While I found the cover off-putting for a handful of reasons, once inside I was caught in the flow of the narrative. Roberts realizes her players well...moreWhile I found the cover off-putting for a handful of reasons, once inside I was caught in the flow of the narrative. Roberts realizes her players well, showing multiple sides to mythic characters, and the details she puts into this historical re-imagining of "The Epic of Gilgamesh" really bring the story to life.
I was not familiar with the myth prior to reading Roberts' interpretation, and I think that it stands well on its own. We are quickly, and rather brutally, introduced to the deprivations of the King, Gilgamesh, and the cloud that hangs over the citizens of his city. He is both their protector and their destroyer. Also in play are Shamhat, a priestess of Inanna, who has personal connections to both the King and the newly-forming rebellion; Zaidu, a trapper who sets the story in motion; and Enkidu, beast-man raised by gazelles, who becomes the fulcrum of change.
The King is a bull of a man: muscular, quick-tempered, and driven by powerful lusts. He cripples the men he wrestles, races others beyond exhaustion, and now has claimed first "rights" to any bride. Gilgamesh answers to no one but the gods—and while the temple grows rich from offerings left by those begging the goddess Inanna for protection, the clergy are simply one more voice that the King ignores.
When Zaidu comes to Gilgamesh with his tale of a beast-man destroying his traps, the King sees that perhaps he has found an equal to try. Gilgamesh sends Shamhat into the desert with Zaidu to tame the beast-man and bring him back to the city.
The emotional and political twists and turns are best experienced firsthand. I recommend this novel for both its fast pacing and insightfulness, as well as for its historical grounding, and I look forward to more from Hadley Rille Books' Archaeology Series.
The review copy was provided by the publisher and will be retained by the reviewer.(less)
The cover design for 'Eggs of American Songbirds' is by GUD's layout editor, poetry maven, and Issues #1 and #7 Instigator, Sue Miller. Redneck Press is owned and operated by friend-of-GUD and Night Train editor Rusty Barnes. A free .pdf of the chapbook was provided by the publishers and will be kept by the reviewer. Poet and short-fiction writer Kenneth L. Clark was published in Issue 1 of GUD Magazine.
Now we've got the disclaimers out of the way, on to the poetry.
'Eggs of American Songbirds' is a handsome chapbook of poems drawn from life. In them, Clark clearly enjoys playing with the slipperiness of language and the exploitation of the way we read poems, in order, linearly. If you read this line from 'Still Time' in isolation it tells you one thing:
we make time to forget the laundry
When you move on to the line that follows, what it tells you changes:
list of things to do and ignore today
who fills out an incident report. It’s a crime to be quiet as a puddle after chrome violence
At the spillway the red winged blackbird crouches down
('At the Spillway')
There's fun with and love of language in this chapbook, but at the same time, the poems feel deeply personal. They are about love and loss, grief and intimacy. Clark writes himself and his preoccupations onto the page.
"Don’t say anything else tonight, put your head in my lap and sleep, forget 25 hours of news and information, relapse to when sleep came by the cadence of rain, hard rain. Rain, hard rain."
('Ethics for the New Gulf')
Anything and everything is grist for the poet's mill--anything seen, overheard, everything felt, experienced. It's all here: little slices of life pinned to the page.
...She pulled photographs from an album while her husband went to walk the dog and find the cat. "This one is Steven and this one’s an old barn."
('The Body Paused')
Clark's poems can convince you that there is beauty in the mundane, but that it takes a poet to see it and bring it to our attention.
There should be an easier way to speak about crazy women—it’s not enough to just change the names or distort the facts, you have to make the stories believable
even though they aren’t.
('On Returning Home To Find My Things Destroyed')
This self-assumed task permeates the pages.
Some of the poems, of course, are more successful than others. I particularly liked 'The Body Paused' and 'Home and Garden', perhaps because they spoke to me more than the others. That's the secret of literature; everyone brings their own experience to it, and takes it away changed, re-interpreted, perhaps--we hope--better understood. You could do worse than start that process here.
