Blindness, fiction by Dimitra Nikolaidou

*

“Sometimes you do a thing because it is the only arrow you have left in your quiver. You do it, not because you have a brilliant plan, but because if you do nothing your soul withers and dies.”

“I NEVER THOUGHT it would be her.”

Plato’s grandmother said the same thing every time they opened the window. She had been blinded early on in the days of the new regime, when taking the eyes of artists was more common than the rain. The violence had also taken most of her words away. And yet, every time the shutters unlatched, this single sentence emerged, to float in the air between them.

Plato glanced at his grandmother, then turned towards the small part of the city square still visible among tall buildings, weighted clotheslines, and rusted antennae. The statue of the masked woman was the only shade of white in a sea of dirty concrete.

Almost a thing of beauty.

Plato lay against the windowsill, looking down. His grandmother could not mean any of the passersby. Every woman walking in the street looked the same, the bones of their faces twisted to form the exact same flower-like mask. Hands covered under gloves, clothes of a similar cut—even his own healthy eyes had trouble telling strangers apart. The policewoman on the corner was not the same one as yesterday, judging by her height and the way her uniform fit her.

No, Grandmother had to mean the statue. Brave Lady Manya, the first to free herself from the tyranny of beauty that had held all women captive before the new regime took over and elevated them—whether they wanted it or not. Read more »

Cover Reveal, See the Elephant Issue 4, Beyond Death

Letter from the Editor

Another year, another issue! I started this magazine intending to do two per year. Now, festooned with a multitude of hats, I am grateful for the time to do one. Such is life, which evolves as it grows—we all know that. But what about death? My culture of origin, Anglo-America, isn’t so good at addressing that side of the equation. And here we are, still gobbling resources and burning fossil fuel like there is no tomorrow. Like there is no end to our empire. Like there is no death.

But, deep down, we all know that isn’t true. The blazing certainties of summer inevitably give way to the dusky meditations of fall. Contemplating death, whether of our bodies, our eco-system, or our culture requires humility. It requires time for reflection. It requires courage.

The old traditions of Europe hold that the veil between the living and dead is thinner on October 31st, a belief that has devolved into Halloween, where children dress up and demand candy, and adults dress up and get drunk. In Mexico, my adopted culture, the rituals honoring death remain a bit more intact. Many people celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, by holding parades and festivals, going to visit their ancestors in cemeteries, and creating shrines where they offer bread, skull candies, and flowers. Katrinas, such as those on the cover of this issue, provide blunt and fearless reminders of what lies beneath the temporary skin of our human existence.

I am pleased that Issue 4 of See the Elephant features more international stories than ever before, from a diverse group of authors. As is our custom, the stories run the gamut from serious to whimsical, literary to fantastic.

Here in the Western Hemisphere of North America, ’tis the season to curl up by a fire with a good read, contemplate the change of seasons—and the delicious possibilities presented by death, the ultimate change. Join us, if you dare.

 

With Gratitude,

Melanie Lamaga

 

See the Elephant, Issue 4, Beyond Death will be available for purchase later this month … stay tuned for a sneak peek story here on the website!

To request a review copy, email editors@metaphysicalcircus.com.

 

A Review of Volk: A Novel of Radiant Abomination, by David Nickle

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

 

Radiant, Not Abominable

Apologies, first, for any spoilers in this review, but readers should know they’ll get plenty of good stuff, even if they have a heads-up on some of the reveals. Stoker Award-winning Canadian author David Nickle presents a historical-fantastical body-horror epic, looping in Brownshirts, fighter aces, extreme biology and the nature of faith. And if that sounds like a potent mix, well, try it and see.

Volk unfolds in Europe c.1931, with occasional flashbacks to pre-war America. The Volk of the title refers, of course, to Germanic völkisch ideology, but also to a different and more intense group identity, centred on a parasitic organism, the Juke, which can appropriate human drives, beliefs, and even perceptions to its own needs. The Nazis, and other groups, including the survivors of past encounters with the Juke, are all interested in exploring and exploiting those properties – for diverse purposes and through all sorts of means, some of them very atrocious.

The book is a sequel to Nickle’s previous work on eugenics, also from Chizine, Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, which originally articulated “the biology and parasitology” of the Juke. “I’d never written a sequel until this one,” the author observes in the Acknowledgments. Personally, I hadn’t read Eutopia prior to reading Volk, and still haven’t, but I can tell you that it’s not necessary to do so to catch up on the extensive backstory (you can read more about that here), as Nickle does manage to communicate all the necessary information without Volk feeling like an appendage. He also does a great job of evoking the atmosphere of interwar Europe without overdoing the period detail, in a way that recalls Eric Ambler’s “Popular Front” thrillers. Nickle has appeared in the Queer Fear series, but any overt homoeroticism in Volk is laid on with a light touch. Read more »

A Review of The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Stone Three

The Stone Sky, third in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series, comes hard on the heels of her second Hugo Award for the trilogy’s second volume, The Obelisk Gate. This is definitely not a standalone volume, though: you absolutely need to have read the first two books of The Broken Earth series to know what’s going on. All the same, it fairly zips along, with fewer words spent on explication – even though Jemisin is an expert world-builder. This means there are few of the quieter, reflective passages that allowed readers to get the measure of Jemisin’s imagined post-multiple-apocalyptic world and society: events push towards a grand finale. Massively grand. In the process, the backstory behind the whole narrative comes fully into focus for the first time, raising the stakes by more than a few orders of magnitude. That also gives The Stone Sky an uncommon quality in multi-volume fantasy cycles these days: Un-put-down-ability. I finished it in a couple of days. Read more »

The Wardrobe, fiction by Matthew Sanborn Smith

*

“They pushed past the eighth layer of clothing. This was as deep as he’d dared go his first night in the house, once he’d realized what he had here.”

