The Black Prism: Afterthoughts

The Black Prism
by Brent Weeks
763 pages
four_half-stars_0

I can’t remember the last time a book put me through such an emotional wringer. Maybe The Man with the Knives or Last Argument of Kings. I don’t feel emotionally capable of experiencing my own life right now. Goddamnit, this was a good book. Not a flawless book, but a damn good one. How good? Well, halfway through reading it some asshole stole my Kindle and I was more pissed off that my reading had been interrupted than that someone had made off with a $100 piece of electronics. It was that good.

The Black Prisim
Or, what you get when you combine The Man in the Iron Mask with a bag of Skittles.
(Also spoilers, in case you’re new here)

The Black Prism is something of a bildungsroman epic/flintlock fantasy that is stripped of all the irritating parts of both genres. What’s left is a muscular narrative that is at times comedy of errors and at times painful tragedy, filled with charismatic characters, a fully fleshed out world, and lots and lots and lots of magic and battle and bloodshed.

The plot is somewhat buried and muted and typical of this sub-genre: ‘there is a growing and powerful uprising that threatens to unseat the entire sociopolitical and religious status quo that we must attempt to quell because we’re the good guys…. mostly. The marginally-better-guys, at least.’ But arguably the plot isn’t what makes this book shine. It’s the characters and individual events that punch you repeatedly in the emotion bone that make this book so memorable. And that twist! A book has never pulled the rug out from under me with such effect. I was floored, and completely happy to be so.

So let’s talk about the plot. The book more or less centers around Kip, a fat teenager with an abusive mother who watches his entire town and everyone he ever loved burned to the ground yadda yadda, and “Gavin,” the practically omnipotent religious leader of the free world who would be a textbook Mary Sue if he wasn’t so full of lies and dark secrets that you’d expect him to bleed tar. As Kip sets off on a journey to kill the man who destroyed his life, “Gavin” takes up a full bag of FML quests and sorry-not-sorry starts a war in the process. Kip is revealed to be “Gavin’s” son, which makes “Gavin’s” life much more complicated as he juggles the political world while also doing his best to hide some pretty ruinous secrets. As these things tend to happen, all hell breaks loose, the characters have to split up, Kip learns some pretty kickass magical tricks, lots of people die, and the heroes more or less get away. I mean, it’s epic fantasy, what more can I say?

One of the best things about this book is the in media res way it deals with the story’s history. The book takes place 16 years after a disastrous war that ruined an entire country and, predictably, is still rippling effects out into the world. Many of the characters live and breathe the past and present trauma of the war. The history leading up to the events of the book is vibrant and vigorous, and exerts as much influence on the plot as the characters themselves do.

The characters likewise all have complex interpersonal histories that are given to the reader in piecemeal revelations that add delicious layers of complexity to the story. The complicated relationship between Gavin and Dazen in particular injects a level of excitement and intrigue into the story that is refreshing in contemporary fantasy. Likewise, “Gavin’s” relationship to his political and spiritual position in society is rocky and unsettled, giving his character several layers of depth. And if his past weren’t enough to put him in the anti-hero’s seat, this internal moral strife certainly would.

Weeks’ literary talents really shine through in his delivery of an immersive world populated with complex characters and interpersonal relationships that reflect a large part of the human experience. However, there are some moments where the reader’s suspension of disbelief is stretched too far for comfort.

To begin with, Kip’s character lacks consistency in ways that can just barely be explained away by his age. At times he is meek and apologetic, only to be bold and sarcastically brash in the next breath. Weeks seems to be trying to play nature and nurture against each other in this character. On the one hand, being a Guile imbues Kip with a certain degree of bravado and exaggerated ego. On the other hand, his abusive, impoverished upbringing dampens his bravery and his self-esteem. These two competing faucets of Kip’s personality aren’t threaded together particularly well, and the end result is a character who is at times schizophrenically at odds with his own personality.

