"Sleep Walking Now and Then," is set in the Big Arena, a futuristic New York City, where class and financial divide are wide and marked. Residents of"Sleep Walking Now and Then," is set in the Big Arena, a futuristic New York City, where class and financial divide are wide and marked. Residents of the Big Arena will do anything to stay at the top of their game in 2060. That wider look at time, place and society is the perfect cue to the more intimate setting, characters, and motivations that come along next. Bowes' main character is Jacoby Cass, a successful playwright, director and actor whose star seems to be waning. Everything depends on the success of a new interactive production at The Agouleme Hotel in a dilapidated Kips Bay neighborhood. The hotel's original owner and two deaths, one of them a suspected but unproven murder, are the inspiration for Cass' play.
Bowes mixes up the future (2060) with the past (1890s and 1960s) through the play's dialogue, descriptions of the hotel as the set, and the actors' wardrobe. Atmosphere is grand throughout the story. Greed, egos, staging details, as well as the "anything for a hit" show business attitude are also easily captured by Bowes. The above mentioned and the idea of having the public become part of the play (imagine an interactive play set at the Algonquin), became more a focus for me than the murder mysteries. The end fits the story, characters, and attitudes perfectly.
Richard Bowes is a favorite author. Through the insights and knowledge of New York City, past and present, found in the body of his works it quickly becomes evident that the City is an intricate part of the writer, just as the writer has become part of the City. In my opinion, one of Bowes' biggest talents is the subtlety with which he infuses his New York City tales with fantasy. I again found that subtle touch in "Sleep Walking Now and Then." ...more
I am familiar with Dale Bailey's short works through his contributions to Asimov's Magazine. His novelette The End of The End of Everything is not nomI am familiar with Dale Bailey's short works through his contributions to Asimov's Magazine. His novelette The End of The End of Everything is not nominated for any awards that I know of, however, in my estimation it is one of the best I read in February. Think of a dystopian earth where everything in the world is slowly dying from a sort of darkness, described as ruin, that is killing everything it touches: man-made structures as well as all living things, including man. When a couple moves to an exclusive artists' colony with a friend, his latest wife and her child, they find the wealthy, famous, and semi-famous indulging in end-of-world free-for-all dissipation and suicide parties that result in carnage. A mutilation artist becomes the ultimate horrifying temptation for the main character, a philandering poet who questions the mediocrity of his life.
This story has excellent sff elements that are utilized throughout the story as a whole. The central character works as both the focus and narrator, and the world-building although murky in its inception, is clear enough for the story's purpose. This novelette, however, is sff/horror, one that is filled with the kind of violence, blood, and mutilation that is horrifying and truthfully not for everyone. That aspect of the story did not bother me personally. What this very well-written, fascinating novella was missing for me, was a real representation of the psychological torture that the living should have been experiencing. Instead everyone is portrayed as very sophisticated and for the most part clinically detached. Yet, this novelette stayed with me and I will probably reread it. There is so much going on in this story that I may have missed something.
Check out that great cover illustration by Victo Ngai. ...more
Of the SSF short works I read in February, my favorite was Kai Ashante Wilson's 2014 SFF novelette The Devil in America, a free online read at Tor.comOf the SSF short works I read in February, my favorite was Kai Ashante Wilson's 2014 SFF novelette The Devil in America, a free online read at Tor.com that has been nominated for a Nebula Award. Last year, this author's short story Super Bass was among my favorite.
With "The Devil in America," Kai Ashante Wilson introduces fantasy elements while making a strong social statement. He combines ancient African magic with the left over legacy of slavery in America. The central story, where the fantasy elements of the story are focused, takes place in a post Civil War South. Small sections, depicting racially motivated crimes committed against African Americans throughout US history and to contemporary times, are inserted throughout to punctuate consequences of events occurring in the magical section of the narrative. This excellent novelette is short, to the point, and packs a punch. ...more
The Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert is another SFF novella from Tor.com and a Nebula nominee. This sff horror story begins with a stranger pasThe Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert is another SFF novella from Tor.com and a Nebula nominee. This sff horror story begins with a stranger passing through a small town and seducing a group of women. Nine months later, there is a baby boom. But there is something different about these babies. The mothers will go to great lengths to protect them from those who might hurt them.
