Short Story Review: “Vermont Muster” by Nick Mamatas

2 of 5 stars.

This tale feels more Lovecraftian than ghost story when a teenager lights a candle and sternos a can of soup in front of his high school’s engraved image of a local hero that returned home from fighting in the Civil War.

A confluence of strange events ensues. The teenager has a seizure before he can start his seance. [But he is accustomed to having seizures.] His borrowed video camera captures an unexplained image in front of the engraving at the same time as the seizure. Civil War enacters from all over start to arrive into town after being compelled in their dreams–and they find it very difficult to leave again . . .

Much is packed into this short tale. However, a clear explanation and resolution are not.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman. I’ve previously read this author’s “Hideous Interview with Brief Man”.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Book of the Dead ed. by John Skipp and Craig Spector

Book of the DeadBook of the Dead by John Skipp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This zombie-themed anthology came out in the 1980s and shows it. At the very least, it makes obvious the more complex view of zombie lit as a genre. These tales stem from an era when zombies had not broken out of B horror films. Many cliches plague the narratives. And often times the zombies don’t move and act in a consistent way which takes seriously the defining situational characteristics they’ve been assigned. That’s a problem. Zombies, by cultural definition, are humans deprived of free will and acting the animal or the manipulations of another [such as a necromancer or obeah/voodoo priest].

There are of course exceptions in a zombie sub-genre where the zombie retains thoughts and memories and must deal with their “condition” as if it were akin to chronic disease. All zombie detectives fall into this category.

Two of the sixteen short stories and novellas rose above the rest for me, meriting 4 stars:
–Glen Vasey’s Choices follows a young man’s journal of the first months of a zombie apocalypse under the looming cloud of knowing that the journal is “found evidence” not accompanied by the writer. His fate resides within the pages. The journal mostly explores the variety of reactions found in the other survivors he meets along his journey.
–Nicholas Royle’s “Saxophone” depicts self-aware zombies living the chronically hampered and deprived life of those behind the iron curtain. The Berlin Wall separates the free from the zombie in this well developed tale of alternate history.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the anthology’s component tales. Also included are:
Boyett, Steven R.–Like Pavlov’s Dogs–3 stars
King, Stephen–“Home Delivery”–3 stars
McCammon, Robert R.–“Eat Me”–3 stars
McConnell, Chan–“Blossom”–3 stars
Nutman, Philip–“Wet Work”–3 stars
Winter, Douglas E.–“Less Than Zombie”–3 stars
Campbell, Ramsey–“It Helps If You Sing”–2 stars
Daniels, Les–“The Good Parts”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
Tem, Steve Rasnic–“Bodies and Heads”–2 stars
Bryant, Edward–“A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned”–1 star
Hodge, Brian–“Dead Giveaway”–1 star
Layman, Richard–“Mess Hall”–1 star
Schow, David J.–“Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy”–1 star
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Ten Thousand Miles” by Connie Wilkins

4 of 5 stars.

The horrors of war get a fresh treatment in this tale set in a Union hospital encampment at the edge of the Louisiana swamp. A virtual limbo, the miasma-filled camp is staged for confusion as first Rebels overtake the camp and then a Union gunship takes aim amid the roiling mists and smoke.

The camp is largely manned by “African-descent” former slaves fighting for freedom. Two main characters hold down the hospital tent. Gem is an elderly African-American woman disguised as a man to help the freedom effort. It reads more queer/trans in the narrator’s use of male pronouns for male-guised Gem. Gem’s also attuned to the restless spirits awaiting reunion with the still battling living.

The narrating surgeon is a widowed white Quaker son and grandson of Quaker abolitionists that were at the forefront of the Indiana portion of the Underground Railroad. He’s also haunted by spirits in the form of his deceased wife. The camp is filled with her beloved moths of every size and color, and they serve as a constant reminder of her.

