book reviews by Althea

The Ape’s Wife and Other Stories – Caitlín R. Kiernan ****

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*** The Steam Dancer
More of an introduction to a character than a story. Out in a Steampunk Old West, we meet Missouri Banks. She’s had a hard life, but after being ill, abandoned, and left for dead, she had the luck to be picked up by a mechanic, who fitted her out with steam-powered prostheses. Now – although some people would find her situation intensely depressing, she retains a remarkable optimism. Although she’s dependent on the help of her mechanic lover, she does seem to care for her. Although some people would regard her job as an exotic stripper as a dehumanizing freak show, she truly loves dancing…
Interesting piece, although not much happens. It felt very familiar; I’m not sure if I’d read it before, or read something with similar themes.
It’s available for free, here:…

**** The Maltese Unicorn
You know what the world was lacking, until now? A retelling of Dashiell Hammett’s ‘Maltese Falcon’ with plenty of black magic and lesbian sex. Tongue-in-cheek, and very entertaining.

**** One Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm)
The aesthetics of Lovecraft meet a modern-day sensibility, in this tale of a small-time journalist who becomes obsessed with a small-town unsolved mystery. Very nice.

*** The Colliers’ Venus
A paleontologist’s ex-lover, a hard-working, hard-talking miner, brings him in to investigate strange stories of ‘fossils’ found living, encased in stone.

*** Galapagos
Previously read in ‘Eclipse 3.’ “A woman is summoned or sent on a mission to a possibly-derelict spaceship, because her lover may or may not be the only surviving crewmember. In store for her are horrors unspeakable – as we can guess, since the story is narrated from her bed in a psychiatric ward.”

*** Tall Bodies
A strangely solitary woman, living in a small New England town, sees glimpses of strange beings. A mood piece with some nice ambiguity.

**** As Red as Red
A researcher, investigating reported cases of vampirism in 18th-century New England, meets an elusive and strangely compelling woman. Nicely eerie tale.

A mobster’s ‘clean-up’ guy lives a sordid life of drugs and violence – but he hides the nastier side of what he does even from his lover… and maybe even from himself. But he begins seeing weird glimpses of quicksilver… Gritty, but elegant and understatedly creepy.

**** Slouching Towards the House of Glass Coffins
On a bleak colony world, citizens live in fear of the Maafa – (a cult? gangsters? both?) who kidnap the young and beautiful, who are never seen again. One woman goes on a hopeless quest to rescue the object of her unrequited love from their headquarters. The story is full of unanswered questions – but they don’t really need to be answered; they kind of become irrelevant.

**** Tidal Forces
Previously read in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Six.” “More horror than sci-fi, this reminded me a bit of Kathe Koja’s ‘The Cipher.’ In both stories, a mysterious black hole appears, threatening to suck in all around it… Here, the atmosphere of threat and loneliness is built up quite well, and it’s also quite effectively creepy – but the ending wasn’t quite strong enough, for me.” On a second read, I liked the ending better.

**** The Sea Troll’s Daughter
An enjoyably subversive take on a classic ‘dragonslayer’ fantasy tale, with a romance between a hero and a bar wench.

*** Random Thoughts Before A Fatal Crash
A whoring artist relates some odd and disjointed experiences with mythic overtones.
(On a totally irrelevant note, I’d like to thank Kiernan for including lyrics from the 1930 song ‘Brother, Have Your Got A Dime,’ which suddenly explained a line in SoM’s ‘Lucretia, My Reflection…’ (which I know the author’s aware of…)

*** The Ape’s Wife
The woman ‘kidnapped’ by King Kong explores different possibilities in different alternate realities, while lost in ‘All-at-Once’ time… and the story explores a lot of the fear and presumptions that ‘King Kong’ plays upon.

3.6 rounds up to 4.


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