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.

Tangent Reviews: Clockwork Phoenix 5

Clockwork Phoenix 5 is an eclectic collection of speculative fiction stories from a diverse cast of authors. The stories selected reflect the diversity of the authors and while some of them failed to hit the mark with me, they all have something unique to offer the reader.

“The Wind at His Back” by Jason Kimble
“The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me” by Rachael K. Jones
“The Perfect Happy Family” by Patricia Russo
“The Mirror-City” by Mary Brennan
“Finch’s Wedding and the Hive that Sings” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“Squeeze” by Rob Cameron
“A Guide to Birds by Song (After Death)” by A. C. Wise
“The Sorcerer of Etah” by Gray Rinehart
“The Prime Importance of a Happy Number” by Sam Fleming
“Social Visiting” by Sunil Patel
“The Book of May” by C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez
“The Tiger’s Silent Roar” by Holly Heisey
“Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff
“The Trinitite Golem” by Sonya Taaffe
“Two Bright Venuses” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
“By Thread of Night and Starlight Needle” by Shveta Thakrar
“The Games We Play” by Cassandra Khaw
“The Road, and the Valley, and the Beasts” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
“Innumerable Glimmering Lights” by Rich Larson
“The Souls of Horses” by Beth Cato

I have five favorites in this anthology. First, Patricia Russo’s “The Perfect Happy Family” for its charming characters and its minimalist, surrealist apocalyptic setting. “Squeeze” by Rob Cameron is a wonderful benign ghost story, and the closest to a classical narrative in this anthology. Rich Larson’s “Innumerable Glimmering Lights” is a fantastic alien protagonist story that loops in a way that makes me smile. I appreciated Sonya Taaffe’s “The Trinitite Golem” for the way it slips fluidly between reality and myth and fantasy. Finally, “The Sorcerer of Etah” I enjoyed for its arctic setting and the interesting way it presented problems for the main character.

My full review can be found at Tangent Online. Clockwork Phoenix 5 can be purchased on Amazon.

Tangent Reviews: Apex Magazine

Issue #76 of Apex Magazine features four pieces of original fiction:

  • “Child, Funeral, Thief, Death” by Tade Thompson
  • “Find Me” by Isabel Yap
  • “Frozen Planet” by Marian Womack
  • “Mountain” by Liu Cixin (translated by Holgar Nahm)

I was most taken by Isabel Yap’s “Find Me,” a story about a girl dealing with her grief via a peculiar, not quite real, not quite imaginary friend. The emotion is thick in the story, giving even its fantastic elements a weight of truth that makes the whole thing easily relatable to the reader.

You can find this issue of Apex here. My review for the above short stories can be found on Tangent.

Tangent Reviews: Strange Horizons

I’m even more behind on posting my Strange Horizons reviews. Poor blog, you have been so neglected, haven’t you? But deadlines, paid work and my personal writing come before blogging time and I’ve been burning the keyboard with other things recently. And now for catch up number two. (My reviews behind the date link, original stories behind the title link.)

Karen Myres’ “The Visitor” was my favorite of these by far. I don’t want to spoil it because I love the story so much but if you don’t read any of the other stories on this list, you should read this one. “Beyond Sapphire Glass” was also nice. The narrative style is odd, but it grows on you as you read it. “20/20” was fairly good too, though I swear I’ve read a story just like it not long ago.

Tangent Reviews: Terraform

I’ve done quite a few Terraform reviews since the last one I posted in March. The ezine releases one new story a week, plus they did a special three story feature not long ago and I’ve gotten a bit behind with posting my reviews here. Let’s do a little catch up, then. (My reviews under the date link, the original story under the title link.)

A mixed bag, as always. My favorite was either “The Prostitute” or “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” In all of the stories I always felt like I was being permitted to sample the flavor of the story, but not consume enough to truly be satisfied. Perhaps that’s what some people like in fiction, but I most enjoy the stories that really fill me up.

Tangent Reviews: Lontar, The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction

This week I reviewed the fourth issue of Lontar, a speculative fiction journal out of southeast Asia. They publish poetry and prose under 10,000 words from southeast Asian authors, many of whom have won awards in their home countries and abroad. The subject matter varies through the science fiction spectrum, but the journal is an enjoyable read. Of the five prose stories included in the fourth issue, I reviewed four of them (Tangent doesn’t review reprints): the stories by Eliza Victoria, Andrew Cheah, Kate Osias, and Ng Yi-Sheng. You can find my review here.

If you’re interested in Lontar’s content and would like to support them, you can follow their blog here, and purchase this and the three previous issues of their bi-annual journal.

Free Book, Guys

This is just a quick post to let you know that Amok is free on Amazon for this weekend only. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, magical realism, or speculative fiction in general, click the cover below and see what sort of stories 24 talented authors put together, using settings from all over Asia.

coverFree, free, free! This weekend only!

Amok Giveaway

May is now here, and that means two things: the daily posts are at an end, and Amok has finally gone live. You can buy yours on Amazon, or you can enter to win one of two paperback copies here.

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Who doesn’t like free books?

