Diabolical Plots #97, March 2023
“Rattenkönig” by Jenova Edenson
“The Hivemind’s Royal Jelly” by Josh Pearce
“The Desert’s Voice is Sweet to Hear” by Carolina Valentine
“A Girl With a Planet in Her Eye” by Ruth Joffe
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
This special issue features a quartet of stories involving telepathy. Four authors interpret the theme in very different ways, from slipstream realism to high fantasy to pure surrealism.
In “Rattenkönig” by Jenova Edenson, three college students take a road trip, intending to drive from San Diego to Canada and back in a week. A simple vacation soon turns into a nightmare of violence.
This overly simplified synopsis fails to mention the story’s speculative content, which is subtle and does not appear until fairly late in the text. Each of the three characters shares some of the memories and sensations of the others, changing their relationship and eventually drawing them together in a manner suggested by the metaphoric title, a term referring to rats bound together by their tails. Otherwise, this could easily be a completely realistic account of an innocent person drawn into a life of crime by her companions.
The story is narrated in second person present tense, with the victim of circumstances always addressed as “you,” which runs the risk of seeming pretentious. Although this technique allows for an interesting last sentence, it does not enhance the work. As a minor quibble, it is jarring to find “lay down” used where “lie down” would be correct, since the rest of the story is carefully written in formal style.
“The Hivemind’s Royal Jelly” by Josh Pearce features a humanoid being made of wax with a mind consisting of the movement of bees within its head. A government agent interviews the creature, which is accused of murder, and undergoes an eerie transformation during their talk.
The author manages to blend fantasy, crime fiction, cyberpunk, and horror in well under one thousand words. Although the premise is obviously fantastic, the style is closer to that of science fiction. As in the previous story, this work is narrated in second person present tense. This method of spinning a yarn seems to be popular these days, but rarely adds much and is likely to distract the reader.
“The Desert’s Voice is Sweet to Hear” by Carolina Valentine takes place in a fantasy world where telepathy is common and often used as a weapon. The protagonist travels through a sentient desert that tries to seduce her into accepting death. At the same time, she tracks down bandits who stole her reptilian steed. With greatly weakened telepathic defenses, it seems likely that she will succumb to either the desert or the bandits. Help arrives in an unexpected way.
The author creates a complete fantasy adventure, with a richly imagined, vividly described background, in the length of a short story. Aspects of Western fiction, with giant lizards taking the place of horses, are skillfully integrated into the plot. The tempting desert is a unique and intriguing premise. The climax illustrates the themes of the importance of family and keeping memories alive in a powerful manner.
The title of “A Girl With a Planet in Her Eye” by Ruth Joffre describes the content of this brief tale accurately. The main character has a world inhabited by crystalline, musical beings in her eye. As they start to outgrow their environment, she takes steps to free them.
There is room for little more in this tiny piece than the bizarre premise. The story’s final image is a charming one, resulting in an enjoyable if very minor work of surrealism.
Victoria Silverwolf is not telepathic.