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 »

A Review of She Said Destroy, by Nadia Bulkin

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Destroying Your Certainty

Nadia Bulkin’s debut collection comes roaring out of the gate with one of the strongest titles of the year. As far as I know, the title is nothing to do with Marguerite Duras’s Destroy, She Said. Nor, fortunately, is it anything to do with the song by Death in June. But it does demonstrate a gift for titles also evident in the 13 stories in the collection. All of the stories but one have appeared in other publications, but given their quality, that’s no surprise. Quite a few of those appearances are in “Year’s Best” anthologies – again, no surprise. Three of the stories were nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award. And that title immediately gives you some idea of why. Read more »

Announcing Release of See the Elephant, Issue 3: Slipping Through the Cracks

 

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See the Elephant, Issue 3: Slipping Through the Cracks explores what it means to slip through a crack, intentionally or not, into oblivion or freedom; how it feels to be threatened by some terrible, broken thing, or to break ourselves. These stories range from the darkest impulses of human (and inhuman) nature, to humor, love, and the possibility of change that can come when we dare to look at broken things in a new way, and painstakingly fuse the pieces back together with some finer stuff.

New stories by Genevieve Williams, Michaele Jordan, Mathew Scaletta & Rebecca Brewster, Kyle E. Miller, Edoardo Albert, Rachel Verkade, Rose Szabo, S. Kay Nash, and Matthew Sanborn Smith, and reprints by H. V. Chao and Marleen S. Barr, and a foreword by editor Melanie Lamaga.

Available in ebook and paperback. 115 pp.

Review copies available in mobi, epub, or PDF formats by request from editors (at) metaphysicalcircus.com.

Buy it here!   

 

 

A Review of Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Inescapable Origins

I already had the pleasure of reviewing Stephen Graham Jones’s superb short story collection After the People Lights Have Gone Off, so it’s an equal pleasure to renew acquaintance with his often very domestic focus. But that’s domestic in an entirely different sense than you might think. Here, it’s a 1140 square feet modular house, where the protagonist Junior, then age 12, first sees the form of his dead father, in full Indian fancydancer regalia with “spikes coming out from his lower back,” step out of the kitchen. The family have left the Blackfeet reservation where his father died, yet “you can leave the reservation, but your income level will still land you in a reservation house, won’t it?” And that’s where the family are stuck. With something mysterious, and potentially very malign, coming after them.

After that first encounter, the boy starts obsessively scouring and pacing out his home “for evidence of his having walked through.” He records his findings in a science notebook, and minute details, such as a single bead or a bitten-off superhero figure’s foot, assume almost talismanic power. Later, he works out what his father is there for, and it’s not a family reunion. Rather, he has to learn and risk more to save his mother and his younger brother Dino, who is suffering far more immediate effects from his father’s recrudescence. Bullets don’t work, though they do work all too well on others. By the end of the story, there’s far more than indistinct presences in the spaces under the house. But even those are just a lead-in to the climatic confrontation, and its full significance.

To some extent, then, this is a coming-of-age story, but one that’s a very long way away from Stephen King’s “The Body.” You could read the father-figure as a personification of everything that ancestry and history do to pull down modern Native American life, but I wouldn’t want to overdo that interpretation. This isn’t a grudge-peddling or a score-settling story: it just gently, insistently, won’t let you forget its circumstances. “That’s how you talk about dead people, though, especially dead Indians. It’s all about squandered potential, not actual accomplishments.” It also doesn’t go the Stephen King Magic Negro/Magic Indian route: there’s no sentimental romanticizing of the Blackfeet tradition, and what it brings on the supernatural side is as much of a burden and a trammel as the poverty and deprivation of the protagonist’s background. But as inescapable as any home or origins.

Jones is 100% upfront and honest in his choice of title. As his protagonist says at the end, “When I was twelve years old, I mapped the interior of our home. Now, sitting across from my little brother, I’m sketching out a map of the human heart, I guess. There’s more dark hallways than I knew.” Where those hallways lead at the end of the novella, and the dark finale, I’m not going to share. Just read the book and find out.

 

From the Book:

To sleepwalk is to be inhabited, yes, but not by something else, so much. What you’re inhabited by, what’s kicking one foot in front of the other, it’s yourself. It doesn’t make sense, but I don’t think it’s under any real compulsion to, finally. If anything, being inhabited by yourself like that, what it tells you is that there’s a real you squirming down inside you, trying all through the day to pull up to the surface, look out. But it can only get that done when your defenses are down. When you’re sleeping.