This story begins on a ominous note and ends quite well. Unfortunately, the middle drags rather badly. Narrated through journal entries by the different mothers, the reader never meets the babies' "father," the man or creature that so easily seduced the women of this little town. The mothers -- some of them children themselves, others married, divorced, single, or widowed -- are secretive at first. They love their little monsters too much to care what they are or they will be getting up to. This story is fantasy/horror. With the exception of little monster babies with tiny wings, the fantasy side in this novella is left to the reader's imagination since there are no real explanations as to what they are, where they come from, or what the real purpose of their existence is. The real horror in this story lies on the mother's disquieting actions once the "mother's instinct" comes into play, the rest is mild in content....more
The Wilde Stories anthology series edited by Steve Berman features gay themed speculativGrade: 4.5/5.0 Originally reviewed at Impressions of a Reader
The Wilde Stories anthology series edited by Steve Berman features gay themed speculative fiction short stories published during the previous year. This year all the short works included in Steve Berman's 2014 Wilde Stories: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction are written by new contributors. The collection begins with an introduction by Berman, an interesting one at that, however today I am concentrating on a long review that includes all the stories.
The anthology begins with three very good stories that quickly engage the reader, particularly with the short but highly effective contemporary piece "Grindr" by Clayton Littlewood in which text messaging, infused with edgy horror, is utilized as the spec fic element. In "The Ghosts of Emerhad" by Nghi Vo ghosts play a role in a fantasy setting with eerie atmosphere, yet it is not a chilling read, instead this is the redeeming war tale of a man coming to terms with personal loses. And with "How to Dress an American Table" by J. E. Robinson, the collection shifts to a contemporary tale with an unsettling "human monster" at its center, the kind that is often more disturbing than stories about fictional monsters hiding under the bed.
"Caress" by Eli Easton is just an excellent, complete steampunk sff romance piece filled with outstanding details, world-building and "graphic novel" atmosphere. I visualized a graphic novella while reading this romance between a young man with a clockwork heart whose genius and skills save a soldier from a fate worse than death. Following is another excellent story. "57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides" by Sam J. Miller strongly stands out with a unique format that flows effortlessly, and memorable young adult characters, outstanding speculative fiction elements, gay theme, and a plot focused on friendship, bullying, revenge and betrayal.
The collection continues the young adult theme with "Happy Birthday, Numskull" by Robert Smith, a piece that is so freaking interesting because the spec fic elements come from a sensitive, imaginative child’s perceived horrors as he experiences the adult world surrounding him. Everything changes with "Right There in Kansas City" by Casey Hannan, the only story in the anthology that veers into the realm of the weird with dense speculative fiction elements that hit the reader from its inception. There is an obvious sub-text to the story, but take it from me this one is very good and out there.
"The Water that Falls from Nowhere" by John Chu won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. A reread, this story stands out for the subtle approach with which Chu uses rain as the speculative fiction element while the main thrust of the story is focused on a committed gay couple attempting to gain understanding and acceptance from the narrator’s traditional Chinese family. I have enjoyed Damon Shaw’s work in the past, and he did it again with "Seven Lovers and the Sea." This is a story I loved for its unique twist on both vampiric and seafaring mythical tales.
Although "The Brokenness of Summertime" by R. W. Clinger may be considered a contemporary horror tale by some or perhaps contemporary with a rather sharp edge (pun intended) after all it depicts ye ole green-eyed monster at its best, my totally warped sense of humor turned it into a highly amusing, insane, demented sort of read -- so, so enjoyable! It was then surprising that "Lacuna" by Matthew Cheney gutted me with its ending and not necessarily with the speculative fiction details. Let me explain, in this story there is a running narrative by a writer as he creates a speculative fiction piece. So, there are two stories at once, one interrupting the other's flow and ending in the writer's reality with a shocking revelation and the reasons why "words are not magic." I must be particularly susceptible at the moment because after this story I stopped reading the anthology for a bit before picking it up again. That's a good thing, it means that the story made a strong impact.
"Super Bass" by Kai Ashante Wilson is a fantastic tale with magical aspects of ancient African religions utilized as the root for the speculative fiction elements. In his story, Ashante Wilson amplifies those magical aspects within a high religious ceremony in which two lovers participate, with one transforming into the Most High Summer King and the other giving him strength through loving. The islanders traditionally marry in threes -- two men, one woman -- an organic same-gender, gender-mixed society. This aspect of the world-building is not deeply explored. Rather, it is an organic part of its creation and left open to the reader for further thought and speculation.
