book reviews by Althea

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The Woman Who Is the Midnight Wind: Stories – Terence M. Green

The Woman Who Is the Midnight Wind: Stories
The Woman Who Is the Midnight Wind: Stories by Terence M. Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*** Ashland, Kentucky
A mother’s dying wish: to see her long-lost brother again, just once before she dies. Her son attempts to track him down, but ‘Uncle Jack’ hasn’t been seen or heard from in decades. Then, something weird happens…
A quietly eerie story, slightly Bradbury-esque, about how the past’s loose ends can haunt us.

*** Barking Dogs
In the near future (ok, it’s 1996, and Phil Donahue is still on the air, but I can hang with that) a lie detector has been perfected, and made available for consumer use. The latest buyer of the new and popular item is a city cop. (Of course, there’s no money in the budget for such things to be made part of the police department’s official equipage.) How he uses the device, and the repercussions are a thoughtful exploration of truth, honesty – and how much we really want to know.
Even though some of the details are dated, the core of the story is very timely.
I see online that this story was later expanded into a rather poorly-reviewed novel. I haven’t read it, but I’m not sure this would work as a novel, although I think it’s a very good short story. It’s more of an idea-piece than a character-oriented story.

*** Legacy
A man goes to visit his father in an institution. Is it a prison? A hospital? Or something else altogether? He must ask him a certain question…
The near-future setting is the jumping-off point to highlight the peculiarity of the ties of blood and loyalty, forged of both love and hatred.

** The Woman Who Is the Midnight Wind
Widowed on a colony world, a woman comes to make a decision which those around her find baffling and incomprehensible. There’s some nice stuff here about isolation and what it means to be human… but I have to deduct a star, because the attempt at a ‘woman’s’ point of view is awkward to the point of absurdity – and the ‘female’ theme is a major part of the piece.

*** Room 1786
Probably more timely now than it was when it was written. A teacher’s lament regarding how technology is changing the school experience.

** Japanese Tea
This one, I found a bit reminiscent of Philip K. Dick. A teacher in a high-security future school is pursuing an affair with a willing student. A new drug gets brought into the mix, and things get weird.

** Susie Q2
A lonely man is contemplating suicide. But first, he has to say farewell to the personalities he’s programmed into his A.I.

*** Till Death Do Us Part
An ex-wife makes sure that her first husband gets his come-uppance – from beyond the grave, thanks to new technology.

** Point Zero
Joe Nicholson travels a lot for work, and doesn’t really have a lot going on in his life. His main pleasure is visiting strip clubs in whatever town he happens to be in, where he regards the entertainers with an odd mix of bemusement and awe. But then, a strange truth is revealed, and Joe is offered a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. But will he decide to go for it?
I felt this story was rather weak; it depends on an ‘othering’ of strippers that I found very bizarre and out-of-touch.

**** Of Children in the Foliage
Inspired by a T.S. Eliot quote – which I suppose makes it unsurprising that this was my favorite story in the collection. A couple moves to an inhabited world, where humans and the native aliens coexist peacefully, and strive to overcome cultural and inherent differences to understand each other. A quiet, but lovely story.

I picked this book up because of the blurb which described Green as “one of Canada’s finest writers.” I’ve had good experiences with quite a few Canadian authors, so thought I’d check out an author I wasn’t familiar with. Many thanks to Open Road Media and NetGalley for the opportunity to familiarize myself with his work. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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Falling in Love with Hominids – Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids
Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*****”The Easthound” – Nalo Hopkinson
Previously read in Strahan’s ‘Best Science Fiction…’ anthology. Was happy to re-read!
‘OK, I previously said the Hopkinson selection in the previous volume of this anthology was my favorite. But this story is now my favorite Hopkinson. I wholeheartedly loved it. It is quite similar to the Star Trek episode, ‘Miri’ (also one of my favorites). However, it’s a lot bleaker – and there are werewolves.’