Secondly, I was pretty disappointed when Karris was captured. I think I actually put the book down for a minute and cried, “Why have you betrayed me?!” Up until then I had been enjoying every single character and arc in the story. I was just really bummed that the SFC had to be captured and subjected to a madman’s gross fantasy. I actually started skimming the chapters in which she was captured, just so I didn’t have to feel such disappointment. To be fair to Weeks in this, the capture scenario is downplayed in the ridiculousness of Garadul’s demands. Furthermore, from a mechanics point of view, Karris’ capture puts a perspective in the enemy camps without fracturing the number of points of view even further. And I did appreciate that “Gavin” didn’t go all White Knight when he learned that Karris had been captured. Weeks kept him focused on the bigger problems and instead sent Kip and Liv to blunder her rescue. So, this whole business with Karris is forgiven. I guess.

Finally, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Liv. Weeks does his best to set up her motivations throughout the course of her arc, however her sudden turn against “Gavin” in particular was hard to swallow. I could understand her misgivings against the Chromeria–Weeks actually does a stellar job of setting that up–however “Gavin” personally gives her no reason to turn against him in the way that she does. It’s her unfounded speculation that does it, which was hard to believe from a reader’s perspective. Likewise, how “Gavin” comes by the information of her turning sides is largely a mystery to the reader.

All that aside, however, The Black Prism is truly a gem within the fantasy library. Without going into too many spoilery details–because you really do have to read the book as it is presented to get the most out of it–here are some of my favorite highlights:

heart 2

– Gavin. Just, everything Gavin. All Gavin. He’s an amazing character all around. Flawless in his perfection and his imperfection.

– That twist. I cannot praise it enough. If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about. It’s been weeks since I read it and I still giggle over it. My friends are tired of hearing me talk about it. And I’m gushing about it even here! Gah!

– The magic system. It was ridiculous at first, but the more immersed in the world I got, the more it made sense, and the more glad I was that color was used as the base for the whole thing.

– The Freeing ceremony. The whole thing was soul tearing. I was teary by the end. And loving “Gavin” as a character so much more.

– The final scene with Zymun. Admittedly, I was upset when I first read it. I shook the book and screamed, “You goddamn pyromaniac brat! Snot-nosed little fire starter! *RAGE*” But upon further reflection, it was a good authorial decision. A virtually omnipotent character can only work for the first book of a series. I’m sad, but in a good way.

– The prison break scene. Oh~ I was on the edge of my seat through the whole thing, and at the end, I was cry-laughing. The whole arc with “Dazen” was such a red herring, but in such a good way. I’m very pleased with it.

I’m itching to read the next books in the series. I ran out and bought the next three as soon as I was finished with this one, but sadly I have a semester of Durkheim, Marx, and Weber to read through before I have a month off to read more Weeks. Until then, it’s everything I can do to keep from peeking into the next books to sample what happens next.

Bookbinding 101

I made a thing. It’s not a perfect thing, but damnit I’m proud of it. And given the circumstances, I’m pretty sure it’s the best damn thing I could have possibly made.

I made a book.

I didn’t write the book, but I did format it. I drew all the illustrations. I sewed it. I glued it. I made the physical book itself. It sapped what sanity I had left in me at the end of semester and it took two nights of staying up until three in the morning, but I made it.

front-cover

I made it as the final project for my publishing design technologies class. I had issues with that class from the beginning. Not with the class itself, exactly, but with the lab. There seemed to be no preplanned structure to the way our labs were run. Instruction was minimal at best and at worst it was confused and flat out wrong. The professor and the TA didn’t seem to have discussed how the labs were to be taught, because the TA often seemed at a loss to explain to us how to do the lab assignments the prof gave us. Considering that we were a class of students who mostly had no idea how to work InDesign, it was frustrating to say the least when the prof gave us a lab sheet that says, “do this thing” and when we ask how to do the thing, the TA says, “Don’t worry about that thing” and then, naturally, we got points taken off. After a month of that I figured that Google was probably going to be the best instructor I could get to pass that class, and I stopped asking the TA to do the thing she was getting paid to do.

