A Review of The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

 

Review by William Grabowski

…I was standing on my head…leaves were growing from my body, and roots were sprouting from my hands…

Some novels seize—like hawk on mouse—an idea, zip through empty space and leave us whirling in turbulence. Han Kangʼs Man Booker International Prize-winning The Vegetarian achieves far more, and cultivates with infinite delicacy and patience what life becomes when Yeong-hye, after bloody dreams, shuns all meat and animal products. In her Korean culture, this is perceived as deeply shocking and rebellious; deliberate betrayal of family and tradition.

 

The violent reaction from Yeong-hye’s father reminded me how little I knew about this culture, the pressure to conform, and its devastating affect on women. The men aren’t free of this pervasive stress, but being dominators fearful of underperforming and consequent shame, have near-zero tolerance for “freaky” behavior—no matter the hypocrisy of their own hungers and secret indulgence.

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A Review of The Endless Fall and Other Weird Fictions, by Jeffrey Thomas

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Falling Towards the Weird

 

Jeffrey Thomas will be familiar to many readers as the author of the Punktown series of stories – scratch that, Jeffrey Thomas is famous among weird and science fiction readers, RPG players, and even comic book fans, as author of the Punktown chronicles of bizarre alien, and occasionally cosmic-horrific, goings-on at that eponymous offworld meeting place for all kinds of races and beings. That’s one very well-realized and – of course, somewhat cyberpunk – milieu, which nonetheless gives little idea of Thomas’s true range. The fourteen recent stories in this collection range far further afield, stylistically and thematically. As Matthew Carpenter explains in his introduction, “you can start with Punktown, but as you begin a deeper exploration of Jeffrey’s oeuvre, you discover … his most consistent theme, real people caught in desperate, bizarre or terrifying circumstances. The Endless Fall could represent the descent to oblivion for the protagonists. It could also indicate the turning of the year, as a summer of promise darkens to the coldness and shadows.” Read more »

Cabinet of Wonders: Nevertheless, She Persisted

… and Other Ways Women Rule

Reviews of weird fiction on the web, by Lauren Colie

This week, women are depicted with agency and complexity (surprise!) Be it an ill-advised but wholly satisfying obsession with sex, a monster-slaying talent for badassery or the timely triumph over a rotten-hearted emperor, these ladies are making their own mistakes, choosing their own adventures and slaying their own dragons. Go forth and conquer, all our femme friends; these stories are for you.

A Review of The Stone Lover by Marta Randall at Lightspeed Magazine

The queen’s sexual appetites were well known even when Agathon was still alive. At least, her courtiers whispered, she couldn’t have her stone lover killed when she tired of him. As it happened, he pleased her so much she retired to her private rooms and had her meals delivered to the door, no farther. She barred her personal servants and slaves from her rooms, save for the one girl who kept the fire burning under the statue and made sure the pipes were clear. She filled the lamps and emptied the chamber pot, slept curled inside the statue’s base, and Phyrra soon forgot she existed. Read more »

A Review of Entropy in Bloom, by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Review by William Grabowski

We’re not Post-Apocalyptic, we’re Post-Yesterday.

It’s tempting and easy to compare writers, but this habit often is unfair to both object and subject. Example: thematically, and stylistically, the work of Jeremy Robert Johnson can be compared to that of John Shirley, Chuck Palahniuk (who lauds Johnson as “a dazzling writer”), or even Harlan Ellison. Since no writer emerges from the muck fully formed, comparisons are useful in the same way that someone might say, “If you like coconut milk and Thai peanut sauce, then you’ll probably like baked peanut chicken.”

Johnson rightly calls Entropy in Bloom a “4K Criterion Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray of my short work,” culled from We Live Inside You and Angel Dust Apocalypse, plus a never-before-published 25,000-word novella, The Sleep of Judges. Brian Evenson contributes a reflective intro. Read more »

Cabinet of Wonders: Phantom Limbs, Terrible Neighbors &…

Reviews of weird fiction on the web, by Lauren Colie

From the “Monsters” series by Fortunio Liceti, 1665, public domain

Phantom Limbs, Terrible Neighbors & A Half-hearted Love God

Enjoy variety and freshness in stories that flow along at a quick clip. This Cabinet features a serious contemplation of the fluidity of memory and time, explores the weird inherent in the manufactured perfection of suburbia and ends on a high, humorous note as Cupid tries to get his game back.

A Review of Phantom Pain by Eileen Gunn at Lightspeed Magazine

For no reason Ed could figure out, he was lying in bed, an ordinary bed in a nice house. No jungle, no rain, no library. He smelled ether. A blonde woman was rubbing ether on his left foot. It was icy cold where it hit the skin, and the heavy, sweet smell of it cut into his head. It hurt like hell, or maybe it was his leg in the jungle that hurt like hell. That’s Katie! he thought, looking at the woman. That’s Katie, but she’s blonde. A thin little boy and a round-faced girl were watching silently. He was not in his proper body: He had only one leg. Why is Katie rubbing ether on it, he wondered. What happened to the other one? Read more »

A Review of Fever Dream: A Novel, by Samanta Schweblin

Review by Lauren Colie

There’s something in the water…

The vacation began as many do: with warmed and glistening skin, softly-scented sunscreen wafting in the breeze and a child’s energetic romp through the yard before lunchtime. Amanda and daughter Nina settled in for a week of relaxation in a rural rental, with Amanda’s husband set to join them the next weekend. Amanda, a city girl from the capitol, sensed another outsider when she met Carla of the gold bikini and chic bun and extended friendship to this temporary neighbor.