**** “Soul Case”
Victory comes with grief – and with a price. But freedom for the next generation is a thing of great value. Set in a defiant community of Caribbean ‘maroons’, this brief story packs a lot into a small amount of space.

***** “Message in a Bottle”
A wry commentary on art and how we invest it with meaning.
A young man, an artist, sometimes babysits his neighbor’s child. He’s a bit uncomfortable with the girl, but is it simply because he’s unused to children – or does it have something to do with the child’s rare disorder?
Time goes on, and he’s the one she turns to when there’s something that needs to be said.
Unexpected twists keep on coming, in this great sci-fi story.

** “The Smile on the Face”
Previously read in Neil Gaiman’s ‘Unnatural Creatures.’ Then, I said: “Teenage girls should be happy with their bodies and stick up for themselves against attempted date rape. Yes, fine, I agree. But I didn’t love the story.”
This time, I felt slightly more charitable toward it (I did re-read). It’s very well-written, and you do feel for the main character. But the Message For Teenage Girls definitely overwhelms anything else about the story.

*** “Left Foot, Right”
Previously read in Kelly Link’s ‘Monstrous Affections.’
A young woman enters a store to buy a very specific pair of cheap shoes… Clearly, something dire has occurred, but we are not yet sure what… The gradual reveal is well-done, but this would have been rated higher, except for (view spoiler) The Caribbean setting and the elements of folklore are vivid and nicely-done.

*** “Old Habits”
Previously read in Strahan’s ‘Best Science Fiction…” anthology.
“Ghosts haunt the mall where they died. (Knowing someone who worked in a mall for a while, you might be surprised how many people DO die in malls.) Not bad; probably my favorite thing I’ve read by Hopkinson.” (I’ve since read even better stories by her, but this one is still quite good!)

*** “Emily Breakfast”
What a weird piece. Not weird fiction, just odd. OK… it’s like… one of those food-obsessed cozy mysteries meets m/m romance, with a bunch of stuff thrown in for the pet lovers, and a dash of the fantastic. Strangely charming.

*** “Herbal”
I suppose it’s uncharitable to say this reminded me of Dumbo. Especially since I’ve never seen that movie, and this story is not at all cartoonish. But it does feature a magical flying elephant.

*** “A Young Candy Daughter”
Overly sentimental, but emotionally appealing. This story of the Second Coming is a reminder to Christians of the core values of their religion.

**** “A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog”
The author says this was inspired by the difficulties of ‘dating while geeky’ – but it takes it a step beyond. OK, a whole staircase beyond.
Our narrator is a very peculiar woman with detailed – one might even say obsessive – knowledge of botany. This is what happens when she encounters one very unusual vermin.

*** “Shift”
A jazz riff on ‘The Tempest,’ mixed with elements of ‘The Frog Prince,’ which flips from one perspective to another, touching on the subjects of race and relationships.

**** “Delicious Monster”
It’s always hard to come to terms with your divorced dad’s new relationship, even when you’re an adult. But this story introduces a whole pantheon of unexpected issues, from ‘monster’ plants to the divine.

*** “Snow Day”
While out shoveling snow, a woman encounters a talking raccoon. That’s only the first odd occurrence in what turns out to be a truly singular day. I found this a bit reminiscent of Sheri Tepper, in a good way. it’s a topic I find intrinsically appealing: Oh Hell, yeah, I’d be an ‘Adventurer!’

** “Flying Lessons”
Short, metaphorical piece about child abuse. I can’t honestly say I liked it, but I wasn’t really supposed to.

*** “Whose Upward Flight I Love”
In the midst of a storm, it can seem not as if the wind is striving to knock down the tossing trees, but as if the trees are flapping themselves, eager to take flight.

**** “Blushing”
A contemporary, not-even-one-tiny-bit-politically-correct re-telling of the story of Bluebeard, and his secret room.

