REVIEW: August 17, 2018

“That was when we communicated with our first spirit together.”

Rules for Communing with Spirits, by Christopher R. Alonso.

If you’re a fan of Fireside, you’ve likely already read this story, since it came out this July and was accompanied by a really fantastic piece of art done by Charis Loke. If you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out here for free.

Caro and Xenia developed an unusual hobby during the course of their relationship: observing and communicating with the dead. Xenia sees them, but cannot hear them; Caro hears them, but cannot see them. Together, they attended many funerals, even of those they barely knew, acting as a shoulder for the dearly departed to cry on. At least, until they broke up.

I found this story to be a bittersweet kind of cute. Right from the concept of two girls listening to the stories of the dead, down to the very end, the tone remained consistent, and it put me into an almost nostalgic mood. Nostalgia, despite having never been to the kind of funeral described in the story, or been anywhere remotely close to Florida. It’s detailed, yet not in a way that makes it feel far away. It’s detailed just the right amount to make it feel real, and I think that’s something that must have taken a lot of skill on Alonso’s part.

One thing that didn’t exactly bother me, but did make the story take longer, was the liberal use of Spanish. I understand that Xenia and Caro’s race and culture are important to the story; it wouldn’t even be the same tale without that information. But I do think, for stories told in English, it’s better to use less foreign phrases so as to prevent the reader from having to stop and translate, which I definitely had to do a few times. Sadly, my high school Spanish wasn’t quite enough.

Xenia was a very interesting character, and I enjoyed her perspective, I think, because it’s so different from my own. Caro was a lot more relatable, especially when it came to the dynamic between them. Even knowing they would break up from the start of the story, the shifts in their relationship felt real and interesting, and the ending, too, stayed strong. There was just enough information to pique my interest and leave me satisfied all at once.

A 4 out of 5 for this story, and a strong recommendation that you keep a Spanish dictionary close at hand when you read it. Because you should definitely read it, especially if you like ghost stories or stories about second chances.

Christopher R. Alonso has a few other works around the web, which I’m excited to discover in the coming few months, and he can be found on Twitter at @ChrisRAlonso.

Are there any hobbies or skills you have that someone else has gotten you into?

REVIEW: August 15, 2018

“And before the light can flash again he explodes, straining and struggling.”

Flotsam & Jetsam, by Carrie Ryan.

Another tale from The Living Dead 2, edited and introduced by John Joseph Adams. If you’d like your own copy, which I’d really recommend if you’re at all a fan of zombies, you can order it here or here in paperback or ebook format. If you just want this story in particular, however, you can get it from Amazon here by itself.

After a zombie outbreak on their cruise liner, two guys–either late teenagers, or young adults–end up alone on a lifeboat together. As they struggle to survive and fight their urges to go back to the sinking ship and look for their friends, the tension between them grows. Especially since one of them was bitten.

The concept behind this tale was really interesting to me. When I shared a synopsis of this story with my good friend Elma, she reminded me of the movie Train to Busan, in which there’s a zombie outbreak on a train. Dealing with a zombie scenario in close-quarters raises the stakes that much more, and Flotsam & Jetsam is certainly no different in that regard. Knowing that someone was slowly turning made the whole story feel like a countdown.

There was a strangely casual tone to the whole thing, however, which took away from some of the tension. Much of the conversations between the two men felt forced, although maybe that was intentional. I also wondered about the exact nature of their relationship, since they didn’t seem to have strong feelings in any way for each other. If they liked or even disliked each other a bit more, I feel like the tension would have been through the roof.

The story wasn’t very descriptive, but what is there to describe on a life raft? There were a few scenes towards the end that were really strong–when one character is tying up the other, for example. The ending was also very interesting, and definitely not what I was expecting. I really enjoyed the conclusion, and I think that’s what really sold me on this story.

This piece had a solid foundation and finish, but it lacked just a bit in the middle, and I think I’m going to give it a 4 out of 5. It definitely captured my interest and was by no means a bad story, but I think if a little more attention had been given to the characters, it would have really stood out.

Carrie Ryan has a website here, including a bibliography of her work here. Apparently this story is set in the same world as her The Forest of Hands and Teeth, so if you like this one, definitely take a look at those books as well. I hope I can check it out soon. She also has a twitter, at @carrieryan.

What do you think would be the worst place to be trapped with a zombie?

REVIEW: August 13, 2018

“Let Death come as Death pleases, whether as man or woman or strange, sexless creature.”

Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle.

Podcastle is once again the host of today’s story–can you tell that I’m a regular listener? This story is a bit special, however, as it’s the first episode they ever hosted. You can find it here if you want to listen.

In London, England, during the rule of one of the King Georges(I don’t know enough English history to know which one), Lady Flora Neville holds the most magnificent parties and balls. Everyone important attends, but there’s one guest that she’s sure will really bring attention and life to her next party: Death himself. Or rather, herself, as Death will be guaranteed to stun everyone with her entrance. That is, if she shows up at all.

This is the first story of Beagle’s that I’ve ever experienced, and I’m glad that’s the case, because it’s absolutely lovely. From the writing to the characters and the themes, this story is extremely endearing and enjoyable. Even the side characters were individual and interesting. That being said, Lady Neville was a fantastic focal point, and an absolutely wonderful character to read about. She had the confidence and grace that I think we should all aspire to have.

It’s really hard to find fault with this story in any capacity, but I do think that the treatment of the hairdresser was a little excessive. It kind of pulled me out of the rest of the story. That scene had a different flow and tone that, while subtle enough that it didn’t really shock me or change the tale, it did just feel a bit off. It was a short enough incident, however, that I didn’t even realize it bothered me until the second time I listened to it.