A .pdf was provided by the publishers for review.
Kenneth L. Clark's work appears in GUD Issue 1: Catholic Girls, A Doorbell, and In Defense of the Boll-Weevil(less)
I stumbled into a #hashchat on Twitter, where World SF blog creator, GUD contributor, and prolific writer @LavieTidhar was answering questions from th...moreI stumbled into a #hashchat on Twitter, where World SF blog creator, GUD contributor, and prolific writer @LavieTidhar was answering questions from the audience. If the Library of Congress was on the ball with their Twitter archive, or I had a better memory, I could amaze you with the brilliance of my question. As it is, I will try to impress you with the brilliance of the book that I won with that lost-to-posterity question.
'Cloud Permutations' is part myth, part science fiction adventure. Its roots are both broad and deep; they nurture a story that is personal, well-defined, and brilliantly textured and contextualized, yet still archetypal.
Tidhar draws from his experience in the remote islands of Melanesia to paint for us one possible permutation of the clouds. Heven is a world populated, centuries ago, by Melanesian settlers from distant Earth. They have been cut off, due to unknown circumstances (a trope Tidhar has pulled off beautifully before), and their day-to-day life has grown to fill those circumstances as /kastom/. There is one rule above all others, core to keeping the peace: you will not fly.
Kalbaben and his best friend, Vira, go against the /kastom/ of Heven and pay a heavy price, Kal's first step towards a prophecy he ill understands. He is banished to the merchant-island Tanna, given to remote relatives. There, he is befriended by an ostentatious and crafty albino, Bani, who takes him under his wing.
The adventure they embark on is not easy, nor just, nor kind, nor innocent, but it is told with a rich brush, in language, in interaction, and in scope. The world of Heven has many histories, touched on lightly in parts, and heavily in others. Tidhar borrows from many standard sfnal tropes, and makes something unique of them: in blend, tone, and setting.
The story that is told most directly, the life of Kalbaben, is sweet or bitter-sweet depending on how you choose to read it. It ends perhaps a touch too simply, except 'Cloud Permutations' has many more stories besides, and Tidhar weaves them in a tapestry worth reading for its many ragged layers.(less)
Lucy A. Snyder was winner of the 2009 Bram Stoker Award: Superior Achievement in Poetry.
Chimeric Machines is, simply, a delight. Fifteen of the thirty...moreLucy A. Snyder was winner of the 2009 Bram Stoker Award: Superior Achievement in Poetry.
Chimeric Machines is, simply, a delight. Fifteen of the thirty-eight included poems had been previously published, over nine years, in various pro and semi-pro markets, including Strange Horizons, Chiaroscuro, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine. I should say up front that Lucy is one of a handful of my favorite poets—her creations tend to tweak me just so: elegant, grounded, visceral, playful, knowledgeable, erudite, educated...she knows a lot about a lot, including the feel of language, and puts it all to good use.
Tom Piccirilli's introduction is short, quirky, and a great way to set the mood before you dive in. Consider it a palate cleanser for the ever-fresh sashimi Lucy slices the world into. The book is broken into seven courses: Technica, Quiet Places, Dark Dreams, Crete Kentucky, Daughters of Typhon, Strange Corners, and Unshelled Evolution. Some sections are more coherent than others, but, for me, the first was the strongest punch. I made notes on each poem as I went, and so many of them, first time through, were just, "Yes. Oh Yes.", or "Delightful", or "*hee*". That's where she hits me.
The leading piece, "Modernism", is simple, but oh-so-elegant, beautifully wry, and hits on several levels. It's two brief stanzas, both relating the same scene, speaking on classical art and modern art, life, perspective, and it is...delightfully wrong, which is a mode I think Lucy aims for frequently.
"And There in the Machine, Virginia Finally Stood Up" is a prose poem, and not what you might expect from the collection's title, but perhaps all the more powerful for that. Three pages long, a lifetime, but I wouldn't do the themes justice by explaining them. The poem does them justice, in spades. My only qualm is that the end is perhaps a bit simple, and glib, in comparison. But there is a lot of glib, throughout, and it's something she does very well.