The last piece with young adults as central characters is a mythology-based story by Cory Skerry, "Midnight at the Feet of the Caryatides," that focuses on a arrogant click of students that choose to abuse the weak and different. I enjoyed the gothic atmosphere and gargoyles, but for me the most memorable aspect of the story is the combination of darkness and tenderness found in the narrative. And the anthology ends with "The Revenge of Oscar Wilde" by Sean Eads, a zombie story with Oscar playing the forceful and introspective knight avenging his lover Bosie's honor to the horrifying, bittersweet end. This is a short story worth reading for its beautiful writing and excellent alternate perspective into Wilde's last days in Paris. . . and on. "If there is a god to them now, he walks this earth and his name is Oscar Wilde."
This anthology ebbs and flows with short works that include contemporary, fantasy, steampunk, magical, and mythology-based speculative fiction – some action-filled, others quieter and more introspective, going from dark to light, and darker yet. Horror-based speculative fiction tales reign supreme with some excellent otherworldly pieces and plenty of stand outs. Personally, I found quite a few favorites as I made my way through this year's edition of Wilde Stories. ...more
"Melanie was new herself, once, but that's hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things
"Melanie was new herself, once, but that's hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things without names, and things without names don't stay in your mind. They fall out, and then they're gone.
Now she's ten years old, and she has skin like a princess in a fairy tale; skin as white as snow. So she knows that when she grows up she'll be beautiful, with princes falling over themselves to climb her tower and rescue her."
I first read the extended free version sample(10 chapters) of The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey in May and was absolutely taken in by the author's fresh approach to what are basically the makings of an old horror tale. I had such a positive response to the short version that I actually became anxious to read the entire novel. The novel lived up to my expectations. There are different reasons behind that:
1) The relationship between the two main characters. The growing attachment between ten-year-old Melanie and her teacher Ms. Justineau is central to the story. Although Melanie is confused as to whom or what she is, her IQ is also off the charts, and she is strong-willed and tenaciously protective of Ms. Justineau, just as Ms. Justineau is protective of Melanie. Yet, I believe that what makes this very tense, fast-paced action, horror thriller a particularly effective read is the heavy contrast between the unexpected poignancy that stems from Melanie's unconditional love for her teacher, and the dangerous situations and dark revelations unfolding around her.
In the beginning, Melanie thinks she's a normal little girl. She lives in a cell, just like the other children, and is only allowed out when Sergeant and his men strap her on a wheelchair and take her to eat or to classes for the day. Her best days are Ms. Justineau days! Until one chaotic day everything changes, and every day is a Ms. Justineau day. Helen Justineau knows what Melanie is and why she's in that cell, and although she's part of a team and understands the dangers that go with her position, she disregards warnings and dangers and comes to see Melanie as 'just a child.’ Protecting Melanie, helping her navigate dangers inside and outside the compound where they both live, becomes her mission.
2) World-building: The Girl With All the Gifts is a post apocalyptic piece set in the UK, however, it is clear that years earlier the Breakdown was a global event that devastated civilization when the majority humans were infected by the “hungry” pathogen. There are pockets of isolated humans restricted to living in small towns and a few cities such as Beacon, and “Junkers,” gangs of humans who go about freely throughout the countryside and cities looting for hardware and goods in order to survive. But communication is down to the old basics and no one really knows who or what is left out there.
The basis for the world-building may sound familiar, however, Carey’s book strikes me as distinctive in that he doesn’t take unnecessary shortcuts. Carey uses science by incorporating biological details that explain how the hungry pathogen derived from Cordyceps works and evolves, adding scientific methodology used to study mutations, as the logical steps to arrive at the beginning point of the story, and later to its logical conclusion. He does so without sacrificing high level tension by weaving those excellent details with the fast-paced action and horror aspects found in the novel.
3) Secondary Characters: Speaking of horror, I was more horrified by a human character's actions than the natural reaction of the infected "hungries." The ‘human monster’ is a familiar character whose motivations are usually portrayed as black and white because, no matter the consequences, they are always able to rationalize their actions. Although the ‘moral’ question is sometimes introduced, as was the case here, for the ‘human monster’ the conclusion is almost always the same: the end justifies the means. However, there's also a redemptive quality to another central secondary character that turned out to be an unexpected bonus.
Melanie is a child and as such she dreams of princes rescuing her from her tower. Her little life turns out to be much different from how she imagined it would be once she gets out of her cell and discovers the reality of her world. But like Pandora's box when it is opened, once brilliant, courageous Melanie emerges, good or bad, the world will never be same.