**** “Ours Is the Prettiest”
Previously read in ‘Welcome to Bordertown.’ At that time, I said:
“Just because you make it to the Border, doesn’t mean your life isn’t a mess. In the midst of Carnival celebrations, a group of lesbians negotiate a complex web of love, jealousy, violence and resentments. And get blindsided by some unexpected magic. Probably the best thing I’ve read from Hopkinson.”

*** “Men Sell Not Such in Any Town”
Inspired by Christina Rosetti’s ‘Goblin Market,’ this short piece gives ‘forbidden fruit’ a science-fiction edge.

Many thanks to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this excellent collection. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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Fool’s Quest – Robin Hobb *****

Fool's Quest
Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Following directly upon the events of the previous installment (Fool’s Assassin) and ending in a double-whammy of a cliffhanger…

Fool’s Quest will satisfy all of Hobb’s fans… and leave them screaming about how long it’s going to be until the next book.

Honestly, not much happens here. Two characters are kidnapped, and the two title characters go into emotional tizzies about how to get them back and/or avenge them. Hopes are sparked, dashed, re-lit, only for more setbacks to crop up. However, it’s all beautifully done. The pages fly by, and every emotional pain and twinge is fully felt by the reader.

The latter part of the book does a beautiful job of incorporating elements from earlier installments in this giant saga, as well.

These books are all highly recommended… but don’t start here. Honestly, don’t even start with the book before this one. Go all the way back and start with ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’ – and please do – it’s worth it!

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Nightlife: Night Terrors – Matthew Quinn Martin ***

Nightlife: Night Terrors
Nightlife: Night Terrors by Matthew Quinn Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an omnibus edition containing two novels and one shorter story.

Fun, contemporary mainstream horror, with the scary sort of vampires.

It’s set in an alternate New Haven, CT. Not sure why the names have been changed to protect the guilty. We’re in the city of “New Harbor” – which has a university that’s not called Yale, and a secret society that’s The Order of Sormen, not Skull & Bones. I think anyone who’s spent time in New Haven would get a kick out of this.

Beth is a bartender at the local nightclub (I’m certain it’s based on a real place, and points are awarded for a very realistic portrayal of what bartending is like.) She has a bit of a conflict going on with her rich lawyer boyfriend, who wants her to drop her job and move in with him. But Beth values her independence and doesn’t like a lot of things about his attitude. Soon enough, though, her issues with the guy are rendered moot. Her best friend has disappeared, and there’s some strange things going on in the basement…

Beth is on the verge of getting into real trouble, when she encounters Jack Jackson – a weird guy all decked out in tactical gear – who turns out to be a vampire hunter.

The writing here isn’t what I’d call polished, and at times, it relies too heavily on familiar tropes – even stereotypes. But it’s still an entertaining horror tale that moves along briskly. Recommended for fans of ‘The Strain.’

Hazardous Material:
“Hazardous Material” is presented as a sequel novella to “Nightlife” – but honestly, it feels like it was already written, and then the author added on an ending containing revelations to tie it in to the previous novel.

It’s a mainstream-genre horror story, and many of the elements are familiar: The walled-off scene of a mass killing, a creepy-carnival atmosphere, and a haunted videogame from an abandoned arcade that may bring death and madness into the present day…

All that, I very much enjoyed. But the ending takes an abrupt turn, and I’m not sure that it worked well at all. I wish it’d just stuck with the first track.

As The Worm Turns:
Where there are predators… you might also expect to find the apex predator.

This book continues the story begun in “Nightlife,” following Beth and Jack, vampire hunters. Here, they’ve gotten their slaying down to a science – literally. However, just when they start seeing hints of something disturbing and possibly more powerful than the beings they’ve been hunting down, they run into opposition: not in the form of the inhuman monsters they’ve gotten accustomed to, but in the form of human monsters. The secretive Division has their own agenda, and their agents have a special vendetta against Jack.

Recommended for those who’ve read Nightlife and want to know what happens next, but for me, the story suffered a bit from ‘sequel-itis’: “well, I told that story, but how can I outdo it for the next part?” I also thought the evil of the Division came off as a little too cartoonish; with too little justification given for their atrocious actions.