The whole time I was getting stitched, the neighbor was yelling that I was a menace, that I wasn’t natural, that I wasn’t right. That a human couldn’t do this to four dogs, and any human that did needed to be put down, and that it was his God-given duty to do just that, he didn’t care how many deputies the county sent.

In movies, after you beat the bad guy, the monster, then all the injuries it inflicted, they heal right up. That’s not how it works in the real world. Here’s one way it can work in the real world: the son you accidentally father at a pow-wow in South Dakota grows into the spitting image of a man you remember sitting in the shallows of a lake that goes forever. Like to remind me what I did, what I’d had to do.

 

Publication Data

Tor Books, 112 pp, print and digital editions

 

A Review of The New Voices of Fantasy, Edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

 

Review by William Grabowski

By the time Aiko leaves, her footsteps echoing down the hallway, I’ve dug deep gouges in the door’s paint with my nails and teeth, my mouth full of her intoxicating scent.

The key word in this anthology’s title is new, and if that doesn’t quicken your heart, a sampling of the impressively diverse voices will. Editors Beagle and Weisman, both top-tier in their own right, seem to have absorbed the generous reach and flexible sensibility of Ellen Datlow who—like them—knows that a writer’s name and/or present level of accomplishment have little to do with storytelling. No one needs to be reminded that common expectations of plot and originality crumble into ash when handled by masterful writers. Read more »

A Review of The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, by James Morrow

 

Review by William Grabowski

Now he began spinning in circles—like a deranged dancer, or a whirling dervish, or a man inhabited by devils….

James Morrow explores ideas with visionary audacity and a satirical (yet nonetheless disturbing) bent perhaps unequaled since Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld series—as if directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. I like to imagine eavesdropping as some curious stranger—hearing Morrow’s profession—blurts, “Ooh, an author! What do you write?”

“Well,” says a stoic Morrow, “one of ’em features the divine half-sister of Jesus Christ. She’s been reincarnated in Atlantic City. Another one picks up after the death of God, and no one knows what to do with the 2-mile-long corpse. Bummer.” Read more »

A Review of Wicked Wonders, by Ellen Klages

 

Review by William Grabowski

“We had not planned for children,” Mission Control’s message ended. “We’re sorry.”

 

With an Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, author Ellen Klages takes so-called hard Science Fiction, clasps its rigid hand, and leads it into fantastical narratives haunted by childhood summer camps, science projects, a Mars settlement, a corrupt 20-year-old Smithfield ham (that’s not product placement), and spaces where time folds and unfolds releasing (even relocating) prisoners of torment and mundane reality alike.

 

With the deeply moving “Amicae Aeternum,” Klages pays homage to and equals Bradbury, but absent the ever-present sentimentality which sometimes blunted the effect of his short stories. A small-town girl sneaks from home and, walking the neighborhood, inventories objects, textures, and other common sensory details. Pausing at her best friend’s home, the two ride bicycles through pre-dawn hush to a park. Klages’ vivid, but unobtrusive, prose charges the story with immediacy, flowing as naturally as the gurgling creek into which the girls ease their feet. Only in the last paragraphs do we realize the purpose of this clandestine tête-à-tête, and its crushing sadness. Some of us weep not because we’re not celebrities, musicians, poets, or exciting explorers—but because we don’t want to be, and earthly life is all we need. Read more »

A Review of The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Un-Broken

N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy needs no recommendation. The first book, The Fifth Season, won a 2016 Hugo Award. The second, The Obelisk Gate, is on this year’s Hugo shortlist. The third title, The Stone Sky, is due August 2017. I, like many others, am waiting on tenterhooks to see how it ends.

N.K. Jemisin told John Scalzi how the whole series originated in a dream: “A few years back, I had a dream of a woman doing a Badass Power Walk towards me, with a mountain floating along behind her. I knew she was about my age – early forties, that is – and I could see that she wore dredlocs as I do, but it was very clear in the dream that she was not me. She was angry with me, in fact, because of something I’d done or hadn’t done, and if I didn’t find a way to appease her quickly, I knew she was going to throw that mountain at me. Why was she so pissed off? No idea. How was a mountain following her around like a geological puppy? She was controlling it through some unknown means. I woke up from this dream in a cold sweat – and fascinated. That was the moment the Broken Earth trilogy, of which The Fifth Season is book 1, was born.” Read more »

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.

Read more »

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 »