“Growing up and growing old. Playing. Exploring. Like Pooh and Piglet. And then like the Famous Five. And then like Heidi and Anne of Green Gables. And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both.
I read the extended free preview offered for the Kindle (9 chapters!), and so far this is an absolutely fabulous speculative fiction read! Now I haveI read the extended free preview offered for the Kindle (9 chapters!), and so far this is an absolutely fabulous speculative fiction read! Now I have to wait for the whole novel to release in June! I can't wait to continue, but as a teaser this free preview is the perfect hook. It gets an A- from me ONLY because I know there's more to come, but as a short story it works really well too.
PS: I'm not saying a thing about the story at this point because I believe it should be approached from a fresh perspective, but know that if you give this book a try the main narrator and central character, a ten-year old whose name is Melanie, will keep you reading. ...more
Science fiction? The "new weird"? Speculative fiction horror twisted into the "new weird"? Whatever the label, Jeff VanderMeer hit the spot with thisScience fiction? The "new weird"? Speculative fiction horror twisted into the "new weird"? Whatever the label, Jeff VanderMeer hit the spot with this book. The first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation is a great example of a Lovecratian-based, fungi infected (or is it colonized?) piece. With its distant, disconnected narration, heavy atmosphere, tense horror-filled moments, and excellent prose, it is one of the most memorable books I've read this year so far. Yet, the story is not finished. . . this is just the beginning of what promises to be a fantastic trip (read) when fully realized since obviously the overall story arc has a long way to go. Annihilation leaves the reader, at least it left me, haunted as the progression of events occurring in Area X affect the unnamed biologist and her three companions. Highly recommended...more
I enjoyed the stories in this anthology -- after all, it contains a favorite tale of queer villainy, Hal Duncan's "The Origin of the Fiend" --4.5/5.0
I enjoyed the stories in this anthology -- after all, it contains a favorite tale of queer villainy, Hal Duncan's "The Origin of the Fiend" -- but can I just say how much I absolutely loved the introduction by Tom Cardamone? We don't say enough about introductions and how they affect a reader (the "hook" they become), or what they mean to a collection or anthology. So to give you an idea of what this great collection is about, I will quote Cardamone:
"Queer kids identify with the monsters in the movies, empowered outcasts, bogeymen bursting out off the closet; villains are cool. They wear their shadows well and if you're going to be expelled into the darkness, you might as well flaunt it."
"We can't just be heroes and victims -- that would create a fictitious reality, one where we are more vigilant in our denials than in our quest for equality."
So yes, as an editor, Cardamone reached his goal in choosing the writers with just the right tales of "queer villainy" for this collection. I enjoyed them all:
Light and Dark by Damon Shaw The Web by Steve Bereznai The Meek Shall Inherit by Jamie Freeman After Balenciaga by Marshall Moore The Third Estate by Lee Thomas The Ice King by Tom Cardamone Lesser Evil by 'Nathan Burgoine The Plan by Charles "Zan" Christensen The Knights Nefarious by Rod M. Santos Snow and Stone by Stellan Thorne Scorned by Jeffrey Ricker Your Changing Body: A Guidebook for Boy Supervillains -- Introduction by Mr. Positive by Matt Fagan The Origin of the Fiend by Hal Duncan ...more
Gaiman's magical, adult fairy tale is narrated by a seven year-old boy as events are remembered by the man he becomes. It's interesting because we allGaiman's magical, adult fairy tale is narrated by a seven year-old boy as events are remembered by the man he becomes. It's interesting because we all know how childhood memories can fade and events can become distorted with time and our narrator is middle aged -- divorced with grown children with established lives of their own. Magic, however, factors into the "distortion of memory" issue, which I believe is a creative approach by Gaiman.
Children often blame themselves for what happens around them, to them, to their parents, as a result of their actions, but most times through no fault of their own. They can also erase and/or rearrange memories, particularly bad ones, to fit their lives and make them more acceptable. In Gaiman's fairy tale, the unnamed protagonist placed those memories in a tight little box and closed the lid. The memories only came into play when he went through changes in his life, but were those memories accurate or was he still placing the blame where it did not belong? After the funeral when our story begins, are the memories closer to being accurate? This adult fairy tale is a magnificent way of telling a story that deals with the consequences of childhood trauma and factors in memory.