It’s still a fun vampire/monster tale, and still reminds me of ‘The Strain.’

Many thanks to NetGalley and Pocket books for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.

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Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories – China Miéville

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**** Three Moments of an Explosion
The title story here is a brief piece – but it’s got a lot in its few pages: original and weird science-fictional ideas, and a beautifully conjured sense of angst at the zeitgeist.
It reminded me of an incident when I was a child: my father took me to see the controlled demolition of a building. The charges were set wrong, and instead of the whole building falling to dust, it only pancaked in one floor. The crowd milled around with a sense of dissatisfaction and worry…
Although the building here collapses fully, and the scenario is quite different, the emotions surrounding it seem familiar.

**** Polynia
Previously read on
‘ Browsing the website to find an Ann Leckie story, I noticed a new and free China Miéville piece! Exciting! And it met my expectations.
Two young boys in a near-future London are there when the city experiences a strange phenomenon. Icebergs, which at this point have pretty much melted away in the polar regions, appear in the sky above the city.
No one knows how or why the glacial ice is suspended. Will it come crashing down? Does it mean something? Fear and curiosity take hold. Military expeditions are sent out, and urban adventurers are challenged.
The story is an understated allegory of how the things we destroy may haunt us.’

*** The Condition of New Death
Hmm. This one feels like an example illustrating a philosophical problem, in the guise of a ‘weird fiction’ piece. Except that I’m not sure there really is a philosophical problem.
In the near future, something changes, and suddenly, dead people are always oriented horizontally, with their feet facing you. Even if multiple people are surrounding the corpse.
The story admits, within the text, that this was inspired by old first-person shooter videogames. And well, what are the ramifications of this? Not much. People adjust, and take it in stride.

***** The Dowager of Bees
A secret cardsharps’ club holds an even deeper layer of secrets, one that hardcore gamblers around the world may be privy to – but never talk about.
Games of chance hold no attraction for me – but I absolutely loved this story, with its mesh of risk and love. The frisson of the unknown and uncanny slipping around the edges into our world is done perfectly.

***** In The Slopes
On a remote British island, two groups of academics are in vicious competition. Formerly obscure, the island has become a place of some notoriety, and attracted tourism due to some remarkable archaeological discoveries.
As events are seen through the eyes of a local shopkeeper, wonder, tragedy, and the petty frustrations of human nature mix.
This is far from the first story to be inspired by the legends that inform this one – but it may very well be the best.

*** The Crawl
Screenplay format; a zombie scene. More straightforwardly genre-oriented than much of Miéville’s writing, but as always, very well-written. More of a tone piece than a plot-oriented story though: if filmed, this would be an artsy short, not a Hollywood blockbuster.

**** Watching God
The title is inspired by ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston – which I haven’t read, so I don’t know if the reference goes any further than Miéville being intrigued by the phrase.
This story has to do with an isolated community living on a remote peninsula. Their society is underpinned by their odd, almost cargo-cultish attitude toward the ships they see passing in the distance – ships which usually pass by, sometime wreck on a sand bar, but never approach or interact with them. It’s definitely metaphorical… but it also work at face value, as a weird, evocative and and, at times, shocking story.

**** The 9th Technique
Experienced in seeking arcane knowledge, a woman trades on the black market for an item infused with occult power. However the enigmatic thing that she acquires from a military source may be more than even she can handle.
Ominous, and thought-provoking.