This final project was no different. We received minimal guidance on how to get the book printed and were instructed to watch Sea Lemon videos to learn how to put the book together. In fact, the only part of this that I was decently confident about was the formatting part. I’m by no means an expert on InDesign now, but I feel confident in my ability to format raw text at least from this class. Illustrator and Photo Shop remain beyond my skill level. None of that would have been that big of a deal except, like I said, this was my final project. It came at the end of semester when I also had two essays and two final exams to complete/study for. And the final project was worth 22% of my grade. So I was in full on panic-stress mode for two weeks racing my deadlines while my professors and TAs were on the sidelines telling me to calm down and not freak out. Which is a bit like being on the bomb squad trying to dismantle a nuke on a sixty second timer with the whole city standing around telling you that it’d be okay if you took a coffee break. Or at least that’s how it felt at the time. And since the TA had already made me nervous about asking for any kind of help due to her insufficient knowledge, I felt completely on my own in this.

But this post is about the book, not the class, so I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process as best I can. To be honest though, I think I’ve locked up some of these memories for my own mental health, so there may be some gaps.

We were given a raw text file for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, but it had terrible line breaks throughout the whole thing that I didn’t have time to go in and fix by myself, so I grabbed the text off the internet instead. Formatting in InDesign is an incredibly laborious process. It’s not at all like Word, so don’t complain about what your formatter charges you. It’s a pain in the ass that involves making different character styles, paragraph styles, and master pages for each different formatting element in the document. Alice is only twelve chapters long, but it took me four days just to format the raw text. Including putting in the images, doing the line edits, correcting for widows and orphans and the final proof read, I read that damn book, cover to cover, six times. That was before any printing at all had been done. (To extrapolate, the idea that ebooks require no extra work than physical books and therefore shouldn’t cost so much is wrong. It’s so wrong. Stop disseminating this idea.)

The formatting, as I said, was the easy part. After I had it formatted, I had to figure out how to print it. I ran into some problems here. The first problem was that I wanted it printed on high quality, textured cream paper. It’s just a style choice for me. I don’t like white paper because the ink contrast is too high and it hurts my eyes. I also think that it looks cheap and unprofessional, but again, that’s just me. The problem was, if I wanted that kind of paper I’d have to buy it and print it myself, because ordinary print shops don’t carry high quality textured cream paper, and they don’t let you bring in your pwn paper either. But this presented its own problem because, as I discovered the night before my very last lab in which to work on this project, my printer doesn’t print double sided. So I had to scrap that idea.

The second printing problem that I had was signatures. Signatures are packets of four to five sheets of paper representing sixteen to twenty pages when folded in half. In traditional bookbinding (ie the kind of book binding you’re probably most familiar with) signatures are sewn together to create a uniform shape for all the pages in the book. But it involves a complicated formatting arrangement of the pages that we were assured by prof and TA both that the printers would understand how to do. I was assured by prof and TA both when I asked multiple times that if I went to the printer with my regularly formatted PDF file and said, “I want this printed in signatures of five sheets each” the printer would understand and would be able to print it how I wanted it.

This was not the case. The first printer I went to had no idea what I wanted. He didn’t know what a signature was, and when I explained to him what it was, he printed the whole document in one giant signature. Imagine taking thirty-five sheets of paper and folding them all in half. It doesn’t make a nice, uniform edge, does it? Not only that, but the sheets didn’t print in the correct order, so it was a complete waste of time, and it put me in a full on freak-out, because I had to go to work that afternoon and if I couldn’t get my signatures printed that morning I wasn’t going to have time to print them ever. The TA’s advice was to print a sample sheet myself, but I didn’t know how to do that at all, and she wasn’t much help explaining it to me, so I contacted every printer within walking distance to get a price and a time quote on this project. Thankfully, DigiTech Printing, less than five minutes from my school, figured they could get it done before noon. So I hauled ass over there with my files and, I have to say, they were the nicest, most accommodating people I worked with through this whole ordeal. Their professionalism, knowledge, and willingness to work on a deadline brought me down from apoplectic panic to mild worry. They assured me that everything I wanted (aside from the high quality, textured cream paper) could be done, but there was only one, small problem: price.

