Short Story Review: “Gator” by Robert J. Sawyer

GatorGator by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This short story takes an urban legend [that of released alligators living in the sewers of New York City], boldly calls it out for being an urban legend, and then veers the tale in a different direction. Interestingly, the different direction is more outlandish than the urban legend relying on multiple levels of science fiction and speculation.

An NYC sewer worker gets a massive chunk of flesh torn from his thigh in a monster attack beneath the streets of Manhattan. He saw his attacker in the dim light of the sewer and claimed it was an alligator–a deformed one. The emergency doctor and a paleontologist team up to solve the mystery with only one clue beyond that of the testimonial–a 4-inch tooth extracted from the wound . . .

Once the viability of the urban legend is debunked as outrageous and impossible, the tale veers into an answer more outrageous and impossible than the urban legend. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. But for a short tale to quickly layer on speculation into mineralogy, alternate evolution, alternate history, multi-verses, and confluences of all of the above is an undertaking beyond the scope of this narrative.

This tale is included in Writers of the Future: Volume 33, the anthology of winners of the contest by the same name started by L. Ron Hubbard. This year’s anthology was edited by David Farland.
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Short Story Review: “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle

DiraeDirae by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The myth of The Furies [“Dirae” in Greek] gets revamped for the modern era in this short story where folklore meets urban fantasy for a new type of urban legend. The Furies of myth were the vengeful spirits of wronged women. They could drive offending men to death or madness.

In this tale the narrator is the newly formed Fury who slowly builds into a recognizable consciousness as she finds her form and pieces together accumulations of experience and memory. Her role as a defender/protector that doesn’t seem quite biological, though trending that way, is also reminiscent of golems of Jewish folklore.

She doesn’t feel conflicted about her justice against those that would harm children and women. But she does long to understand her own origin and purpose. Some local police that catch repeated sight of her at crime scenes would like to know the same thing, albeit for different reasons.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’d previously read this author’s “Salt Wine”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Biggest” by James Patrick Kelly

3 of 5 stars.

Equal parts American tall tale and period piece urban fantasy, this tale revisits depression era New York City in the days after an unnamed King Kong has fallen dead to the pavement below the Empire State Building. A rube from upstate with an extraordinary talent, ie superpower, makes his way to the big city to make a name for himself on the right side of the law.

The inclusion of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a character during his pre-presidential governorship at the time of his dedicating the Washington Bridge is especially nice.

The tale leaves the hero shy of a true self-exploration making it feel more like a tall tale than a superhero tale as may have been intended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’ve previously read this author’s “Someday”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “In Pursuit of the Swan at Brentford Ait” by Eley Williams

3 of 5 stars.

One-off creatures of urban legend and local folklore, such as Bigfoot, yeti, and Nessie, have fascinated and perhaps terrified humans for millennia. While most lurk at the darker edges of society where detection could conceivably be avoided, others loom large in urban alleys.

This tale of fictional nonfiction is the research of an amateur crytozoologist seeking the proof for a horse-or-house sized swan of pink-to-purple plummage haunting the islands of West London. He draws from accounts and conjecture spanning hundreds of years as proof of witness. He also cites scientific studies that could explain the evolution of said creature or a biological explanation for the day-glo feathers. As with many legends, supernatural conjecture also comes into play as if scientific proof weren’t enough, or all sources were considered equal.

Most of all, this tale embeds a subtle humor lost on the narrator:

It was lucky that I lost my job so that I could devote all my time to my research, and luckier still that I was able to commit a whole extra room to my studies and to the paperwork once my wife left me. It is from here that I can make my phone calls, and fax my evidence on to the appropriate authorities.

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
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Short Story Review: “Below the Falls” by Daniel Mills

4 of 5 stars.

Ghost stories come in many packages. Eerie and compelling, this one promises to be outside the box and yet a ghost story nevertheless.

A diary found in a psychiatric hospital reveals hints of layered family secrets. Despite missing pages and no witnesses to the events, a sordid narrative emerges of a small town girl in New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th Century who’s father has passed under dark circumstances. There’s also a friendly but removed paternal uncle that tries to write to the distressed lady, a clandestine love, a loveless marriage to her mother’s cousin in Boston and the grim, religious stepfather that’s moved her mother away to Vermont. The old house in NH along with any remnants is burned to the ground and plowed under . . .

Mix the hints together with the culturally oppressive role of women in society before WWI and, indeed, restless spirits abound.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books.




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Short Story Review: “1Up” by Holly Black

4 of 5 stars.

The discrepancy between one’s on-line personae–and avatar–and one’s reality can be a big one. Are gamer-friends one has never met face-to-face true friends? And can the differences between reality and virtual reality be plied in one’s favor.

This clever tale is the stuff of urban legend. Four online-only friends make a vow: when Sorry, who’s been sick for years, dies, the others–Toad, Cat, and Decker, will attend the funeral. Within weeks, the inevitable happens. The surviving 3 meet face-to-face and roadtrip to Florida to attend Sorry’s funeral. Feeling out of place at Sorry’s house among his relatives afterward, they wander up to his bedroom. One boots up his computer and awaiting them is a text-only, interactive fiction game called “The Lazarus Game” written by Sorry.

You are sad.

. . .”Look around,” I say. “Type in ‘L’ for ‘look.'”
He does.

You are wearing black, standing in a kid’s bedroom. There are nerdy posters on the walls and nerdy stuff all around you. One of the posters is curled up at one corner and you think you might be able to see writing on the other side.