*** The Rope is the World
When I was a kid, Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Fountains of Paradise’ was one of my favorite books. I must’ve read it more than half a dozen times, checking it out from the library. The book has to do with the creation of a space elevator, and though I haven’t read it, now, in over 30 years, I remember it dealing beautifully and sensitively with the conflicts between traditionalism and social and technological progress. It follows one scientist’s ‘impossible dream’ to fulfillment, and although the ending is bittersweet, it is full of optimism: of the belief that innovation will truly make our world and our lives better, and that one brilliant person can, at the end, make a difference.
In this story, Miéville chucks that optimism out and gives us a probably-more-realistic vision of what might happen, both technologically and socially, after a few hundred years, when decrepit space elevators become wastelands or no-mans-lands, isolated from Earth and possibly forming their own, new societies. It’s a fascinating response, though I hesitate to call it a story – there’s no plot at all here.
I still remember Clarke kindly.

***** The Buzzard’s Egg
The best way to conquer a people may be to first ‘conquer’ their gods…
A lot about this story depends on the delivery: the way and manner in which this monologue reveals information – so I don’t want to say too much about it. But it’s an excellent, thoughtful and intense piece about religion, loyalty, and more.

***** Säcken
Wow. This is something I didn’t expect from Miéville: a straight-up classic ghost story. Not so surprising, if he was going to do one: it’s a truly disturbing, intensely horrific one.
Two women travel together to a rented lake house in Germany. (The incidental details of the trip are perfect, and tangibly brought me right back to Dresden and its environs.) One woman is studying elements of German history for her PhD; her girlfriend is tagging along for the sake of the trip. While they might have arrived together, they don’t leave together…
Saying more would spoil it… but this is highly recommended. Loved it.

*** Syllabus
As the title suggests, this is a brief syllabus for a future academic class. We learn that this future has time travel, alien insects, and a fad for diseases. But, if I were taking this class, I’d want significantly more detail.

***** Dreaded Outcome
It’s a therapist’s job to pursue the very best outcome for their patients, right? No matter what it takes? This is an amazing send-up of the culture of psychotherapy. Loved it.

**** After the Festival
The grotesquerie that Miéville’s Bas-Lag books were known for makes a bit of a reappearance here. In a near-future England, and strange but oddly modern-seeming festival is celebrated – one involving a celebrant running around with the head of a decapitated animal over his or her own head. But there are bizarre and not-fully-understood repercussions to this practice.

*** The Dusty Hat
It’s well-known that Miéville is active in Socialist circles. This piece gives us a glimpse into the destructive infighting that minority-view political groups are regrettably prone to, as well as their tendency to collect the odd and eccentric. And then, it veers right (or, rather, Left) into the realm of science fiction.

**** Escapee
This is a screenplay for a trailer for an imaginary movie. Not the sort of thing I usually like: I find reading directions for dramatic presentations somewhat annoying, in general. However, this one, also succinct, was so incredibly vivid that I suspect that, years from now, I’ve going to vaguely remember having *seen* this, not read it.
Oh, and if this was a real movie, I would definitely go see it, and in the theater, too.

**** The Bastard Prompt
“What is a Standardized Patient?
A Standardized Patient is someone who has been trained to portray, in a consistent, standardized manner, a patient in a medical situation. Standardized Patients, or SPs, are used by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPSOM) and other institutions to teach and evaluate students. SPs learn a case based on a real patient other than themselves and are interviewed and / or examined by students as though they were that person in the doctor’s office or clinic, giving the patient’s history and simulating their physical signs such as pain or difficulty walking.”
Yes this is a real thing, a real specialty – a career. In this story, the narrator’s partner becomes a professional SP. A trained actress, she’s remarkably good at her job. But then, there’s a weird an uncanny twist… one that threatens to get her fired.

*** Rules
A brief piece juxtaposing the rules of an imaginary game with a musing on children playing at pretending to be airplanes. Thoughts on culture and time… but it didn’t feel fully pulled together, for me.

*** Estate
Dreamlike and disturbing. Slightly reminiscent of the earlier story, ‘After the Festival’, in that it seems to posit ancient-seeming, but modern-edged rituals cropping up in a present or future England. Burning stags…

***** Keep
They say ‘no man is an island’ – but in the wake of a new epidemic, each man may be his own moated castle. Does patient Zero hold the key to a solution – or is civilisation doomed? Weird, original, and perfectly Miévillian.

