Fantasy #71, September 2021

Fantasy Magazine #71, September 2021

“Sounds for Crustaceans” by Addison Smith

“What is Mercy?” by Amal Singh

“Lost Portals” by Mark S. Bailen

“An Arrangement of Moss and Dirt” by K.P. Kulski

Reviewed by Geoff Houghton

The first story in Fantasy Magazine #71 is “Sounds for Crustaceans” by Addison Smith. This slightly more than flash-fiction length story is set entirely inside an ordinary dwelling in an unspecified but present-day conurbation. The essence of the story is the response of the protagonist and his partner to slowly morphing from human form into Crustacea.

The theme of a human becoming an arthropod without losing their personal identity has already been explored in dark psychological detail in Franz Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis,” although Kafka abruptly begins his classic work once the metamorphosis is complete, which is the point at which this short piece ends.

It might be argued that Kafka’s novella is too ponderously slow and heavy in its exposition, but it is difficult to address a concept that is so critically dependent on a meticulous exploration of the emotions of the protagonist in the narrow confines of Flash Fiction. In the opinion of this reviewer, Kafka remains the master.

The second offering is “What is Mercy” by Amal Singh. This is a disturbing short story that just fails to reach novelette length. Although it is set in present day rural India, this is the caste-ridden, superstitious India of the deep countryside, far from the superficial veneer of western values that the British Raj briefly imposed on the sub-continent.

The protagonist, Nanda, is a low-caste child forced to abandon childhood innocence by the cruel murder of her mother and many of the people of her village for nothing more than the circumstance of their low-caste birth. She is granted the power to revenge those dead, but first she must overcome the century-long traditions of hopelessness and powerlessness that permeate the lowest parts of rural Indian society.

This harrowing story is extremely heavy going with cultural references and norms that are entirely alien to the Judeo-Christian traditions of the West. Readers of a nervous disposition and those who believe that the values of Western Civilisation are the only correct norms should move rapidly on to the next story.

Next is “Lost Portals” by Mark S. Bailen. This is an amusing little piece of Flash Fiction, written in a terse form of free-standing paragraphs. Most of these paragraphs precis how different portals to other realities are mundanely wiped from existence by uncaring accident in our busy, present-day world. The remainder follow the Japanese tea-master, Kobori, whose inability to successfully pass through the one portal that appears to have any significant traffic leads to him taking a perverse pleasure in the loss of so many other underutilised portals.

The last story is “An Arrangement of Moss and Dirt” by K.P. Kulski. This a short, dark horror story that could be set near the author’s home in the woods of North Ohio, or in any other place in the world where dark woods crowd down to almost touch isolated rural homesteads.

A caring, precocious child is desperate to aid her ailing, bed-bound mother but learns that bargaining with the faerie-folk is perilous and that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Geoff Houghton lives in a leafy village in rural England. He is a retired Healthcare Professional with a love of SF and a jackdaw-like appetite for gibbets of medical, scientific and historical knowledge.