"Subtlety", which GUD originally published in Issue 2, gets a special call-out in the introduction, and it's well-deserved. From my slush notes, "I was hooked from the first stanza. The third one had me laugh out loud, for real." It still makes me giggle with glee, the punnery, and imagery, and sheer playful twisting of language, which is both subtle and so-very-not.
"Sympathy" had me at "the soylent flesh of every blessed enemy", which, admittedly, was the last line, but I then wrapped around and enjoyed it anew--not because of any particular twist that reshaped the poem as a whole, but because I knew what was coming.
And so on. Some other favorites, in order of presentation, were "glowfish", "Mute Birth", "Home for the Holidays", "Internal Combustion", "Infinite Loop: Girl with Black Eye", "Uncanny Valley Girl", "Book Smarts", "Dumb", "Permian Basin Blues", and "Photograph of a Lady, Circa 1890". I could probably list most of the book.
Not everything worked so perfectly for me; in particular, I didn't enjoy the story-in-five-poems section, "Crete, Kentucky", but I expect folks other than me would enjoy it more. These poems were less playful, more focused on telling the story; there's still some poetry there, but I don't think it's up to the rest of the collection.
And, overall, where I have a complaint, I think it's rooted largely the same—most of her poetry is so strong, that when it's not doing it's thing 110%, it falls a little flat, for me. Sometimes the poem is just too on-the-nose, or saying something I've read too many times without her characteristic energy; in one case she uses a gimmick twice ("Infinite Loop: Girl with Black Eye" and "Looped"; and "Infinite Loop: Girl with Black Eye" just does it much better than the other, I think); and another she hits a theme twice, and again, not so much as extends it, but does it better in one than in the other ("Ocean" vs. "Photograph of a Lady, Circa 1890").
My complaints are few and far between, and I mostly mention them so as to not over-sell you on some mythical collection that no one would ever find fault with. This is a brilliant collection. If you enjoy poetry, speculative fiction, language, life, or any combination thereof, you should really check it out.
Lucy A. Snyder was winner of the 2009 Bram Stoker Award: Superior Achievement in Poetry.
[The review copy was given to our reviewer and will be kept](less)
This collection of short stories by Vanessa Gebbie is not cozy bed-time reading. Even the most apparently innocent openings--"I'm on a train going to...moreThis collection of short stories by Vanessa Gebbie is not cozy bed-time reading. Even the most apparently innocent openings--"I'm on a train going to the sea"--only mask for a short time the brutal truth that's about to be revealed. Liesl is on a train, and she's been told she's going to the sea, but the train in 'Red Sandals' has a very different destination.
Gebbie gives us little slices of insights into people's lives that are often so harsh that you want to look away, but also so honest and intimate that you feel looking away would be a betrayal. From the baker returned from WWI who goes down a tin mine instead of returning to his trade, but finds that even underground he can't hide from what happened to his neighbour and fellow-soldier to the bedridden ex-soldier whose self-conceit never quite catches up with the change in his circumstances, Gebbie shines a spotlight into those places we'd rather not look.
The writing is clean and to the point with few words wasted. "The sky was the deepest blue, over there above the hill. No stars. Security lights at the factories." Thus, the scene is set in 'Background Noise', where Maidie learns there is more to her grandfather's story of a daring escape from a submarine than she previously suspected. "My lips moved against the rubber. Every breath I took filled my chest with bad air. I pulled at it, tugging it back down, trying to keep it. It was mine. I was Bambrick." Like so many of Gebbie's characters, Grampa has something to hide. Out it comes, though, eventually, choking and gasping its way out into the night, as if it simply can't be held back any longer. Then we have it, the raw truth of the character's secret, exposed on the page.