*** A Second Slice Manifesto
A brief idea piece. Taking a cross-section of a medical or scientific specimen can reveal previously-hidden details. What if the same principle could be applied to art?

**** Covehithe
Subtext: our maritime ecological disasters coming back to (literally) haunt us? Yes, that’s there, but on the other hand, this is sort of… sweet, and positive, and an Industrial Naturalist’s dream. And of course, it’s also utterly bizarre.

**** The Junket
I might be a terrible person, but I want to see the movie described in this story. 😉
A hip young Jewish filmmaker has just been killed. Who did it, and why, are the questions. Controversy has swirled around him and his work…
In a piece which makes the reader cringe and laugh in turns, there’s actually a very thoughtful exploration of a number of real-world issues surrounding art, religion, culture, and more. Nicely done.

*** Four Final Orpheuses
Alternative motivations for why Orpheus might’ve looked back at Eurydice.

***** The Rabbet
A young couple and their baby, settling down into conventional family life, take in a roommate – an old college friend. The new tenant is still caught in his college ways, running around at all hours, doing urban exploration, and obsessively working on art projects that never seem to be finished (or very good). The mild conflict arising from the different places that these people are in life is expertly teased into escalating terror. Great horror story.

*** Listen The Birds
A screenplay for what would be a short and disturbing art film.

**** A Mount
In front of a porcelain carousel horse in a window, a young man weeps.
This image is the jumping-off point for a brief but rather profound musing on the peculiarity and nature of people’s reactions to items and events; the unstated echoes of our artifacts.

***** The Design
Weird… originally published only 6 months earlier, this story functions perfectly as a prequel to Daryl Gregory’s ‘We are All Completely Fine’ (and ‘Harrison Squared’). If you liked either of those book, do yourself a favor and read this story, even if the confluence it utterly coincidental!
A medical student, doing required dissections of cadavers, discovers something very strange… and is obsessively drawn into a search for answers.

Many thanks to DelRey and NetGalley for the opportunity for me to read this collection from one of my favorite authors. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin *****

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-reading for book club! (August 2015)

I first read this book in middle school, and was blown away by it. It introduced so many new (to me) ideas – brilliant ideas! – but then, rather than just presenting those ideas as a utopia, did everything it could to explore them further, and to explore their flaws and weaknesses.

I was very proud that I got my teacher that year to include this book on our summer reading list, so that everyone else would have to read it too. 🙂

Of course, re-reading after so long, I wasn’t sure how it would hold up. You can see I still have 5 stars up there, though…

When I was a pre-teen, I remember thinking that the book felt very ‘adult.’ This time, I was more impressed at how LeGuin actually manages to deeply explore profound and complex ideas through simple, elegant language that just about anyone, of any age, can understand.

And – this is a book of ideas. That’s the one aspect of the novel that I could see being used as a valid complaint about the book. However, I didn’t feel that the characters fell by the wayside. Although they might be there, at times, to illustrate certain points, they still feel like fully realized people, who think, act, and feel in believable ways.

This is, of course, the story of Shevek, a remarkably brilliant physicist (and an excellent example of a character who is much smarter than average, and who behaves and thinks in such a way as to demonstrate that, rather than the much-more-common occurrence where we’re supposed to believe that someone is talented or smart because the author tells us so.) Shevek was born on Anarres, a colony world started as a social experiment, following the philosophy of the radical communo-anarchist Odo. 170 years later, after hardly any contact with the home world of Urras, rumors persist about the oppressive decadence of the ‘propertarians’ of the home world, Urras.
However, Shevek, a bit of a misfit in his own society, is invited to visit Urras. Through the book, we see their capitalist society and contrast its pros and cons with those of Annares.

As a kicker, we also get to glimpse a hint of what things are like not only on Urras and Anarres, but here on Earth, as well as among the Hainish: there are not only two social possibilities.