Wearily I asked them how much. They said $80. I said done. They reasserted that it would cost me $80. I said I didn’t care how much it cost as long as I didn’t have to be the one to deal with it anymore. I’m not ashamed to say that I literally threw money at the problem until it went away. The important thing was that I had my signatures printed, folded and trimmed, and all I had to do now was bind the book, which I didn’t need my prof or my TA for, since I would be learning that part via YouTube videos. (Why did I spend $1000 to learn publishing design from Google and YouTube?!)

signatures

Of course I needed the materials for bookbinding. Those I had to buy from Opus, Dessew, and Michael’s which are thankfully just down the street from my school. They were unfortunately far less knowledgeable, professional and agreeable than DigiTech. Dessew seemed to be staffed by grannies who are altogether tired of your shit. With the exception of the one lady who helped me find the black canvas for my cover, everyone else I dealt with in that store treated me like a junkie asking to use the bathroom. (Though to be fair I’m pretty sure all the shopkeeps on East Hastings have to deal with more than their fair share of junkies on a regular basis.) Opus on the other hand seemed to be staffed entirely by stoners who thought it would be great to operate an art supply store until the high wore off and they realized they had no fucking idea what they were doing there. No one seemed to know where anything was in the store. I was passed off to four different employees who kept scattering like scared rats at the sight of a customer. My efforts to explain what I was looking for turned up the most useless products for my project (giant sheets of paper that no one would cut, when I only needed a couple 8″x11″s) and endless chatter about anything but the products I was looking for. My last stop was Michael’s which looked like the Grinch had ransacked it. He took the cloth-binders, paper-punchers, and ink-dabbers. He took the wax thread, the gold letters, the red ribbons. What bits of glitter he left behind in that store were barely enough for a mouse and no more. Lesson learned: don’t go to Michael’s before Christmas.

supplies

So there I had all my supplies. All I had to do was: sew the signatures, glue the signatures, trim the pages, cut the cover boards, measure the cloth cover, make the headband, position the lettering, make a text block, glue the headband to the text block, glue the text block to the end sheets, glue the end sheets to the cover and FINISHED!

Easier said than done. The sewing of the signatures actually turned out to be fairly easy, despite me doing it completely wrong the first time and having to cut and unthread the whole thing and start from the beginning. I was actually quite pleased with how the corrected version turned out.

correct-sewn-signatures

I applied two coats of bookbinding glue to the sewn spine and let it dry overnight while I worked on the cover. The cover was trickier. As with every step of this damn project, there was a problem. In this case, I ran out of time to make a dust jacket, in part because I was busy completing other assignments, and in part because the printing of the signatures took way, way more time than I anticipated it would for reasons outlined above. So I had to put the title directly on the cloth itself, and the only way I could think to do that in a professional looking way was with iron-on letters. These came in large sheets from which each individual letter had to be cut in squares. The squares then had to be placed down on the cloth and ironed on both sides, which meant that I couldn’t glue the cover boards to the cloth until after I had ironed on the letters. This posed the challenge of how to position the letters so that they would appear evenly on the final cover. I solved this in the messiest way possible: I outlined in chalk. In hindsight this was probably not the best idea. Honestly, a piece of yarn rolled in flour probably would have been neater, but I was fueled entirely by coffee and cortisol as I was working on this portion, so I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. I sketched out the position of the book boards, and where I wanted the letters to be which left only one complication: how to line up the individual squares of letters so that they would look neat and not move under the iron? My solution: make a type block out of scotch tape. I positioned each letter upside down and backwards as neatly as I could muster on a strip of tape and then taped the sucker down on the chalk line I drew for it. I could then iron the letters, front and back without worrying about them shifting out of place as I did so. The result was less than perfect, but better than expected.