The characters in these stories are ordinary people. They could be us, or our close relatives, our friends, people we meet in the streets. The stories put us into their lives, and make them more real by only offering these slices, by eschewing backstory and long explanations. Characterisation is deftly achieved in a few strokes. "Before the lockers were broken, Takundwa laughed from behind the schoolhouse. Before the tables were burned in the open, the last time he was a naughty little brother and ducked under Hondo's fist and ran away." ('Maiba's Ribbon') "He stands a full head above me and I am considered not short. It is said he has the strength to lift a full barrel and carry it to the slow count of an hundred. His hair it is thick and long, and of reddish colour, and his gaze most impassioned when he speaks of two things: his God and his ale." ('The Ale-Heretic')
With this volume, small but perfectly-formed, both Gebbie and Salt Publishing cement their reputations for producing quality short fiction that demands to be read.
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred i...moreWhan that Aprill, with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour; ... Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; And specially from every shires ende Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende, The hooly blisful martir for to seke That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.
Although Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was a mammoth undertaking--and one he never completed--at least he only had himself to deal with. Writer and Andromeda In-Flight Spaceways Magazine Maintenance chief Dirk Flinthart took on an even more difficult task, that of weaving stories by disparate writers into a narrative of a futuristic pilgrimage to Canterbury.
This anthology contains eighteen stories by eighteen Australian writers, all woven together using a framing story consisting of a letter written to his overlord by a Crown agent. If, at times, the conceit stretches at the seams, let us not complain, but rather marvel that the thing was done at all. Just as Chaucer sought to share with his readers the stories his pilgrims shared among themselves, so Flinthart set out to 'depict a fictional future by exploring the stories that the people of that future tell each other'.
These new Canterbury tales are told during a lull in train journey through a post-apocalyptic 'Engelond' of the year 2100, where Canterbury has become the capital city, seat of a King Charles V. (Asking where Charleses III-IV came from is one of those seams we weren't going to pull at, remember? In fact, despite being written from the opposite side of the world, these stories contain very few obvious mistakes. I will just say, though: the A1 is not a motorway.) Climate change and plain old human nastiness have taken their toll, Scotland is under ice, the population is much reduced, and the very fact that the train on which our pilgrims travel is nuclear-powered is a secret. Raising--or laying--the demons of the past is a preoccupation of many of the stories, and, for me, there was a little too much harking back to the past throughout. I preferred the stories that immersed themselves in the future rather than trying to explain how it had come about. YMMV.
The brief for this anthology must have been a tough one to write, and hard to undertake, and all the writers who succeeded in having their stories chosen deserve kudos for even trying. Yet I felt that too many of the stories tried to set the scene rather than being set in the scene. Compare this aspect with Chaucer's tales, and you see the difference: Chaucer's storytellers felt no need to explain their world to the reader. It was their world and they and the prospective reader were in it. Few of the writers in this anthology felt that comfortable with their task; it is after all almost de rigueur for the SF writer to give some explanation for how things came about. In this context--perhaps uniquely--that feels like a mistake.
There's a great selection here of professions from which the tale-tellers are drawn, although my favourite is definitely The Dead Priest, which manages to be funny and intriguing in itself while harking back to Chaucer's Nun's Priest. Who though could resist the Tingler, or the Gnomogist? It's almost worth buying this anthology to find out what the Janus and the Carbon-Knitter actually do. For the most part, these tales are not short on imagination in the telling, although sometimes perhaps a tad predictable in what they tell. The world they build, one of basic survival and growing ignorance, in which rape, murder, and callous exploitation are routine, clashes somewhat with the framing tale of the glossy and somewhat steampunky train. Personally, I'll take that train any day.
We're meant to be travelling on that train to Canterbury, on pilgrimage, but where do the pilgrims' stories take us?
In Geoffrey Maloney's 'The Tingler's Tale', we hear about "a Hangman and a Scribbler, and a most foul and evil murderer, or two." This tale throws the reader straight into a post-apocalyptic world that's strangely reminiscent of Victorian England. We could have walked one of Leon Garfield's foggy streets to meet the Scribbler who finds himself a little too close to the action when reporting on a hanging. Most of the characters in this story are treated like archetypes; they have signifiers rather than names. The exceptions are the murderers who have been or are to be hanged. With names, they stand out against the background as the only people in this story. Everyone else has their role, and nothing more. This makes for an atmospheric tale, especially as the focus is on the hanging that's to come, and little wordage is spent on scene-setting, but it's hard to care about the Scribbler's ultimate fate.