This moving tale shifts from black to white, male to female, living to dead, substantial to spiritual all amidst the roiling mists and flocking moths . . . It’s recommended.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Mistress” by Jennifer R. Povey

2 of 5 stars.

This tale relates a contemporary ghost story, when the narrator visits a Civil War plantation house that was burned at the end of the war. The circumstances of its burning and the fate of its final residents remain a mystery.

The narrator sees a female ghost twirling a parasol and realizing that it’s the plantation mistress. [Other site visitors have seen the same visage.] However, this encounter escalates as memories of the final days of the plantation seep into the tourist.

Race and the politics of race are brought up deliberately in the tale in the effort to show its contemporary POV But it has the effect of emphasizing its own “whitewashing” with its focus on the “mistress”, her doting “servants” [aka slaves], and her benevolent treatment of them as the murdering Union and Rebel troops flood the landscape only to meet at the plantation . . .

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek BridgeAn Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This haunting, psychological bender depicts the dramatic hanging of a Rebel supporter by the Union troops. Most interestingly, the tale was written in 1890 with not even a generation lapsed since the end of the war. Wounds between North and South would still have been quite raw. Especially in this tale in which a Southern civilian is baited into doing something illegal by a Union soldier in order to drum up a hanging. And so it plays out.

But it doesn’t play out as characters nor readers would expect as minute details, sensations and thoughts flicker across the page–all from the POV of the condemned man falling . . .

I highly recommend this story. This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Collection Review: Remember by Ray Gardener

RememberRemember by Ray Gardener
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Memories are notoriously fickle things. People both remember things that never happened and yet incorporate it into the fiction of their lives, and also forget things without the recourse to reverse the process. Some want to remember; others would do anything to forget . . .

This collection of eight tales examines a multiple of related themes as memories prove their elusiveness. The first six of the eight tales take place in the same world with the same cast of characters. A bit of clever tweaking could have nicely pulled them into a single hefty novella, much the way Gloria Naylor’s brilliant Bailey’s Cafe tells a series of interrelated character tales exploring identity and abuse. Here, the business of remembering and forgetting is monetized with people paying others or for services that will remove memories or plant false memories. People should be careful what they ask for, lest they actually get it. Some want to erase painful memories, others are more playful with their brain health and tweak things for fun or out of boredom.

The very brief seventh tale show a war of the roses between a vampiric love triangle. Vampires have the ability to plant false memories as they seduce. [Think succubus vampires.]

The eighth tale is a novella in which the narrator notices the world changing about her in ways that others do not. People and places seem to be suddenly gone. The psychological play here is nice and spins this tale into a thriller.

In a couple scenes in unrelated tales, I found myself pulled from the story by characters not acting appropriately or competently for their occupation or place in life. Thankfully and redeemingly, on both occasions, the scenes or characters turned out not to be real. They were false memories or experiences, akin to dream logic. Many a thing seems logical in dreams that doesn’t hold up with 15 seconds of lucidity. And yet these out-of-characters sections weren’t over-written which was also nice in that it kept the mystery of what was reliably true hidden.

I received my copy of this collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’ve previously read this author’s The White Room and Other Stories
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Spectral Drums” by Devin Poore

4 of 5 stars.

This moving short story uses metaphor to great effect in the interactions between soldiers from 2 different wars. Generations may separate them, but the understanding bridges impossible gulfs.

On the verge of WWI, the narrator [a trolley driver] notes his standard route to and through the old Civil War battlefield. His respect for the history is evident in his stopping to pick up and let off ghostly riders in blue and gray that whisper of home and family. The tourists also on the trolley gape at the spectacle but don’t move to interact. The ghosts do not communicate directly with the living.

One young man on the trolley boldly attempts to initiate conversation with the spirits, but to no luck. Later, when the trolley is down to just the driver, the young man and a handful of ghosts, the man confesses to the driver that he’s left his Indiana farm to join the war front in France. He expresses his hopes and dreams and what compelled him to leave the safety of home. A ghost replies . . .

I highly recommend this story. This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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