cloth-binding

It took a course paint brush to scrub away most of the chalk lines. I wasn’t exactly happy with the lines that remained, but definitely too exhausted to care overly much about it. Gluing everything together also turned out to be relatively easy, starting with the text block which took a couple of extra sheets to make it cohesive, and then the end sheets, which would attach it to the finished cover. For whatever reason the edges of the pages ended up slightly uneven at this stage, so I had to cut them with a craft knife. Despite my best efforts, however, the knife kept slipping and I was left with an uneven cut. Sea Lemon recommended taking a file to the uneven edges to make them smooth which yielded… mixed results which I won’t picture here.

text-block

The final complication ended up being a few pieces of information that, if left missing, would result in at least a letter grade deduction. These were, ISBN, publisher information, and the back blurb. As already mentioned, I didn’t have time to do a dusk jacket, so I was going to print an obi (book belt) to fit around the back cover instead, except my easily confused printer couldn’t figure out what size paper I wanted, so I had to go with something much smaller and much more slapped together. In the end, the final product looked like this:

I don’t know what I got on the project. I won’t know until I get it back in January. If my final grade is anything to go by I got less than an A on it, which I’m extremely disappointed by given the amount of effort I put into this compared to the amount and quality of instruction. I ended up finishing the course with an A- however, so I don’t have much footing on which to complain. If there are any constructive criticisms on the project when I get it back, I’ll edit them in here. What I do have are the memories, and the first hand knowledge of what an all nighter looks like. For the record, it looks like this:

all-nighter

Tangent Reviews: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #198

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is always a delight to read. I don’t always necessarily like all the stories that they publish, but they tend to pick up stories with either very lovely prose or incredibly thoughtful speculative fiction. Issue #198 features a story about the life of a puritan settlement in America battling against the constant threat of the devil, and a haunting eco-tale about the ghosts of whales harnessed to the lanterns that burn on their oil.

“Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land” by Thomas W. Waldroon
“Whale-Oil” by Sylvia V. Linsteadt

I loved the voice in “Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land,” though the length made the story a bit tedious, and many of the strands it starts felt a bit unfinished by the end. “Whale-Oil” is a story that bleeds vivid colors into the reader’s imagination. With a fairy tale feel and brilliant imagery, “Whale-Oil” is a great piece of speculative fiction.

Read the original stories in issue #198 at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. My full review is available at Tangent Online Magazine.

The Writer’s Pinch

660 words

So here’s the scene: There’s this writer, you see? He’s there hunched over his desk, burnt out cigarette between his lips and fifteen of its cousins already stubbed out in the tray and on the desk and under the typewriter. There’s an empty bottle of whiskey rolling around under his feet and no less than seven dirty coffee mugs on the kitchen counter behind him. The one that’s sitting cold by his elbow needs a wash, but he’ll give it a rinse if he remembers, or pour the stale ghosts of beans past directly into it if not.

He’s alone, because that’s the responsible thing to do when your art is tearing you up from the inside to get out, but is shit at feeding a family or keeping the water hot. He’s barely got the lights on, which was what she said when she left the last time. He pretends not to care because the hurt makes the words more real. Pain is ink and he feeds it drop by plunking drop into the machine in front of him, hitting the keys like he’s in a brawl. Bare knuckle boxing against twenty-six opponents and their stuttering, stalling, questioning peanut gallery. And he fights on, hour after hour, endlessly, mindlessly typing because when he stops is when he hears them. Every single goddamned one of them and their poison-tipped words that keep him perched on the edge of a bottle: Kook, shut-in, layabout, mooch. Knife thrusts in what was supposed to be a fair fight. And he’s fighting, damnit but all the bets are against him, and they laugh at his bruises but don’t they know this is the only damn thing he’s ever been good at?