The summary of the book above is quite accurate in detail, but lacks spoilers. It is in fact the perfect summary for this short novel by Gaiman. However, it would help to clarify that forty years earlier means 1960, and that has to be kept in mind when reading the seven year-old boy's narrative, particularly his feelings about adults and his reactions to them.
Grownups and Monsters:
"Grownups and Monsters aren't scared of things. "
"Oh, monsters are scared," said Lettie. "That's why they're monsters. And as for grown-ups. . . "
As terrifyingly beautiful and creative as the fairy tale turns out to be, this story is about growing up. There is little subtlety in the way Gaiman portrays the death of innocence or the depth of terror or fear felt by the boy as he narrates his experiences. But there is no question that I wouldn't have missed walking in the boy's shoes or missing out in those experiences.
I think what I love about The Ocean at the End of the Lane is that it can be read and enjoyed in different ways, as a magical fairy tale or as more. Although it has children as protagonists at its core and family is part of the story, this is not a warm, children's fairy tale like The Graveyard Book. It has a much darker atmosphere, and deeper and much more complex plot that makes this an adult fairy tale. This is my interpretation of what I found at the core of the fairy tale. I'm sure we all have different thoughts about it... and of course, that is the beauty that comes from reading this piece by Gaiman....more
Every year editor Steve Berman publishes one special collection after gathering the best of previously published gay speculative fiction stories writtEvery year editor Steve Berman publishes one special collection after gathering the best of previously published gay speculative fiction stories written by a wide variety of authors. I've loved Berman's collections in past years and Wilde Stories 2013 is no exception. This year's volume, however, is memorable for the different and interesting young adult speculative fiction short stories included. They provide this volume with adventure, a touch of whimsy, and yes, an edge that I really enjoyed.
Breakwater in the Summer Park by L Lark is a light and fun summer camp story with a mysterious monster in the lake whose presence inadvertently helps two boys whose lives are full of insecurities and personal fears about the future. I enjoyed this story in the Boys of Summer anthology and although it is one of the lightest stories in this collection, it definitely belongs. The Keets Variation by K.M. Ferebee on the other hand has young adults as main characters, yet the dense narrative and heavy subject matter give this story edge and weight. Tatooed Love Boys by Alex Jeffers is queer fantasy at its best. With a plot that shifts and curves, this story takes the characters and the reader on a wonderful ride.
I initially read Wave Boys by Vincent Kovar in The Touch of the Sea anthology and loved it so much that it made my 2012 short story "best of" list. This dystopian young adult story is memorable for its fantastic world-building, great adventure, and characters that I feel should be further explored -- it was a pleasure re-reading it again! Another young adult story with excellent world-building is Next Door by Rahul Kanakia. This is an action and anxiety driven futuristic science fiction short set in a society where technology trumps humanity.
Then there's the fantastic and unforgettable story about a boy and his wolf, Sic Him, Hellhound! Kill! Kill! by Hal Duncan. I've never read anything like it. There are some rather ironic references to those dreaded sparkly vampires and the girls who admire them, but what can I say? This story cracked me up, particularly since it is narrated from the dog/wolf's point of view!
---Hello hello hello hello! I love you! ---Yes, I know, I love you too. ---But I really love you! I missed you so much! ---And I missed you too. Yes. I did! Oh yes I did! Now, down you go. ---But I missed you!
From the adult speculative fiction short stories, Wetside Story by Steve Vernon is memorable and the most irreverent in this collection. This fun, creative piece has some crass humor that won't quit. I appreciated it from beginning to end. Imagine a sexy gay squid in love with another squid who has a radioactive smile. Yeah...
Bucky grinned me back a picket fence full of pleasure. The toxic waste that riddled his cavities gave them a wonderfully fluorescent neon gleam. His scales glittered as prettily as those of the dead mackerel had.
My heart went thump.
Changing gears, in Laird Barron's A Strange Form of Life his talents are displayed in all their glory and can be fully appreciated as, in short order, he weaves a fantastic Lovecraftian horror piece. Grierson at the Pain Clinic by Richard Bowes is such a gripping and unique story, about a man and his rather disturbing Shadow, that I couldn't stop thinking about it. And the fantasy, myth-based, whaling adventure Keep the Aspidochelone Floating by Chaz Brechley is another story from The Touch of the Sea anthology that made my 2012 "best of" list. Re-reading this well-written, detailed piece full of action, pirates, and a love story between a mariner and his boy was a pleasure.