'The Nun's Tale' by Angela Slatter is one of the more futuristic stories in this anthology. Set in a city "built on a platform and raised high on gigantic metal legs, above the fumes and filth of a diseased earth", it tells of Terminal Six, a human cyborg who has become detached from the Grid that runs the city following a power surge. Half-lost in dreams and shorn of memory, she pretends to be comatose in order to avoid being reduced once again to a component in a machine. At the heart of this story is a betrayal. "I was your wife. I was your lover. But you loved your city more." The story-teller is present in this story, as witness, as participant, as embittered aspirant to the role Terminal Six is desperate to shed. A strong story that overcomes a shaky dream-sequence opening.
Next comes 'The Dead Priest's Tale by Martin Livings, which follows Father Thomas as he travels to Canterbury. The journey keeps taking strange turns as Thomas meets with strangers who, inexplicably, recognise him. "The woman opened her eyes, looked at him. Tears trickled down her cheeks. 'Do ye not know me, Thomas?' she asked. 'Has the Devil taken even that from me?'" The explanation for these encounters involves cloning and a curious plan to reignite public fervour for the Church and enable it to resume power. It's an odd idea, but then religion is perhaps the usual repository for odd ideas. The problem for me was the story didn't make me believe it, and portentous reminders that "Thomas was born to die" tended to awaken the sceptic in me rather than put it to sleep.
'The Veteran's Tale' by Stephen Dedman was probably the least successful story in this anthology. It's set during a period of transition, when warlords in a particular area are trying to move from settling disputes by the use of force to a more structured single-combat style of resolution. The story is hampered by the introduction of a National power that tries to push their society towards a more democratic regime that it's clearly not ready to embrace, thereby taking much of the ability to develop the society out of the hands of the story's characters. Unfortunately, although the National powers are faceless, the warlords too are pretty much ciphers. One's called Odi, and he's bad--odious, in fact--and another's called Edrich, and he's the good guy, and then there are a lot of names with not much else attached to stand for the others. By the time they're all fighting each other again, there's no way to know who to root for, if anyone.
Further, to be honest, Edrich the good guy is only good in a relative sense. He pleads with his rival warlords to check their depredations before "the men raiding the villages are killing their own sons and raping their own daughters" purely for their own sakes. "That's an abomination too, do you think God won't punish us?" Judging by what seems to have been going on in these villages, I'd say God was dragging his feet more than a little on the punishment front.
Perhaps this was simply too big an idea for such a short story--it can't even be three thousand words long. Certainly there are too many characters for the reader to engage.
Shortage of room to develop may also have harmed Laura E Goodin's 'The Miner's Tale', which has a strong voice and convincing characters, but which resolves its central conflict far too easily. The story's nicely told, using the device of having the hero's sidekick, rather than the hero, as the narrator. Thus we learn about Thomas Griffiths, or 'Griff', who has the peculiar but useful ability to detect the stresses in the layers of rock above the heads of miners digging for coal. Forced to take up work with an outfit mining "dirty" and possibly illegal coal, Griff and narrator Mike find themselves at risk not only from their dangerous work, but from a suspicious and secretive management. Griff particularly doesn't like the stabilisers used in the mine; he'd rather rely on his own abilities, which do turn out to be useful in the end. There's a lot to like in this story, but the resolution comes too easily to be satisfying.
Sue Isle's 'The Sky-Chief's Tale' has the feel of developing myth, which is rather fun in itself. A small group of people hidden away in Bath, where the hot springs enable them to survive the man-made Ice Age, discover that a ship from the moon is about to land near them and bring them a new, if semi-crippled, population. The story felt top-heavy to me, perhaps because a lot of time is spent on whether these moon people are going to be accepted, when, frankly, it's a foregone conclusion that they are. This kind of shadow conflict can be a bit irritating, especially when it's being used to disguise set-up. I love the hidden community idea, and Chief Camilla, the community leader, is a strong, pragmatic, and believable character, but is this her story? Or her son Davin's? Or the story of the people from the moon? It's all a little confused. Again, too few words to tell too much story may be to blame.