He’s got a stack of rejection letters eight miles high and four miles deep, but he wears his one acceptance like a badge of honor. Victory on the field of battle. Welcome home soldier, you’ve done your good duty. Sorry about the legs and all; we’ll get you looked after. And then he’s gone. Forgotten in the gutters and he digs viciously at the keys, recounting it all: the struggle over the mound of bodies, the rip of bullets through his flesh, and the flash of bayonets white-hot like match flames in the cigarette-smoky air. He tears his hair out at the sound of mail sliding through the door slot: planes overhead dropping their payload. Shell after shell of bills; he prays that the atom bomb of another rejection doesn’t land in the pile. It’s PTSD and he knows it but there’s no VA for writers who can’t get published, and no support for a man who can’t work a normal nine to five because the weight of it crushes his soul already undervalued beside what worth can be ripped out of the toil of his body.

He’s pinched. His stomach. His wallet. All of it. Pinned to the wall like a bug. One more beetle out of a hundred thousand others. And still he flexes, twitching in the last synapses of life before death. LOOK AT ME, he screams into the din. I’m special. I’m unique. Inspect me. Tear out my wings and catalog them. Every book: twenty-six letters: different patterns. Different spots in different arrangements. Pigment, flourish, camouflage. In an evolution of words his are failing natural selection. Failing to stand out. Falling out of the gene pool. He’d give his kingdom of cobwebs to be a butterfly right now.

His fingers slow to a stop over the keys. They hover and then drop, the mad hummingbird pace they’ve been keeping falters in uncertainty. Is this worth it? The world returns to him. The real world. Empty refrigerators, medical bills, and the sound of angry, bitter sex through the too thin walls. His head drops like a cracked clay pot into his hands. Ash stains his keys. He’s written fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four words today and erased fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eight-five.

Tangent’s 2015 Recommended Reading

If you’ve taken a casual look at my blog recently you might get the impression that I do a bit of reviewing. Actually, I do a lot of reviewing, though lately not so much on the books I’ve been reading for pleasure. Frantically writing my own fiction has eaten up a large chunk of my time, on top of the reviews I do for Tangent Online.

Tangent is a fanzine started back in 1993 that reviews the works from the short story to novella pro-paying market. Occasionally they’ll review novels, and there are articles and other interesting stuff out there for the SFF minded.

At the end of every year a list is compiled of what the review team felt were the best of the best to be published that year. Stories we like are given a zero to three star ranking, depending on whether they’re just ‘good’ or mind-blowingly life changing. Keep in mind that these are already stories that have been accepted into professional publications, so these are double-vetted stories of pure awesomeness.

To see the 2015 list, visit Tangent Online here. You have to scroll down some, past the explanation of the list (summarized above) and some stuff about Sad Puppies that I’m not going to get into here.

Anyway, if you’re looking for some spectacular short science fiction, fantasy, or horror reads and aren’t sure where to start, give this list a look. I’ve picked quite a few choice stories myself.

Tangent Reviews: Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2016

It’s been a while since I had the pleasure of reading another issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. They publish enough stories and at such great quality that there are usually several per issue that I really enjoy. The January/February 2016 issue is no exception.

“Vortex” by Gregory Benford
“Number Nine Moon” by Alex Irvine
“Smooth Stones and Empty Bones” by Bennett North
“The White Piano” by David Gerrold
“Caspar D. LuckinBill, What Are You Going to Do?” by Nick Wolven
“Robot from the Future” by Terry Bisson
“Squidtown” by Leo Vladimirsky
“Touch me All Over” by Betsy James
“Telltale” by Matthew Hughes
“The Visionaries” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“Braid of Days and Wake of Nights” by E. Lily Yu

Of the above twelve stories, “The White Piano” is hands down my favorite. The voice and the frame story both form a very complex piece of writing craft and I can absolute appreciate the work that went into the formation of this story. “Telltale” is another great story. It’s part of a larger, ongoing narrative, but new readers should have no problem understanding the character and the premise, nonetheless.