What makes Amok special is its regional diversity. When we say ‘Asia-Pacific’ we mean from India to Hawaii and everything in between. To continue to share these narratives, this contest is going to be centered around cultural experiences or interests in the Asia-Pacific region. In 300 words or less tell me one verifiable fact from a country or area in Asia–food, architecture, traditions, anything that can reasonably be called cultural is fair. Entries will be judged both on composition and content. You have until next Friday (May 9th) to submit in the comments below. All entries will be reviewed the following Saturday and the winners announced on Sunday.

Best of luck!

The Affable, Mischievous, and Bizarre Tanuki: An Abridged History

Please note: This post contains images of classic works of art depicting scrotum and the abuse of.

I warned you.

Tanuki are a bit of a mixed bag of real animal, evil spirit and imp of prosperity. They have been a staple in Japanese mythology for over a thousand years, as nature gods, tricksters, and malevolent monsters, but like many of Japan’s old ghosts and demons, these days they have a gentler, more cartoonish image.

800px-Tanuki01_960Tanuki are, in fact, real animals.  While the name is often translated into English as ‘raccoon-dog’ they are neither. Nor are they badgers, though they share a resemblance.  At eight to ten pounds, and little more than two feet long, they aren’t any bigger than a mid-sized dog. Unless you count all the fur. Tanuki have a great, thick coat on a round body that contributes to their misidentification, along with the bands of light and dark on otherwise brown fur. As nocturnal forest dwellers, they are seen only when human habitats collide with their own, and they don’t help to dispel the raccoon misnomer by foraging in urban areas like one.

Early Japanese mythology gives tanuki similar powers as foxes. This connection was likely influenced by existing Chinese mythology imported into Japan. Like foxes, tanuki were said to have the ability to shape-shift, haunt people and places, and possess human hosts. However, unlike the Chinese evil fox-spirit and Japanese divine fox-spirit legends, tanuki are depicted as less graceful, less dignified and less clever. While tricking humans is a popular past-time for tanuki, they can often be tricked themselves.

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As tanuki legends in Japan separated further from their Chinese origins, their abilities and vices shifted from evil demon-like creature, to a more benign spirit. Less often would they attack with the intent to harm their victim. Instead, they would lead woodsmen off their trail, imitate Buddhist monks and engage in petty theft. They temporarily turned rocks into gold, and dung into food, and developed a taste for sake.

398px-20100727_Nikko_tanuki_Imgp5788Much of the mythical tanuki’s current appearance has come from this shift in cultural perceptions. The straw hat or umbrella is believed to have originated from the belief that tanuki steals sake on rainy nights, the jug he is seldom seen without contains this sake (stolen or otherwise unpaid for), and the whimsical smile denotes his gullible nature.

But what about his pot belly and those enormous balls, probably the two most eye-catching features of this strange little beast?

While there is some speculation as to the origins of that huge gut, there are several possibilities from which to choose, ranging from social commentary, the creature’s beguiling belly percussion, Japanese puns and, of course, the fat, round appearance of the real animal itself. These days, the round belly of the tanuki symbolizes good sense and composure, as well as boldness in action.

The origins of the tanuki’s laughably large scrotum are somewhat easier to trace. Back in the day, metal workers would use tanuki skin to pound gold into super thin sheets. This combined with the fact that the Japanese words for “small bag of gold” and “testicles” are nearly identical made the connection that much easier. In present day, a large tanuki nutsack still represents good fortune with finances. I’ve even been told that tanuki stores all of his gold in his colossal set of family jewels.

But the legendary tanuki does far more with his scrotal skin than use it as a coin purse. I could explain, but a picture is worth a thousand words:

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Tanuki using a scrotum as a drum.

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Tanuki using their scrotum for warmth.

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Tanuki using their scrotum to make a lovely goldfish imitation, while simultaneously crushing a man to death.

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Tanuki stomping another tanuki’s scrotum flat to use as a sumo ring.

These aren’t the limits of tanuki scrotal use by far. If you’re curious, you can run a Google search, or check out the link to a detailed analysis of tanuki anatomy provided below.

The current image of the round, cartoonish tanuki is relatively new, largely stemming from the first quarter of the 20th century. Today, tanuki statues both miniature and gargantuan can be found outside of most businesses and houses, especially restaurants and bars where tanuki’s love of fine wine, food and fun invite guests to share his passions. As well as coming in different sizes, these days tanuki come in many different varieties. Some are female, swapping out the large testicles for large breasts, some hold children, or carry umbrellas in place of hats.  Some are dressed while some remain naked.

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In my short story “Where the Fireflies Go”, a ceramic tanuki and his gargoyle friend protect the home of their master from a terrifying monster of the ancient world in what may be the last stand of the old ways in face of the new. Despite enjoying a sedentary life of comfort and ease, Tanuki overcomes his fears to face down a demon no piece of pottery in his right mind ought to tangle with.

What’s clear is that tanuki’s past and current popularity in Japan will see that it is a staple in daily lives for a long time yet, bringing the people who know it wealth, luck and prosperity, and confusing foreigners for many years to come.

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If you would like a copy of “Where the Fireflies Go”, as well as twenty-three other short stories from around the Asia-Pacific region, please consider a donation to the indiegogo campaign for Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, and receive an electronic or paper copy of the book before its official release date of April 30th.

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If you would like to delve deeper into the history and mythology of the tanuki, please check out the Japanese Buddhist Statuary where tanuki are discussed at length in all their cultural and historical significance.