Kaaron Warren's 'The Census-Taker's Tale' is two tales sandwiched together: the tale of the Census-Taker's parents and their role in immunizing the population against the Great Plague, and the more interesting tale of the Census-Taker's work taking a full census of the English population, both living and dead. This is a man who not only can see dead people, but who counts them, and finds out how they died. "Yet here was a whole brood of boys, killed by their mothers away from home. I needed to know their number." Whether or not the story that he learns is true is up to the reader to decide; if interviewing ghosts is possible, then perhaps boys who can raise fire from their fingers can be a true tale, too. A good story, even though it meanders a little at the start.
Another story involving ghosts is 'The Mathematician's Tale' by Durand Welsh. It's the better story, perhaps because it focuses on one tale and tells it well. The Knot Man, last of his trade, is approached by a Jailor to untie the ghosts of prisoners left to die on an icebound ship. Old and still puzzling over a knot left him by his last apprentice, who was imprisoned on that ship, the Knot Man is reluctant. "He didn't miss the rapists, murderers and thieves in their rusty, water locked tomb; he only missed the children." Go he must, however, or allow his apprentice to continue his tortures even after death.
This story builds strongly towards a satisfying conclusion. Although it works well in context, it's also complete in itself. Great stuff.
'The Doctor's Tale' by Ben Bastian returns to one of this anthology's preoccupations: brutal men who run small communities through violence and, especially, the abuse of women. It doesn't make for comfortable reading. The narrator, a doctor, arrives in a small town run by a thug named Ripley and his henchmen where the doctor's old friend Virgil is trying to protect his adolescent daughter from the gang-rapings that have befallen more than one woman in this 'community'. It's an unpleasant set-up that borders on caricature (surely some aggrieved relative would simply stab Ripley in his sleep?), but perhaps what's most offensive is the idea that all that needs to be done is rescue this young woman. She matters because her father is the doctor's friend. As for the rest of the women--well, what about them? The story doesn't say.
Misdirection in stories is great; I love misdirection. There's a fine line however between misdirection and cheating. This story doesn't just cross that line; it takes a run-up and then leaps merrily over it and is gone far into the distance. Don't cheat. It will make the reader hate you.
Talking of cheating makes me wonder if 'The Hunter's Tale' by Grant Watson cheats as well. On the face of it, it's a straightforward tale about a hunter who comes into conflict with a wolf that he believes has murdered his daughter. "It was winter that brought the wolf close to the village, I suppose." Unable to kill the wolf itself, he takes his revenge on its mate and their cubs. Only then does he discover that the wolf may not have been guilty after all.
The problem for me is that the story drops absolutely no hints that might point to the identity of the true perpetrator. It's one thing to bury clues so subtly that the reader becomes aware of them only afterwards, the 'oh of course!' moment; it's another not to plant any clues at all. Then again, there is a strong hint before the killing even happens that the hunter should not tangle with the wolf. "Something made me to [sic] say it again: 'You don't want to hunt this wolf.'" So the jury's out. Read the story and decide for yourselves whether I'm too harsh.
I'm honestly not sure whether Thoraiya Dyer's 'The Peat-Digger's Tale' is meant to be funny. On the face of it, it can't be; it deals with a woman dying of bird flu and her husband's and son's desperate attempts to save her, attempts that result in the son's death. Yet it has a rollicking feel that suggests the reader is meant to laugh here and there. "If the needle was an awful great needle, so was the haystack an awful great haystack." When the narrator mounts a handy nuclear-powered robot horse and goes in search of a cure for his wife, it's hard to continue to take the story seriously.
Despite the sadness wound through it, this one's a great romp. It does make a bit of a hole in the framing story, though--presuming you believe a word the narrator says. I get the impression this story may be the one that gave the editor the greatest headache when he was trying to make it fit with the narrative arc.