I had a tough time choosing favorites in this volume of the Wilde Stories series. Steve Berman included a wide range of stories and gay themes, as well as an excellent mixture of writing styles in Wilde Stories 2013. Combining young adult and adult speculative fiction not only added a creative edge but a unique touch to this collection. ...more
The Resurrectionist is such a gorgeous book! When I first received the print copy all I wanted to do was pet it. It is the size of a coffee table bookThe Resurrectionist is such a gorgeous book! When I first received the print copy all I wanted to do was pet it. It is the size of a coffee table book, and an excellent conversation piece as I quickly found out. The fantastic illustrations rendered by the author E.B. Hudspeth, The Codex Extinct Animalia, that make up the second section of this book steal the show. Of course, there is a story to go along with all those gorgeous illustrations and the aesthetically pleasing package.
Set primarily in Philadelphia in the late 1800's, the first section of the story is the fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black. Although it is written in a biographical style narrative with journal entries by Dr. Spencer Black and occasional entries by his brother Bernard, the story soon takes a twist into dark fantasy as Spencer comes to believe that mythological creatures are the true ancestors of humans. At age twenty-one, Black is known around the world as a medical prodigy, but as his research grows into an obsession that takes him away from his brilliant works as a surgeon working with operable birth defects and into an entirely different direction, his credibility with the medical community is irrevocably damaged and his mental health rapidly deteriorates.
This section of the book is rather short, at times providing gruesome details of Black's experiments, while at others it leaves blank or unknown details up to the reader's imagination. Black's experiments and descent into obsessive darkness fascinated me to no end and left me disturbed. That is until I looked at those gorgeous illustrations again.
The Codex Extinct Animalia, or second section of the book, is dedicated to those fantastic illustrations I mention above. I wish I could show you instead of telling you about it. There is a page describing each mythological creature, another page with Dr. Black's notes about the creature, and a page dedicated to different illustration plates enumerating bones, muscles, internal organs, and the final sample of said creature. My favorites are the amazing illustrations of the Harpy Erinyes. But as beautiful as the illustrations are, they become deeply disturbing when placed in context with the story or Black's obsession. It is through these that the reader comes to realize the depth of the doctor's madness and realizes just how far he goes with his experimentation. A rather macabre thought...
Now, take the disturbing dark fantasy narrated in biographical style and put it together with illustrations that take the story up a notch into the macabre and you have a winning combination. For readers like me who love a taste of the unique and different, the aesthetically beautiful journey into the dark mind of a madman in The Resurrectionist will most certainly do. ...more
Do you think of romance when you hear the term speculative fiction? There is a kind of romance that goes along with reading speculative fiction. It'sDo you think of romance when you hear the term speculative fiction? There is a kind of romance that goes along with reading speculative fiction. It's true. I believe it happens because readers, or fans like me, fall a little in love with the what ifs and why nots, the unexplained, the unexpected, the twists and turns that sometimes push edginess into the weird. The wonder.
The title of Will Ludwigsen's collection, In Search Of and Others is a take on the 1970's television program In Search Of hosted by Leonard Nimoy. That program specialized in debunking myths and legends, in other words as Ludwigsen says in his foreword, they in fact specialized in killing the imagination. However, this collection is his answer or the antithesis of all that: "What am I "in search of"? I'm looking for any signs of imagination in the universe, and if I don't find any, I'm willing to create some of my own. The truth that paralyzed me twenty years ago has come full circle: you don't find magic but make it." When I began reading this collection of 15 stories, I went in my own "search" for magic, the unexpected, those what ifs and why nots that keep the romance of speculative fiction alive and kicking for me.
In his first story "In Search Of," Ludwigsen creates his own version of the television program where he goes from giving general answers to well known events shifting to personal, more intimate moments and building tension until it ends with an edge. The collection continues with "Endless Encore," a fun story with a somewhat predictable outcome, followed by the brilliantly executed "The Speed of Dreams" which has one of those stop-on-your-track endings, and "Nora's Thing" with its excellent plot and beautifully organic finish. As I kept reading, I found that with stories about moving old houses, rednecks, canny realtors, and clowns, this collection just kept getting better and more consistent as it moved along.
