“The Sill and the Dike” by Vajra Chandrasekera
Reviewed by David Wesley Hill
There are two original offerings in the September issue of Nightmare and both are entertaining reads although neither story is particularly nightmarish.
“The Sill and the Dike,” by Vajra Chandrasekera, is set on a world being invaded by technologically advanced aliens who worship “hungry gods” and bury their dead instead of properly incorporating the family bones into a “ghost tree,” as is the local custom. The natives fight back with dark ancestral magic, deploying vengeful ghosts as weapons, but it is not until they “reverse engineer” copies of the aliens’ “long guns” that the tide of battle turns and the locals begin retaking territory occupied by the invaders. The point of view is provided by an unnamed narrator, a native who survives alien attack as a youth and subsequently, along with her/his father, enlists in the resistance. But while the elder happily unleashes the wrath of his forebears’ ghosts upon the enemy, the younger is less comfortable with involving his/her ancestors in the affairs of the living, and wonders if there might be another path to take…. A complex and rewarding tale that never leads quite where you expect.
We return to Earth in “Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions” by Gwendolyn Kiste—to an Earth from which people are disappearing. This isn’t the Christian rapture, though. It’s not a mass exodus; people are vanishing in ones and twos; and instead of being considered blessed, those who leave are considered “deviants,” so much so that a special questionnaire has been devised to identify those who are likely to disappear, in order to prevent them from going. Schoolmates Vivienne and Tally both fail the test and are assigned to a special class for potential deviants, where they become best friends while the world around them becomes shabby and depopulated and increasingly totalitarian…. A well crafted and compelling story of friendship and loss.