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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Nightmare #32, May 2015

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Nightmare #32, May 2015

 
"The Red Light is Blinking" by Kealan Patrick Burke
"Rules for Ordinary Heroes" by Sandra McDonald

Reviewed by Lillian Csernica

"The Red Light is Blinking" by Kealan Patrick Burke

Internet trolls are taken captive by unseen forces only to wake up in prison cells equipped with workstations and manuals. The manuals contain profiles on all the other trolls. When the trolls hear the sound effect of a creaking door, they must do their best to eliminate each other using their trolling skills. Added pressure comes from the surveillance cameras mounted to view the troll from every angle. A green light on the little steel box means a win. The red light means a klaxon sounds, heralding some unknown but final doom.

I have to give this story points for realistic detail, particularly in the use of olfactory information. The trolls live on a subsistence diet of Doritos and Mountain Dew. There are no facilites for bathing. Prisoners literally wallow in their own toxins. Most of the story focuses on how each troll copes with the environment and the challenge. I did wonder if the unseen captors might be trying to gain some insight into the workings of the troll psyche in order to formulate some kind of therapy or cure. Nothing so positive or long term results, or indeed is even sought. The ending is meant to convey some larger truth about why trolling has become such a crisis and why drastic steps must be taken. While the social commentary has its merits, as a story this boils down to being nothing more than a punishment plot. Using the trolls to eliminate each other is the Internet version of a gladiator match.

"Rules for Ordinary Heroes" by Sandra McDonald

Tom Johnson is away from home on a covert fling with his secretary Nancy. At home his wife Amelia takes care of their son Jake, a ten year old still in diapers who needs seven medications a day. Everything is going reasonably well until the desperation of Angela, another mother of Cesar, another special needs child, is exploited in order to turn the Miami airport into a modern disaster movie.

The real strength of this story is not the plot but the manner of the telling. The story is broken down into a total of eleven rules. The voice of the narrator speaks to the protagonist, using the second person and creating an omniscient viewpoint that incorporates necessary exposition in a way that continues to increase tension and build sympathy. Speaking as the mother of two special needs sons, I must applaud Ms. McDonald for the heartbreaking accuracy of Jake's care along with the hard choices Angela faces in order to get what Cesar needs. What makes this story truly nightmarish is how easily it could happen, and how devastating it would be.