An admission: when I first read this, I identified more strongly with Shevek and Takver. This time, I had far more sympathy and understanding for Vea – as, perhaps, most people in the West would.

Essays and books could be written (and have been) about the ideas contained in ‘The Dispossessed’ – I’ve not going to do an analysis here.

But I will say; I still think this is a book that everyone should read.

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The Monstrous – Ellen Datlow, ed.

The Monstrous
The Monstrous by Ellen Datlow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

***** “A Natural History of Autumn” by Jeffrey Ford
A very strong opener to the anthology.
As the scene is set, a Japanese couple are on their way to a retreat at a remote onsen. (bathing spa). This being a horror book, we might expect that not all that is to transpire will be romance and relaxation – and we would be right. However, the twists, turns, and gradual revelations about who this man and woman are, and who they might be to each other, are unexpected and sharp.

*** “Ashputtle” by Peter Straub
An unpleasant glimpse into the mind of a kindergarten teacher. The ‘feel’ of the piece reminded me just a bit of ‘Misery’, but all the horror here is hinted at around the edges. Still, I was left with the distinct suspicion that you might not want this lady teaching your kids.
The title clearly refers to the Brothers Grimm’s Cinderella story, but I didn’t see a strong connection there, although the main character has indeed lost her mother, and endured a difficult childhood.

**** “Giants in the Earth” by Dale Bailey
Setting charges off underground to open up new veins of coal is a dangerous job – but miners with families to support have little choice. One time, though, the explosion opens up more than expected… and the miners come face to face with something out of the realm of human experience.
The opening of the story is very, very strong, but the ending felt less-original and just a bit inconclusive. It’s still a very good piece overall, I just wanted a little bit more.

**** “The Beginning of the Year Without Summer” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Two scenes are contrasted: in one, the narrator discusses swans with a stranger in Providence’s Swan Point Cemetery. In the second, the same narrator (we assume) attends a strange, ritual party in a house on Federal Hill, and tells a man about the strange circumstances of the rediscovery of a significant tome.
The piece raises many questions and offers no answers – but I didn’t care; I still really liked it. It gave me vivid flashbacks to scattered memories of my own teenage years in Providence.

**** “A Wish From a Bone” by Gemma Files
A bit into this story, I began to think: ‘this is really good, but the scenario seems rather familiar… oh, wait…’ Yes, I’d read this before, in another of Datlow’s anthologies, ‘Fearful Symmetries.’ I still read it all the way through, again.
‘A fine entry into the ‘cursed tomb’ subgenre. A TV show crew gets more than they bargained for when they enter an ancient Middle Eastern crypt in search of some good documentary fodder.’

**** “The Last, Clean, Bright Summer” by Livia Llewellyn
The YA-sounding tone of the teen diary entries that present this story is deceptive.Sure, the narrative lets you know right off the bat that there are going to be some dark themes… our narrator’s young brother has passed away, the family seems to be in some emotional upheaval, and they’re relocating for some time. However, after setting this scene, the author went “Muah-ah-hah-hah,” and grinned evilly as she went about writing the details of the lovely, traditional family reunion that these characters are en-route to.
You know Lovecraft thought about this sort of stuff, but didn’t actually go there…

*** “The Totals” by Adam-Troy Castro
Many of the ‘monsters’ in this anthology are unexpected, but ‘The Totals’ features a very classic monster-monster – a giant, ogre-ish killer. And killing seems to be all he does; his brain doesn’t seem to have the capacity for much else. But when this killer wanders into an odd meeting at some kind of interstitial diner, an unexpected twist is revealed.

*** “The Chill Clutch of the Unseen” by Kim Newman
In a small town, an old man is the last protection his neighbors have against an invasion of monsters. Little do they know that this town oddly attracts the uncanny and legendary beings which are a threat to humanity. But for own long can he keep up his secret defense?