At the back of this collection there is a short section where Ludwigsen explains what inspired him to write each story. In his witty explanation as to what inspired him to write "Universicule," he uses the phrase "coaxing meaning out of meaninglessness" while referring to language. This phrase brought to mind how we, as readers, bring our own baggage and imagination to the table, and sometimes "coax meaning" out of stories that may in fact have an entirely different meaning or no meaning at all to someone else. This is true of all stories, but then again that is the beauty of reading. In this case, what I found in Ludwigsen's stories seemed to touch on the personal.
For example, in reading "The Ghost Factory" I made an immediate connection between the eerily fictional circumstances presented by Ludwigsen and real life past job experiences, giving this piece a significance that goes beyond the obvious. This is a story set in a mental health institution narrated by an unethical psychologist. The narrator shifts from events that took place in the 1990's to his present position as the only resident at said institution. The one passage that made this story gel and snap for me is: "The whole world's a ghost factory. We all fade like the paint on these buildings, sometimes from too much sun, sometimes from too little. We blur and blend to the murky shades left behind when something vivid dies." At times the atmosphere in this story is oppressive and immediate which Ludwigsen juxtapositions quite effectively against the coldness of his disconnected characters, and at other times the sense of disconnect and distance is all encompassing. This excellent story is precise in its execution.
"Universicule" on the other hand provided me with quite a few chuckles regardless of the ending and great passages interspersed throughout the text. "[...] but here in person, smelling this loamy garden of a book --- God, you could plant seeds inside it and they'd grow trees of glass with absinthe fruit." In this story, a bibliophile writes letters to Charlotte to keep her informed of his progress as he obsessively studies and attempts to decipher the contents of a rare book. It builds to an unexpected ending, but in reality this story is an elaborate farce. "They miss the fluidity of language qua language." Hah! Written in letter form, "Universicule" is creative in writing style, development and content. I absolutely loved it.
"She Shells" is a great example of the diversity of stories found in this collection because this story borders on the creepy-horror category. It freaked me out! Again, this could be interpreted as a personal reaction since I suffer from deep-water phobia. I always blame my personal fear on the movie "Jaws" and that awfully effective music (not true, but it sounds better than the truth). In this story, Ludwigsen uses a seemingly simple narrative style and a very short story format heavy in atmosphere to great effect.
And the excellent "We Were Wonder Scouts" brought back memories of days when as a girl my imagination was the best entertainment and I believed in such places as Ludwigsen's fictional Thuria, and of one particular moment when cold reality interfered. But, there is always a place for Wonder Scouts like Harald; boys and girls who are willing to explore and look for the unexplained and the unexpected, the what ifs and why nots. I love that even after reality creeps into this story, Ludwigsen imbues it with enough imagination that the magic lingers to the end.
If you haven't figured it out yet, then I will tell you. In reading In Search Of and Other Stories, I found that Mr. Ludwigsen was quite successful in "making his magic." He took me along for a ride of the imagination and I loved every minute of it. Highly recommended. Grade A-...more
Last year I loved the Wilde Stories 2011 anthology, so picking up Wilde Stories 2012: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman wLast year I loved the Wilde Stories 2011 anthology, so picking up Wilde Stories 2012: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman was a no brainer for me. In this year's edition, I again found excellent creative speculative fiction by favorite authors plus new-to-me authors whose works I'm going to explore in the future.
The anthology begins with an excellent introduction by Berman, followed by fifteen stories and showcasing the wide range and variety he discovered in gay speculative fiction. Personally, I think that variety is what I love and enjoy the most about reading speculative fiction. That and the fact that there's no placing most of these stories into a neat little box even when certain genres are used as a base in their construction.
I'll give you a few samples of the variety found in this anthology. There are two stories that really touched me, "Ashes in the Water by Joel Lane and Mat Joiner," and "Hoffman, Godzilla and Me by Richard Bowes." These tales are quite different in setting, mood, atmosphere and writing styles, yet pain and loss oozes out of the pages while that darkness and other worldliness that comes with a speculative fiction story is central to both. And while one story is edgier than the other, they both leave the reader in deep thought while chilled to the bone.
There are also fun tales such as "The Peacock by Ted Infinity and Nabil Hijazi," a science fiction based love story, between a spambot program and a man, that made me snort and laugh from beginning to wonderful over-the-top end, and Tom Cardamone's very short excellent Chinese mythology-based story, "The Cloud Dragon Ate Red Balloons," which surprisingly left me with a smile at the end. These two stories while very different are both excellent, quite creative, and fun!