A TIPSY MARIE Antoinette leaned into Albert’s back until she was uprighted by an Abraham Lincoln on rollerblades. At the king of all housewarming parties, Albert stood in front of the wardrobe, dressed as another king in a late-era Elvis jumpsuit. He held the end of a string in his hand. It was unknotted and unfrayed, no evidence it had ever been attached to a person.

Someone had gone into the wardrobe and hadn’t come out.

Albert had seen movement just beyond the coats as he’d pulled the string—taut only seconds ago—from the darkness. The stirring of suit shoulders and sleeves as a body pushed through, about to emerge. Then the end slipped from the garments to spring at him like a water snake. Nothing remained but creaking hangers swinging old clothing.

This was a bad idea. Jesus, this was such a bad idea. Albert stepped back to keep from falling over. A corn chip crunched beneath his shoe.

He’d watched everyone who went in to explore, everyone who came out with a costume, keeping mental track while he explained to others what a deal he’d gotten on the place and yes, what an amazing thing he’d received with it. No, he hadn’t read the book, but he’d seen the movie. No, no trees or satyrs. Read more »

A Review of Nutshell, by Ian McEwan

Review by J. S. Loveard

“Now I live inside a story and fret about its outcome.”

So says the often arch narrator of Ian McEwan’s latest novel NutshellThe story? Shakespeare’s HamletIn twenty first century London, the narrator discovers that his mother, Trudy, and his uncle, Claude, are not only lovers, but are plotting to murder his father, the poet and publisher John Cairncross.

Of course, in Shakespeare’s original, Prince Hamlet only begins to suspect his uncle’s involvement in ‘murder most foul’ after the deed is done. But this is not the only premature element in McEwan’s retelling. In Nutshell, the narrator is a nine-month-old foetus speaking to us from his mother’s womb, eloquent beyond his years through what he gleans from podcasts, television and BBC radio.  Read more »

A Review of The Emerald Circus, by Jane Yolen

 

Review by William Grabowski

[A] very large yellow butterfly with black spots like microchips on its wings; flying toward her: It had a scrunched-up, old man’s brown face, with wrinkles, sort of pruney, she thought.

 

Jane Yolen has been referred to as “the Hans Christian Anderson of children’s literature,” a claim I’m not qualified to dispute. But her unerring ability to transform even the most mundane events, objects, and people into mythic gold is too well-known for doubt, earning—among others—awards such as the Nebula, World Fantasy, Rhysling, and Caldecott Medal. Yolen was the second woman to attain the position of president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Read more »

A Review of Mongrels: A Novel, by Stephen Graham Jones

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

A Howling Good Time

I reviewed Stephen Graham Jones’s Mapping the Interior here recently, and I’m glad to report that Mongrels: A Novel is very different. It also deserves every accolade it’s received. Mongrels won a slew of best novel nominations, including for the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award and Bram Stoker Award. In contrast to Mapping the Interior, though, Jones’s Blackfeet origins don’t emerge at all into the story – at least explicitly. If they’re there, they’re like werewolf hair – under the skin of the story. Read more »

Arkteia, fiction by Genevieve Williams

*

Iphigenia had been Agamemnon’s daughter, sacrificed to and, some said, rescued by the goddess, taken to Greece and set to preside over the rituals there.

Iphigenia, the name Kate had chosen.

THE MAGLEV TRAIN accelerated away eastward, following the route that had once been State Highway 20. Caleb stood on the platform and let the silence descend in its wake. Even the ambient grew quieter here, far from the torrential noise of Seattle. The town of Kulshan was a thumbprint in the wilderness, beneath the shadow of the volcano that was the reason for its existence, or more precisely, the geothermal plant fueled by the volcano’s heat. Nestled in a bend of the Skagit River, surrounded by forest on all sides, Kulshan’s concrete wall stood like a dam against an encroaching green tide.

After a few minutes, Caleb shouldered his pack and walked down the stairs. The gate, the one through which the few visitors to Kulshan’s backcountry exited the town, was just a couple of blocks from the platform. The people he passed on the street gave him curious looks, but none spoke to him. A glance into the ambient was enough to reveal that he was here to find out whether their geothermal plant, wiped out by a landslide the week before, could be recovered. Read more »

A Review of Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World and Other Stories, by Caroline M.Yoachim

 

Review by William Grabowski

She was not a ship at all; she was the ocean, deep and vast, with a form forever changing in waves of green and blue.

I’ve been fortunate these past weeks to receive books by authors mostly new to me—including Caroline M. Yoachim‘s debut collection. As much as Weird Fiction has evolved since roughly the late 90s, Science Fiction, in the hands of writers like Yoachim, has responded even more radically to the times.

Beyond the stories’ obvious value, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World is precisely the collection for readers not wholly invested in the “gosh-wow” factor that drives most—but not all—technologically oriented novels and short fiction. This is not to say Yoachim’s work displays no interest in exploring technology’s indelible role in speculative futures—it does. But the carefully figured science and engineering are embedded, favoring characterizations and storytelling. By embedded, I mean it isn’t necessary to comprehend—second by second—exactly how your coffee-maker’s circuitry operates during the brewing cyle in order to reap its benefits. You already know the machine’s function, so can focus on other matters. Read more »