Short Story Review: “The Swell of the Cicadas” by Tenea D. Johnson

4 of 5 stars.

This is a lovely little ghost story in that it’s written from the POV of a Civil War battlefield ghost. In life, the speaker was not participating in the war, but rather Cat was shot by a stray bullet while crossing the adjacent woods while on an errand for her Mistress.

The slave’s ghost was left to mingle with those of the blues and grays left on the battle field and other non-participant causalities. While the world moved on from the war, the spirits were largely trapped in their animosities for decades until peace settled across the ghostly valley. Now, all of the spirits watch crowds of tourists come to gawk at their history oblivious to the unsettled around them.

This tale stands out in the interactions of the ghost with her environment. She notice of, reaction to and interaction with the play of the forest, the dappling sunlight through the leaves overhead, the whirr of the cicadas. Things as simple as wind and rain pull and disperse the ghost as she moves through her environment:

The sky darkened as the raindrops turned fat and multiplied. Cat struggled to keep her composition as parts of her were saturated and fell to the ground, trying desperately to rejoin the whole before she moved on. She slowed and waited for herself to catch up . . . Cat could see no more. Her vision blurred and prismed as the rain became a downpour and washed her away.

The night came and, painstakingly, she reconvened. As she materialized a wet wind blew through the grove, lifting the hem of Cat’s dress. She made it across the road and to the swollen ditch. She stood in the dark, at the edge of the water, willing herself to disappear. Around her the wilderness swelled with the sound of cicadas, until she could hear nothing but their reedy eruption. . . . She fell slowly, piece by piece into the water. Where the moonlight had moments ago picked out her edges, the glow of her was gone now, and each part of the spirit and once-flesh was lost to the liquid darkness.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Raw Recruits” by Will Ludwigsen

2 of 5 stars.

This is a ghost story without showing any ghosts. In the style of many 19th century stories, the tale is related through letters without depicting any of the action firsthand.

During the Civil War, a Northern Colonel writes a series of letters to his commanding general. In the first he relates a visit to a psychic with another officer. The psychic accurately relayed the location of a dead uncle’s hidden wealth by allegedly channeling the uncle himself. This lead to a plot to channel the spying capabilities of deceased Union soldiers to best the Southern army.

The psychic is leery but is convinced for double money. A vague suggestion sends troops to their doom. The location of the troops was correct, but the level of preparedness was not. Perhaps the ghosts or the psychic have other motives . . .

The breadth of the story is limited by the singular speaker writing to, not just a singular reader, but to his boss. It’s also levels removed from the action by the filtering process of time [the delay between action and relating those same events] and letter-writing. A mix of letter writing and action would increase the immediacy of the tale.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman. I’ve previously read Ludwigsen’s “Acres of Perhaps” which I liked and recommended.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Saxophone” by Nicholas Royle

4 of 5 stars.

In an interesting twist of alt-history, this tale depicts a ravaged Iron Curtain separating Communist Soviet Union’s sphere of influence from that of NATO’s. The tense border between East and West Germany led to shots fired, war escalating, and eventually biological warfare. Hungary and Yugoslavia are the worst ravaged, with most of the population turned to zombies and a dark trade in live organ harvestings. Harvested American military organs bring an especially hefty price on the black market . . .

The metaphor of zombies as denizens of warzones is both unique and particularly apt. It is a tense and joyless existence. The fully cognizant zombies try to keep their heads together [literally] to keep on going, even after the loss of their “lives”. Memories of better times, ie living times, are bittersweet.

Hasek, the main zombie POV, played jazz saxophone when living, now he doesn’t have the breath for it. Nor the instrument. That doesn’t stop him from fingering his air-sax out of habit as he tries to bring a little imagined joy into his music-less reality.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Adakian Eagle by Bradley Denton

3 of 5 stars.

Detective thriller meets World War II historic fiction in this novella set in the Aleutians when a private finds first a ritualistically slaughtered bald eagle on a wind-swept volcano on Adak. He returns to the scene of the crime to find a murdered Navy grunt.

What unspools is a tale of power, corruption, intimidation and canny detective work on the part of the Army base’s lead news reporter. Profound rifts divide the island’s inhabitants: native and military, enlisted and officer, army and navy. Distrust run deep. Echoes of A Few Good Men reverberate through the story.

A supernatural element comes into play when the private and the detective go on an Aleutian vision quest for answers. It’s an unnecessary plot device akin to finding a magic mirror to reveal all of the elements . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Saga, Volume 7 by Brain K. Vaughan [w/ Fiona Staples]

Saga, Vol. 7Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Saga series consistently delivers a nuanced tale spanning a multitude of cultures, ideologies, personal motivations, and sexualities. Led by the brilliant artwork by Fiona Staples and the clever and canny writing of Brian K Vaughan, this epic tale follows the star-crossed lovers, their multi-racial lovechild, their few allies, and their many enemies across years and light years and they hop from star system to star system in an effort to get away from bounty hunters and the war that divides their respective races.

This installment sees much of the cast including the protagonists stuck on a comet embroiled in an endless civil war. Religious dogma takes center stage as multiple analogies to Middle Eastern conflicts play out across the page. The cultures of the hero couple also have hands in the civil war as the comet is fuel-rich, and to the winners go the spoils.

Most clear, is that there can be no winners in such a deeply embedded war. This issue is about loss and its many facets. There is loss of innocence. Loss of potential. Loss of loved ones. And even genocide.

This entire series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read:
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar

4 of 5 stars.

This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.

Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.

Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .

The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Biafra” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

One of many tales carved from an unpublished novel about a native Nigerian woman who can fly, this tale has the protagonist return home to Nigeria after years away. Nigeria is immersed in its Civil War as the heroine comes home.

The other tales, “How Inyang Got Her Wings”, “The Winds of Harmattan”, and “Windseekers” read like folk tales, whereas this tale is historical fiction. It largely remains plotless and makes no use of the heroine nor her abilities beyond her ability to fly out of danger as planes sweep in to bomb villages.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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