Read my full review at Tangent Online Magazine. The issue can be purchased from Fantasy & Science Fiction’s website.

Tangent Reviews: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #26

I sometimes feel that it’s hard to place my specific tastes in literature. Much like my music listening habits, I’ll read almost anything (with a few exceptions) and I’ll dump on my favorite genres as often as I’ll praise works in genres I hardly ever delve into. There are a few things though, that I really look for to improve my opinion of a particular work: strong characters, decent plot, contextually plausible events, and if not humor then at least clever writing. I can enjoy pretty much any story, so long as it has those elements. Except I also have ridiculously high standards, and when I read a story that doesn’t quite do it for me, I say so. So it is with issue #26 of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. I love the genre, fantasy is near and dear to my heart, but I couldn’t get fully into these three stories:

“The Blue Lamp” by Robert Zoltan
“Beggar’s Belief” by Jon Byrne
“The Voice of the Green Flame” by J.R. Restrick

The best of them is absolutely “The Blue Lamp.” It has a decent rise and fall of tension, and some characters I could get behind, but it meandered a bit and some of the mystery fell a little flat. Still, it’s a solid fantasy story for anyone looking for a read and run sort of experience.

My full review is at Tangent Online. If you wish to read the original stories, they can be found at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

Tangent Reviews: Aurealis #86

Issue number 86 of Aurealis has two short stories that may or may not appeal to fantasy fans. Personally, I wasn’t entirely impressed by either of them. “Potkin” is the stronger of the two, if only because “Adrift on the Smokey Sea” felt way too on point for an adventure story. If you like Sherlock Holmes style stories where the protagonist and his side kick already know all the answers to every not-puzzle they encounter, then it might be the story for you. As for me, I like a little sense of danger and the unknown in my reading, and this story didn’t do it for me. “Potkin” on the other hand, has a few good things going for it, but it feels too short to contain everything it’s trying to say. Read the stories and judge for yourself.

“Potkin” by Janet Haigh
“Adrift on the Smokey Sea” by Lachlan Huddy

My full review is at Tangent Online. You can purchase this issue on the Aurealis website to read the original stories.

Tangent Reviews: Apex Magazine

Last month I returned to review Apex Magazine, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite publications for short science fiction and fantasy. Issue #77 contains the following stories:

  • “When the Fall is All That’s Left” by Arkady Martine
  • “Super Duper Fly” by Maurice Broaddus
  • “All Things to All People” by D. K. Thompson
  • “Me and Jasper Down By the Meth Shack” by Aaron Saylor
While all the stories are strong in their own way, “Me and Jasper Down By the Meth Shack” was my favorite, simply because of the strength of the voice. It takes elements of storytelling that might have otherwise been trite on their own and made them novel and entertaining. As always, I recommend reading the original stories, which you can do by subscribing to Apex Magazine at the link above, and if you’re so inclined take a look at my full review at Tangent Online.

Tangent Reviews: Uncanny Magazine

The September/October issue of Uncanny Magazine has four very well constructed stories, though the two that stuck out to me are Keffy R. M. Kehrli’s “And Never Mind the Watching Ones,” and Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer’s “The Sisters’ Line.” In particular, “And Never Mind the Watching Ones” struck a cord with me, possibly because of novels from my youth that continue to give me warm, fuzzy feelings when I think of them. The remaining original fiction in the issue is “Find a Way Home” by Paul Cornell and “The Oiran’s Song” by Isabel Yap. They’re all definitely worth the price of the issue, which you can purchase here.

My review on Tangent can be found here.