Between the info from the game and a note on the back of a poster in the room, the kids realize they’re already hours into a 5-hour time-limited game that seems to imply that Sorry’s sickness and death were no accident . . .

This tale is highly recommended.

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 “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” which is also very good.




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Anthology Review: The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran

The Mammoth Book of CthulhuThe Mammoth Book of Cthulhu by Paula Guran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a follow-up to 2015’s New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird, Prime Books and editor Paula Guran released this latest Lovecraftian anthology of new short stories. This is a very even collection with few outshining the rest and none spoiling the bunch.

The best tales each earned 4 of 5 stars:
“In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro” by Usman T. Malik weaves an elaborate tale of terrorism, religion, sexism and urban legend in the modern world.
“Caro in Carno” by Helen Marshall images a fantastical landscape and folktale bringing heart to the process of death.
“Umbilicus” by Damien Angelica Walters depicts a mother’s infinite grief after the inexplicable loss of her 7 y.o. daughter.

Also included are:
Barron, Laird–“A Clutch”–3 stars
Downum, Amanda–“The Sea Inside”–3 stars
Emrys, Ruthanna–“Those Who Watch”–3 stars
Gavin, Richard–“Deep Eden”— 3 stars
Hodge, Brian–“It’s All the Same Road in the End”–3 stars
Langan, John–“Outside the House, Watching for the Crows”–3 stars
McDonald, Sandra–“The Cthulhu Navy Wife”–3 stars
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia–“Legacy of Salt”–3 stars
Partridge, Norman–“Backbite”–3 stars
Schanoes, Veronica–“Variations of Lovecraftian Themes”–3 stars
Shirley, John–“Just Beyond the Trailer Park”–3 stars
Strantzas, Simon–“Alexandra Lost”–3 stars
Wehunt, Michael–“I Do Not Count the Hours”–3 stars
Bulkin, Nadia–“I Believe That We Will Win”–2 stars
Gresh, Lois H.–“In the Sacred Cave”–2 stars
Hannett, Lisa L.–“In Syllables of Elder Seas”–2 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge”–2 stars
Lee, Yoon Ha–“Falcon-and-Sparrows”–2 stars
Pugmire, W. H.–“A Shadow of Thine Own Design”–2 stars
Shea, Michael–“An Open Letter to Mister Edgar Allan Poe, From a Fervent Admirer”–2 stars
Webb, Don–“The Future Eats Everything”–2 stars
Wise, A. C.–“I Dress My Lover in Yellow”–2 stars

I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Outside the House, Watching for the Crows” by John Langan

3 of 5 stars.

All too often teens and parents don’t talk about the parents’ experience as teens, whether it’s generational amnesia or propriety’s sake. Yet there could be lessons learned as teens interact with the world in a particular way–their world views are opening, they are exposed to new ideas and art and music and forms of expression and belief. There’s the pressure to understand new groups and possibly to belong. And there’s the access to mind-altering substances.

This tale sits somewhere between urban legend and urban fantasy as a father writes his son a letter as a follow-up to a question posed by the son:

What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you–I mean, the weirdest?

The father hesitates to answer such a dangerous question, especially having spent years trying to forget . . . Notably, he also references the lack of openness and understanding between himself and his own parents. But then he launches into his story about when he met a girl in high school and then her group of friends which exposed him to new music that ripped his world right open . . . literally . . . [and I don’t misuse the word literally].

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 Langan’s “Bloom”, “Children of the Fang”, and “The Wide, Carnivorous Sky”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “I Dress My Lover in Yellow” by A. C. Wise

2 of 5 stars.

Found footage, photos, journals, and notes convey a sense of mystery surrounding the question: What happened to the people who’d chronicled the artifact before it was lost? The mystery comes at the expense of immediacy in that the chronicler’s voice is limited to the breadth of the evidence left behind, while the finder rarely has contextual information to cast light on the mystery.

This tale reads as an urban legend as it doubles down on the mysteries within the confines of one body of found notes. A couple college girl roommates [and part-time lovers] disappear leaving the notebook of one of the girls. It contains a few index notes from the second girl showing the increase strain in their relationship and a few odd references that verge on supernatural.

The bulk of the notebook contains the research of the first girl about a couple that had disappeared 150 years earlier. A painter and his muse vanish despite the best efforts of the painter’s patron who’s married to the unwilling muse. Their disappearance has traces of the supernatural but remains a mystery, as does the existence and location of the painting of the patron’s wife.

The dreams and feelings reported by both painter’s muse and roommate scrawling in the margins are strikingly similar . . .

Due to the nature of the tale–a researched story in the pages of a notebook with margin notes from someone else–every aspect of the case is pushed into the distance and a few layers removed. One also knows from the outset that there’ll be no resolution.

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 “And the Carnival Leaves Town”, “Chasing Sunset”, “Letters to a Body on the Cusp of Drowning”, and “We Are Not These Bodies, Strung Between the Stars”–3 stars.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “A Shadow of Thine Own Design” by W. H. Pugmire

2 of 5 stars.

This vignette reads as fan fiction deeply embedded into the landscape and peoples of Lovecraft’s lore. It emulates his tone and adds a small footnote to the magical, occult underbelly of Arkham, MA.

A fan of occult artist Pickman goes in hunt of one of Pickman’s most famous models after he finds out she’s still alive nearly a century later. Their meeting shows their mutual respect for the late artist and the magical underpinnings to what it represented. She’s more than a surviving footnote to a bygone era, in that she has works and knowledge hidden away in her ancient house . . .

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 “They Smell of Thunder”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]