Through the pungent haze of cigarette smoke, Carla shared her story of loss. Her son, David, took ill after an accident she felt was her fault. She enlisted help from the woman who lives in the greenhouse because a doctor would have arrived too late, knowing her choice was risky. David was never the same.

All this, of course, you read from a great distance, a voyeur eavesdropping on the spirits of David and Amanda as he helps her navigate her fevered memories in the gray miasma of in-between. Timelines warp, logic stutters and some grand truth bubbles elusively, just beyond reach. Read more »

HEL 266, fiction by Sara Rich

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Susan held the straw for the core. “You know, in the Semitic languages – Arabic, Hebrew, and Akkadian specifically – the word for tree sap is dem. It’s also the word for blood.”

(This story first appeared in Temporary Skeletons, 2014).

THE MUSIC WAS like a one-handed cyclopic Chopin. It was simple music, or seemed that way, but it stirred something infinite and unpredictable and tracked time more honestly than any calendar. No gridded day-in-day-out blocked in black ink, but hundreds of concentric rings spiraling in and out of each other, each year interacting with the ones before and after it, each year connected through scars from fire and lightning, drought and wind, early and late frosts that sent the delicate lignin fibers into hibernation behind the cellulose walls of their microscopic caves. It was those miniscule frost rings that made the almost inaudible tinkling sounds, snowflake fairies with frostbitten toes, and then suddenly, without warning, that faintest echo of a chime would be destroyed, waylaid, massacred when the needle fell upon the gaping demoniac wounds left by some apocalyptic storm. Fantaisie impromptu. Tempo rubato: stolen time.

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A Review of You’ll Know When You Get There, by Lynda E. Rucker

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh


Arriving at the Unknowable

Lynda E. Rucker has built a reputation as one of the more significant talents of the new generation of weird and strange fiction writers through a superb first collection, appropriately entitled The Moon Will Look Strange, and some distinctive anthology contributions. You’ll Know When You Get There, from Irish independent The Swan River Press, is a departure in some ways, in that the collection has a very strong common thread. As Lisa Tuttle writes in her introduction, “Lynda E. Rucker writes haunted house stories the way they should be written – hers are original, weird, and compelling, and as much about the people as the place.” Read more »

Cabinet of Wonders: Bad Juju & Good Intentions

Reviews of weird fiction on the web, by Lauren Colie

Die Sunde, by Franz von Stuck, 1893

Bad Juju & Good Intentions

Be careful what you wish for…but we all know that. Yet, we continue to test the waters. Dip a toe in this week for the black magic of a woman scorned, the gleeful wrath of a dark goddess and the triumphant revolt of a girl who shakes off the shackles of normal.

 

A Review of Nine by Kima Jones at Lightspeed Magazine

Flora held the man’s head and snapping jaw in the crook of her arm as Jessie threw every salty thing she could find. The man’s arms and legs flailed about. He snapped his jaw at Jessie’s torso until he melted into the creases of Flora’s black dress, blue and red clumps of him exploding down her front, into her patent heels. The women were so busy they didn’t hear the shot. Didn’t see Glenn’s body slumped at Tanner’s feet or see the blood trickling from his nose and into the wood floor.

“Flora, how’d you know that wasn’t no real man?”

“When I went into the kitchen to get the gun, he was eating Rinny.” Read more »

Rockport Boys, fiction by Megan Arkenberg

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Their family trees are full of beautiful men who were hanged as witches or lost at sea, and all their houses are haunted.

(The Rockport Boys originally appeared in Aghast #1)

IT’S HARD TO stay haunted in California, she says, taking a slow drag on her cigarette. That hungry something is in her eyes again, the animal glint you saw in her smile under the gas station’s fluorescents, only out here in the fading sunlight it looks a little softer. A little more like longing. You nod, shaking the last of the six-dollar syrah into your glass, and lick the rim of the bottle. It tastes like aluminum foil. And she closes her eyes.

She’s moved again, she says, put the mountains between her and the Pacific. The sunlight here feels hot, unfiltered and clean, almost chemical. Now the bad nights, when they come, ride in on rain and too much coffee. It was time to shift anyway, she figures—you can understand that. Four days a week, she loads the second-hand pickup truck with tomato plants, spring garlic or crates of persimmons and heads to the markets, down the straight country roads with numbers for names, the radio blaring in static-broken Spanish and seaglass rosary beads jangling from the rearview mirror. The rosary and the radio station came with the truck. You don’t hear about Rockport, Gloucester or Dogtown out here, and nobody would recognize the names if you asked. Mostly, she keeps quiet. Read more »