I liked this issue a lot more than the last issue. Many of the stories were fresh and playful; others were dark, but well executed. The writing in the July / August edition was also much better on the whole and it made the reading of it much more enjoyable.
I’ve decided to rate each short story individually; I need more practice at critiquing and reviewing and this seems like a good way to start. The ratings are out of five asterisks because I’m creative like that. Maybe if I find a cool graphic I’ll update it later. Anyway, reviews below!
The Color of Sand by KJ Kabza
* * * * *
This story was great from the beginning. It has a nice folkish tone that is refreshing in modern fiction. The quest narrative is short, simple and nothing entirely new, but the elements of the sandcats and the refulgium give it a unique flavor and excitement. The story takes the reader along quickly, with little opportunity to stop and savor the curiosities, but as fun as the tale is, there is little regret in the could-have-been-side-stories that whip by. With a playful narrative and an aloof system of magic, The Color of Sand is feline through and through.
Oh Give Me a Home by Adam Rakunas
* * *
I was kind of on a roller coaster with this short story. The beginning didn’t do much for me, but the middle was charged and engaging. Toward the end however I was left feeling like the story was too small to carry the bulk of the premise and the characters both. To be clear, I really liked the premise; the thematic conflict between big agro-business and the individual farm was gripping, with deep roots in real modern agricultural issues. The conflict, relationships and dialogue between the characters, however felt wooden and flat. Perhaps with greater time to come to know and understand the characters it might have felt more realistic, but after the first very fiery, emotional conflict between Bruce, his mother and Mari, the resolution came way too quickly to be satisfying. After getting worked up so thoroughly in the middle, the ending was, unfortunately, disappointing.
Half a Conversation, Overheard While Inside an Enormous Sentient Slug by Oliver Buckram
* * * * *
The title alone tells half the story, but fortunately only half of it. It is a very short composition, but for so few words it encompasses a lot of story, and a lot of fun. I won’t give it away, but Buckram saucily leads the reader around with this story and abandons us at the end (giggling, I suspect) to draw our own conclusions. Written in an earlier narrative style that I love, Half a Conversation has everything I like in a story; wit, charm and cheek– all in a nice, neat package.
The Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan
I’ll start with the caveat that this story wasn’t really my thing, which will probably come through in my review of it. It’s written well– the changing timelines were at the very least informative, regular and well thought out. The story itself is something between Lord of the Flies and Ender’s Game with a mix of current social issues facing the generations transitioning into adulthood, in the periphery. It’s not the sort of story I usually read, but as a composition it is decent.
Kormak the Lucky by Eleanor Arnason
* * *
Kormak the Lucky is a long novelette told in a fairytale style that would have been a lot more interesting if it hadn’t been told in fairytale style. The story is incredibly linear, with events following set patterns and falling in perfectly aligned blocks one after the other. The writing itself is beautiful, however, the length of the narrative and the straightforward pull of the protagonist through the story makes it a bit of a tedious read.
The Woman Who Married the Snow by Ken Altabef
* * * *
This story has a lot of things going for it. Firstly, the language that it uses fits the narrative like a glove: plain, white, emotionless—it’s the frozen heart of the story and really ties it together nicely. Second, the foreign words are subtle and used casually; nothing about them sticks out during the read. The whole story, in fact, reads very smoothly with nothing overtly bumping the reader along. Finally, the story itself is interesting: the corpse of a man is brought back to life to the delight and destruction of his distraught widow. The reader is given an unfamiliar arctic setting for fantasy fiction which is as refreshing as the tale itself is chilling.
The Miracle Cure by Harvey Jacobs
Conversely, this was a story that had nothing going for it, for me. The language is choppy, the setting is vacant and dangling, the perspective hops around and the characters and their dialogue are unbelievable. In the ‘show vs. tell’ debate that new writers so frequently agonize over, this story is dropped squarely into the ‘tell’ camp, which only shines a further unflattering light on the main character’s erratic behavior that the rushed plot already does a decent job of. Paragraphs are congested with too many bits of disjointed information, random scene changes and time traveling. I lost all respect for the story at the inclusion of a sudden, unnecessary and preposterously written episode of sexual tension that is so wildly out of place it actually fits with the rest of this floating collection of underdeveloped ideas. In the end, nothing in the bizarre premise of the story could dreg up any feelings of pleasure in reading it.
The Heartsmith’s Daughters by Harry R. Campion
* * * * *
This is another story told in the old fairytale style, but its meter is much better, aided by the cutting of the narrative into parts. The occasional inclusion of narrator commentary is a nice touch, and heightens the fairytale element of the story. It’s a heartwarming tale of love, loss and revenge that quickly turns dark in a way that is not unexpected, though the leap from fairytale to ghost story most certainly is. The Heartsmith’s Daughters is an emotional, well thought out story that carries the weight of heavy issues and in my opinion, carries it well.
The Nambu Egg by Tim Sullivan
The Nambu Egg is a crime drama in a sci-fi skin. Not that I haven’t enjoyed one genre wearing the cloak of another in the past, but this story didn’t resonate much with me. It is well written, though it’s mostly dialogue (would have liked a few more tags just to keep up with who was speaking– oh well) but the story itself sort of meanders and then sighs to a stop, neither satisfying nor unsatisfying.
In the Mountains of Frozen Fire by Rus Wornom
This story really wants to be funny, I can tell, but like a comedian sweating before a silent audience, it tries too hard and fumbles under its own jokes. It’s a spy parody to its last word, but the voice of the narrator is so obtrusive that it evokes only the awkward sort of laugh that follows the punch line of a poorly executed, off color joke. The tongue in cheek racism of the story is an irritating wink from the author to the audience for the express purpose of saying “if I know this is inappropriate and you know this is inappropriate, then they cancel each other out and it becomes funny”. The premise is a tie-dye of genres that is actually interesting at what I assume to be the story’s climax—however, it drifts back into the absurd spy narrative for a long-winded epilogue that –to me at least—did nothing for the story.
The next book on my reading list is Hawkwood’s Voyage by Paul Kearney