer flu and stayed back in Bristol with his doting wife nursing him back to health. Nick is certain that Lindsay believes what she is reporting.

Needing to clear things up, Nick heads to London the next week to meet with Lindsay who’s come to the city with her parents. They each get to share what they know of three months ago, seven years ago, and everything in between. This haunting story is highly recommended.

“Ghost Story” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Interzone, March/April 2014.
 
 
 
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Review: “Inconstant Moon” by Larry Niven

3 of 5 stars.

This tale poses an interesting scenario and question: you realize that this is your last night on Earth, or more correctly, Earth’s last night. What are you going to do with it?

Stan is up late in San Diego after the sun has set when he notices the moon beautifully brightening to a point he’s never witnessed. Despite the late hour, almost midnight, he calls Leslie, a quasi-girlfriend with benefits. He becomes disturbed by the moon’s continued brightening. The lovers make love and then head out into the night for decadent desserts and drinks to shut down the bars. It is while they are out that ominous suspicions are confirmed when Jupiter, the next closest celestial object visible in that night’s sky, flares brighter in reflected sunlight 90 minutes after the moon started.

Whether it’s a solar system ending nova event or an epoch ending mega-flare from the sun, the lovers conjecture certain of the scarcity of remaining hours. However, a lack of aurora and subsequent shockwave has them daring to hope that their half of the planet might actually pull through the arising tempests and apocalypse . . .

This story is illustrated by 2014 artist contest winner Bernardo Mota. “Inconstant Moon” is included in the anthology Writers of the Future Volume 31 by L. Ron Hubbard. I received the anthology through Net Galley.
 
 
 
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