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 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 »

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 »

A Review of Bone Swans, by C. S. E. Cooney

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

No Swan Song

 

Is it good? Bone Swans won the 2016 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Its title story, “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” was a 2015 Nebula Award finalist for Best Novella. The book boasts a personal introduction to the author from Gene Wolfe, no less. ‘Nuff said.

C.S.E. Cooney respins familiar fairytale yarns with a masterly hand, and has built up an impressive record during her writing career. As Gene Wolfe’s introduction remarks, she has been writing since her teens, partly under his tutelage, and the practiced assurance shows. “In Gene I found a mentor and correspondent, a kindred spirit,” she says. “He’s the one who told me to write short stories in the first place. He said that’s how writers begin … He taught me everything I know.” Yet she comes across as by no means derivative or imitative, simply supremely accomplished. Read more »

A Review of Other Places, by Karen Heuler

Review by Lauren Colie

Seeking equilibrium in a strange new world

This is the experience of attempting to reconcile the images in your mind with the solid mass of the chair beneath you.

Karen Heuler’s short story collection, Other Places, transports you briefly, as promised, elsewhere. While you’re there, she asks you to consider the value and expectation you ascribe to place, and how a place can hold memories, ghosts, shadows, ideas and mirrors. Read more »

A Review of Cassilda’s Song: Tales Inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow Mythos, edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

book review, cassilda's song, published by Chaosium Inc.The Coming of the Queen

Chaosium Inc. has made an incalculable contribution to the current weird fiction renaissance – from a very strange angle. The games publisher launched one of the most celebrated franchises in RPG history with Call of Cthulhu in 1981, second only to D&D in popularity and influence. That game turbocharged the revival of interest in H.P. Lovecraft which underpins much modern weird, and secured Lovecraftian weird fiction a hugely enlarged fan base. Along the way, Chaosium became an important weird/horror publisher, working broadly within the Cthulhu Mythos cycle – and the associated King in Yellow cycle/co-Mythos created by Lovecraft precursor Robert W. Chambers. This has also risen in popularity in the wake of the Lovecraft boom, and now Chaosium has revisited it with Cassilda’s Song, “a collection of weird fiction and horror stories based on the King in Yellow Mythos created by Robert W. Chambers—entirely authored by women.” Read more »

A Review of Sylvan Dread by Richard Gavin

by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

sylvanDreadThe Great God Panic
Canadian dark and esoteric prose writer Richard Gavin has been exploring “The realm where dread and the sublime intersect” for quite some years now, both in fiction and speculative prose. Sylvan Dread is his fifth collection of short stories and the first in four years, as Gavin says, and for some of us it’s been quite a wait. Which has been well rewarded. Read more »

Review of Horthólary by Michael Reynier

Hortholary Tales Coverby Paul St. John Mackintosh

Fearful French Fantastic Fun

Horthólary is the second collection of historical, fantastical adventures of Professor Summanus Horthólary, French savant and sometime occult investigator, from his student years under Louis XV to his old age in Napoleonic France. “The four tales presented here span almost the entire life of Professor Horthólary, from a few days before his birth to within two years of his death,” as the Preface explains. “Why these four, and not any of the many other accounts encrypted in his journals? To begin with, they are among the more unusual of his cases: encounters with flying machines, meteors, witchcraft and giants. ” And the tales more than deliver on the promise of the unusual. Read more »

A Review of Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2, edited by Kathe Koja & Michael Kelly

weird short stories, Michael Kelly Kathe Kojaby Paul St. John Mackintosh

 

Weird Gets Noir

This is the second in an annual series that’s fast becoming, on the strength of this showing, a gold standard in contemporary weird fiction. No surprise, given the pedigree of Undertow Publications and series editor Michael Kelly. Each volume is collated by a different guest editor, and this time it’s Kathe Koja. “Part of the excitement comes from comparing and contrasting each year’s volume,” says Kelly in his Foreword. I don’t know what I expected from a volume curated by Kathe Koja, but what we get is notably raw and jolting. Often right from the opening line. “He didn’t even know he was dead. I had just shot this guy in the head and he’s still standing there giving me shit,” begins Nathan Ballingrud’s blistering N’awlins occult noir, “The Atlas of Hell,” which opens and pretty much sets the tone for the whole volume. Read more »

A Review of Biblia Longcrofta, by Simon Marshall-Jones

book review by Paul St. John Mackintoshreview by Paul St. John Mackintosh

A Stranger in a Strange Town

Simon Marshall-Jones is the editor/publisher at notable independent UK publishing house Spectral Press, and also, on the strength of this, his first story collection, a pretty fine weird fiction writer. Biblia Longcrofta is a sequence of separate but connected tales, almost all set in, and concerning, the fabulous (yet strangely mundane) city of Longcroft, whose four Quarters have the names – and climates – of the four seasons, and whose suburban houses transform into ziggurats. The narrator and main protagonist Simeon arrives by train, for reasons that only become clear much later, and soon settles into an ordinary apartment and an ordinary library job – in a realm where the extraordinary is only a block away.

Longcroft, it transpires, exists in its own time-stream, connected to but separate from the flow of (relative) normality in other universes, which regularly spill their weirder contents into it. “All time, and all knowledge, from every point in the universe, was contained here,” as Simeon explains. With Chaos magicians harassing pedestrians, and the Holy Grail awaiting pickup by one of the enigmatic Black Ships in a dockside warehouse, things are unlikely to remain tranquil for long. Nor do they. Read more »