**** “Down Among the Dead Men” by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
A vampire in a WWII concentration camp. One night, Isadore Bruckman discovers a secret that might even exceed, in pure horror, the dreadful atrocities visited on him and his countrymen by the Nazi guards. But where is a line drawn between evil and what someone will do to survive? A vivid and uncomfortable story. Very good.

**** “Catching Flies” by Carole Johnstone
This is the second selection in this anthology that also appears in Datlow’s ‘Fearful Symmetries.’ Both repeats are excellent stories… but the overlap is unnecessary, IMHO.
‘Emergency workers grab a young girl and her baby brother from their home, rescuing them from a horrible scene. They’re unwilling to talk to the girl about what happened to her mother. But the girl knows more about the horror than any of them. Really effective; well-done.’

**** “Our Turn Too Will One Day Come” by Brian Hodge
A brother is called to his sister’s side in a moment of crisis. Family has to stick together, even when it might go against the law. But he learns that there are things about his family that have been kept from him his whole life… things that go back generations.
Great idea, but it gets a tiny bit ‘tell-y’ with the explication in the latter half.

*** “Grindstone” by Stephen Graham Jones
Out West, Derle, a thoroughly unpleasant character, gets up to some nasty stuff with sheep and little girls. Yeah, even MORE unpleasant than what you’re thinking.

*** “Doll Hands” by Adam L. G. Nevill
If you thought Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ was too gentle and understated, you’ll probably love this one. I didn’t think that, however. I’ve still got an appreciation for the straight-up gross, dystopian horror to be found here, though.

*** “How I Met the Ghoul” by Sofia Samatar
In Middle Eastern mythology, a ghoul is not merely a monster that consumes the flesh of the dead. Rather, a ghoul is an “evil female spirit of the desert,” who preys on travelers, shape-shifting, “luring lustful men to their doom by taking the guise of beautiful women.” While once these beings may have solely been found in the remote desert, today, it makes a kind of sense that a reporter granted an interview with one of these baleful creatures would have the meeting set up in an airport…

*** “Jenny Come to Play” by Terry Dowling
Very much like an episode of ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show.’ Here, we meet a young woman who’s checked herself into a mental asylum. She claims it’s mostly because she needs to hide from her sister, who’ll be coming to get her. Her doctor believes this to be a delusion, but soon enough, the sister does indeed turn up – and her behavior is somewhat suspicious.
However, the doctor’s sudden willingness to break all professional protocols and go haring off on a wild goose chased based on a slender thread of evidence strains belief.
It does culminate in an eerie – and nasty – finale, though!

**** “Miss Ill-Kept Runt” by Glen Hirshberg
The sense of dread here is masterfully done. A family is moving. It’s a stressful time. The mother of the family is acting in a mentally disturbed manner. Is it just stress, as Dad claims, or is it something more? Shoved into the back of the car with her brother, for a long overnight drive, a young girl becomes convinced that something is not quite right. And she may be correct.

** “Chasing Sunset” by A.C. Wise
A Lovecraft-inspired monologue from a real son-of-a-devil. I’m not sure why, but this one just didn’t really speak to me.

*** “The Monster Makers” by Steve Rasnic Tem
On the face of it, this is a story about a family with a strange curse… people around them seem to turn into monsters. But really, it’s a musing on loneliness and the inevitability of death.

*** “Piano Man” by Christopher Fowler
Playing into pretty much every preconception that fiction has created about magical, decrepit, voodoo-soaked, jazzy New Orleans… but doing it with a bit of self-awareness, this story gives us a bit of unexpected horror in a tale of revenge and a haunted piano.

***** “Corpsemouth” by John Langan
After the death of his father, a young man goes to Scotland to reconnect with his extended family, and to face, inside himself, some of his guilts and resentments. However, that isn’t all he’ll end up facing. This story meshes contemporary concerns with ancient legends and mysteries of Britain in a tale slightly reminiscent of Alan Garner. Loved it.

Many thanks to Tachyon and to NetGalley for the chance to read this excellent anthology. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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