Clarkesworld #5, February 2007

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"Chewing Up the Innocent" by Jay Lake

"Attar of Roses" by Sharon Mock

The two stories in issue five of Clarkesworld Magazine have drastically varied speculative elements.  The first is a darker tale, more slipstream than horror, and the second is classic fantasy. 

Jay Lake‘s "Chewing Up the Innocent" follows a father as he embraces the darkness within himself.  Jim draws pictures in his basement when he isn’t watching his daughter, Ariadne, or working at his job in Marketing.  His buddy, Russell, convinces him to hang out at the local art bar, Speed Racer’s.  There he expresses all of the words he cannot say, in pictures of, "dark things with claws and teeth and distant eyes and mommy breasts."  Throughout the piece, Jim references his granddaddy whose one recurring message was that family must always come first.  Jim’s response is to distance himself from his wife, Elaine, and hide in the basement where he produces more images, some he burns and some he sells, slowly making a name for himself as an artist.  His wife tries to be supportive, but doesn’t understand him.

Lake paints the picture of an artist "on fire," full of ideas and talent yet surrounded by people who don’t understand his motives or his product.  Like all artists, Lake crosses boundaries, mixes images, and tries to make sense of the nonsensical.  Art isn’t life, art is impulse; the artist must lose control, even if it means letting go of the constricting life around him.  When faced with the choice between family and art, Jim makes a decision that will ripple through art and family for years to come.

A much more straight ahead tale, "Attar of Roses" by Sharon Mock is a narrative story of sorcery and regret.  Rosalaia, Blossom of the North, is the daughter of a sorcerer.  Where she steps, "blood-red petals spring from the earth."  Her father shelters her in his castle, keeping her safe from the prying eyes of other nations and allies.  But Rosalaia is not the type to be protected.  She spies on one of her father’s meetings.  The man notices her and asks for her hand in marriage.  Though her father resists, Rosalaia and he glimpse in a seeing-stone the horrible future that will befall them if they refuse.  But like all fairy tales, reality isn’t what they expected, and the future takes another turn.  As Rosalaia travels to new lands, she begins to understand the true nature of the sorcery that exists beyond the safe borders of her father’s lands.  What transpires is heart-wrenching and frightening.

Mock lyrically builds the tale from one twist to the next until Rosalaia’s life isn’t anything like she, or the reader, expected.  Though many lessons lay mired in the depths of this story, the most important one is that nothing, especially love, is ever what it seems.  Mock’s words ring like a song; each verse a new idea, and each chorus a variant on the first.  Lovers of myth will find "Attar of Roses" resplendent with richness and depth.