The ending of this story was truly great. I was mesmerized as I listened, almost knowing exactly what would happen, but still enthralled as each word went by. It was haunting and beautiful, like Death herself, and I felt honoured to be a part of it, like the guests and Lady Neville’s party. Beagle really did an incredible job, writing this story in a way that I felt I was there, in another country and another time.

This gorgeous tale gets 5 out of 5 from me, and I think most anyone could also enjoy it just as thoroughly. It’s beautifully written, beautifully executed, and features a beautiful sense of emotion.

Peter S. Beagle is an author with an extensive bibliography, though his most famous work, by far, is The Last Unicorn. After reading this story, I picked up a modern copy of the Last Unicorn, and am looking forward to reviewing it in the future. He has a Twitter account at @petersbeagle.

What’s the best party you’ve ever been a part of, and what made it so great?

REVIEW: August 8, 2018

“Seems like the perfect time for higher powers to reawake.”

Black, Their Regalia, by Darcie Little Badger.

As a part of Lightspeed since 2012, Fantasy Magazine is the home of today’s short story. More specifically, you can find the story here, as a part of the December 2016 special issue. There’s also a podcast version you can download, if you’d prefer that, though I read this one, myself.

Black, Their Regalia is set on an Earth taken over by the Big Plague. There are so many infected, that those dying are put on trains and sent to facilities where doctors test and try to save them. The three main characters–Tulli, Moraine, and Kristi–are a young “neoclassical alt-metal fusion” band of Apache and Navajo descent. The band, Apparently Siblings, are all infected, but stick together through thick and thin and never let go of hope, though their beliefs waver.

This story, despite the fact that it’s about one of the most likely apocalyptic situations, is incredibly charming. The characters’ dynamic and dialogue is endearing and believable. In the short flashback of their first meeting, there’s a particular line, “However, they didn’t annoy each other too much, so friendship inevitably blossomed.” At least for me, this feels like an accurate statement of how friendships work. I also enjoyed the fact that the Apparently Siblings weren’t famous whatsoever, but still counted playing a handful of shows and having a certain number of twitter followers an achievement. It made me want to search them up on Twitter and follow them as well(Sadly, there’s not really an account for the band).

I also enjoyed the symbolism and the reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse(and subsequently Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s novel Good Omens), which, though it certainly fit in the story, felt a bit strange combined with the Aboriginal myths and themes. I did enjoy that, for the most part, the story was centered around the band members’ ethnicity and identity. As I’ve mentioned before, I myself am of Ojibwe descent, and I personally think that these sort of stories are important to tell, fictional or otherwise.

I don’t want to give away too much about the ending, but I did love the importance of the dance and the characters’ talents as a band. I’ve always held to the belief that all art should connect, and that includes writing and music and dance.

For myself, this is a definite 5 out of 5. I absolutely loved it and think a lot of other readers will love it too, whether or not you have a similar personal attachment. It’s a great story about hope and love and humanity, as well as things that humanity can’t explain.

Dr. Darcie Little Badger has her own WordPress account here, including a bibliography of her other works here, which I can guarantee you that I’ll be looking through in the future. She’s also on Twitter at @ShiningComic.

Have you ever had a dream so strong you believed it was real, even if only for a moment?

REVIEW: August 6, 2018

“Tonight, no matter what happened, this place would be lost to him.”

The Last Flight, by Michelle West.

This is yet another tale from the anthology Creature Fantastic, edited by Denise Little, and once again I encourage you to take a look at your local secondhand bookstores. I’ve really enjoyed this collection of stories so far, and I recommend getting your own copy if you like any of my reviews of these short stories. It should be fairly affordable since it was published in 2001, and if you can’t find it in a nearby bookstore, Amazon always has a few copies here.

This piece is about an old man, dying of age in a park, who spends his last few hours with his granddaughter. During this time, she asks him questions and he talks about his very, very long life and history, including the day he met her grandmother in the very same park. As time passes, the old man reveals much more about himself than his granddaughter could ever expect, and while she loves her grandfather, the young girl is left with more concerns than ever before.

The opening few paragraphs really set the tone for this tale. It was sombre and sweet all at once and remained so throughout the telling. I think that’s one of the main reasons I really enjoyed this one: the writing was thoroughly enchanting, and even though I knew very little about the characters, I found their sentimentality endearing.

Speaking of the characters, I found the grandfather strangely relatable, despite his oddities and otherness. I could see myself in the granddaughter’s place, sitting next to my own quirky grandpa, having a similar conversation and not knowing what to feel. I found this story universal enough to be relatable, yet strange enough to be its own story. It was fascinating, and it was done very well.

Perhaps my only criticism is towards the ending, when the old man’s son shows up. I think, though it added to the story itself, including a third character took away from the special and specific tone that had been building between the grandfather and granddaughter. That being said, the presence of the old man’s son opens the conversation to more questions and debate. So I think, while it subtracted from the tone, the son added to the ongoing dialogue and theme.

The Last Flight is a 5 out of 5 for me. It caught me off guard with its depth and meaning, and stole me away with its melancholy mood. I would absolutely recommend this tale to anyone who has a special connection with their own grandfather, and perhaps to those who have lost a grandparent before. It really touched my heartstrings in that regard.

Michelle West also goes by Michelle Sagara West and Michelle Sagara, and is a Canadian author living and selling books in Toronto, Ontario. She has a website here, including a bibliography here, and appears to be on twitter occasionally at @msagara.

What’s one memory you want to pass on to your children, future children, or just those younger than you?