Of course a speculative fiction anthology would not be complete without the all popular horror-based tale, and this year Berman features great stories I enjoyed, his own creepy contribution "All Smiles," featuring young adults, is one of them. And while Steve Berman's story is full of dread and quick action followed by a hopeful ending, in "The House By The Park," Lee Thomas contrasts the bliss of a gay couple as they find love and lulls the reader with everyday life details while all along dark evil slowly hunts them.
Both horror tales are nightmare worthy, but compare that horror to the magic found in Justin Torres' creative fable "Fairy Tale," Ellen Kushner's fantasy-based tale of swordsmen "The Duke of Riverside," or another favorite, "We Do Not Come In Peace by Christopher Barsak" where Peter Pan-like young men in a familiar Neverland-like setting battle the Fair Ones, and you get the idea as to the variety of stories included.
I enjoyed reading this anthology slowly, savoring each tale on its own. It is interesting to note that even as personal taste led me to find favorite stories, it is also easy to say that the quality of the stories and writers, gay themes, plus the variety found in Berman's Wilde Stories 2012: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction make this anthology an overall well-balanced, rock solid read. ...more
First published in 2007, New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear is a steampunkish mystery series set in a world with an alternate history as a ba4.5/5.0 (B+)
First published in 2007, New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear is a steampunkish mystery series set in a world with an alternate history as a backdrop. The book is divided into vignettes or short stories where crimes are both committed and solved by the central characters. Spanning a period of time from 1899 to 1903, the six stories are linked and an overall story arc simultaneously developed to slowly reveal characters and give her worldbuilding depth.
Known in Europe as the Great Detective, Sebastien de Ulloa is such an old creature that he no longer remembers his birth-name or even when or where he was born. After the woman who made him immortal chooses to burn rather than going on, Sebastien abandons his European "court" and emigrates to New Amsterdam with "courtier," friend and assistant, Jack Priest. Sebastien himself doesn't really have a reason to live, but between willful Jack, the pleasure found solving murders, and the people he meets in New Amsterdam, Sebastien slowly finds reasons not to take that last walk into the sunrise. Two of those reasons are DCI Abigail Irene Garrett and author Mrs. Phoebe Smith.
Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett is a forensic sorceress in service to the British Empire in New Amsterdam. In a world where men rule, Abby Irene is scandalous, notorious, loyal and a woman to be reckoned with when it comes to seeking justice. Abby Irene is an aging beauty who had affairs with royalty and when Sebastien meets her, is having an affair with the married and powerful Richard, Duke of New Amsterdam. Of course that doesn't stop the hard drinking single-minded Abby Irene from becoming entangled with Sebastien, becoming a friend and eventually part of his "court."
Bear is known for writing excellent fantasy and building her worlds around alternate history, so there is no surprise that in that respect she excels in this series. In this world, the British Empire takes New Amsterdam (New York/Manhattan) from the Dutch during the Napoleonic wars. The American colonies are restricted to a small area, as the Iroquois, with their magic, stopped the British from further expansion, and the Spanish and French conquered and kept other chunks of North America. And in the late 19th Century the Revolutionary War against the Crown is brewing. Magic and sorcery are very much accepted and part of the culture in both Europe and in the New World, while wampirs and their courts are accepted in sections of Europe and outlawed and persecuted in the New World.
This is a moody, atmospheric world with richly developed characters. As a wampir or vampire, Sebastien comes off as unusually unique, although he is constructed more or less after the traditional vampire. He's an immortal fighting time and history after surviving centuries by adjusting to changes and not growing too attached to mortals, or at least that's what he claims. He knits! And gentleness and warmth accompany coldness. Yes, Sebastien is different, and the logistics of how his relationships with his mortal court work are also different and unexpected. Abby Irene is a force! A relentlessly strong woman unwilling to show vulnerability to men or to compromise her beliefs. There are contrasts and similarities between Abby Irene and Phoebe who comes off as softer, but is just as strong and single-minded as Abby Irene. Oh and Jack! Lovely, loving Jack who at a young age has lived a lifetime.
Titles of stories in New Amsterdam: Lucifugous, Wax, Wane, Limerent, Chatoyant, Lumere. The mysteries/crimes are excellent although my favorite stories are the first three, Lucifugous which takes place in the dirigible while Sebastien and Jack are on their way to New Amsterdam, Wax and Wane taking place in New Amsterdam, and Lumere set in Paris oozes atmosphere....more