"What a place I find myself in. A rich man flavours his meats with herbs and spices, and tells such lies in the name of selling dog as pork, and he meets with nothing but favour and success." So speaks the Metawhore of Lee Battersby's 'The Metawhore's Tale' (or 'Love Story' if you go by the page headers), in riposte to a merchant who has insulted her profession.
The Metawhore seems to be similar to Ray Bradbury's tattooed man; she is a mass of scars and each evokes a different story, for which she is paid. She describes her work as mere rote learning and recall, yet you wonder what there is in that to bring down upon her such disdain. And why whore, anyway? This story succeeded in presenting a set of social mores that are familiar (one constant being of course that women are always wrong) but nonetheless baffling to outsiders. The narrator--a young novice on pilgrimage--is surprisingly sympathetic towards the Metawhore, but we discover towards the end of the story that he has his own reasons for empathising.
The Metawhore is an enigmatic and intriguing character, one who makes and takes her own way; she insists on leaving the train to make the 'proper', Chaucerian pilgrimage from the Tabard Inn, or, at least, "a ruin I can pretend is the right place." Yet the story is bitty and fragmented, and the youthful narrator's decision at the end not well developed. Rough but readable.
I got a little lost in the course of Penelope Love's 'The Janus Tale' as I wasn't sure at first whether the "veiled woman" was the same person as "the girl". It was also a tad confusing that this apparently naive character turned out to be on her third lifetime. Some aspects of this story didn't gel for me. However, once it gets going properly, this develops as a great tale with a fascinating central conceit: that God keeps sending the Janus' component parts back to Earth after they die, horribly and together. "So when the husband and wife appear before God, so mixed up and muddled that neither can be told apart, God throws up hands and sends them back to the world, to have another chance. 'Don't mess things up this time,' God warns them. So here my story starts again."
It's an intriguing conceit, this "divine mistake", so much more so than the mundane idea that the Janus is 'just' a clone built on peculiar lines. Here again we see myth being created right before our eyes.
Trent Jamieson's 'The Lighterman's Tale' is perhaps the most Chauceresque in this anthology, not just for the subject matter but also for its free, confident, and unabashed use of language. It's a solid tale of love and how one mistake may cost you everything...or will it? "I've seen things come post-storm, out of the mist, drifting dead and serene down the Stour. I've seen 'em, as I wait for my cargo, and blessed am I that I'm still to drift myself...because I know there'll be tears all the way along to Canterbury proper, because the ships are the lifeblood of this island." This story summons familiar myth without making the reader conscious of harking back to 'our' past, perhaps because it's part of a collective past, something we and the storytelling Lighterman share despite the distance between us. A job well done.
In 'The Carbon-Knitter's Tale', Rita de Heer tells us of failing technology, and the lengths to which people will go to keep it--or a semblance of it--going, whatever the cost. There are gorgeous hints here, again, of myth emerging from ignorance, or perhaps reforging ignorance into a new, useful kind of knowledge. "The red angel takes with war. The black angel with ash." It's a shame that this is confined to the opening, and the rest of the story takes a more conventional turn.
Ram is thought to be safe from the recruiters for the gameshell at Stoke because he is a 'yellow-angel-addled child'. Times change, however, and soon Stoke needs him--and others--to stand in for the avatars and computer-generated monsters that no longer work. It's pitiful work. A knight standing by a boy who's trying to fight another boy while under the knight's direction is no training for knighthood, nor even for fighting. It's fascinating and more than a little sad to see the people of Stoke trying to hold together their one asset in this fashion. Who would believe it could work? Only the desperate.
I felt Ram was a little too-good-to-be-true in this story, although that perhaps is meant to come of his addling. He'd rather starve than kill the monster he's replacing, yet he has a quest to fulfill, and how can he fulfill it if he's dead? The story strains credulity with its determination to make Ram the really good guy, who's prepared only to sacrifice himself. A thought-provoking tale that might have worked better without the character of Juttie, who doesn't really do much, and keeps obtruding at unexpected moments.