"Aftergame" by Jason D. Wittman
"Silent Teraphim" by Marissa K. Lingen
"The Cryptic Diary" by Nancy Malcom
"Nobodies and Somebodies" by Eugie Foster
"Heart of the Forest" by Ian Creasey
"Under the Radical Sign" by Ralph Milne Farley
"Such As Dreams Are Made Of" by Marie Brennan
"Imarja’s Children" by Sarah C. Brandel
The Summer 2006 issue (#8) of Aberrant Dreams is a strong one. In this issue, authors explore thought provoking ideas like man vs. nature and how to best serve the greater good. The two dominant themes are transformation and the unexpected consequences of our actions.
Things get off to a good start with the featured story, “Aftergame” by Jason D. Wittman. In a world defined by the strategy game of chess, there are no random elements or hidden information. Members of House Ivory and House Sable have acted in accordance with the rules for an untold number of years, decimating each until a specific outcome is assured. It is what comes after victory and the game ends that is the crux of the story.
If you enjoy chess, or if you just get a kick out of characters with names like Queen Jacqueline Hookhand, this is for you. If you don’t know anything about chess, certain parts may annoy you because you don’t know what the author’s talking about. Regardless, the characters and their fate make for interesting reading. Jason D. Wittman has crafted a world that has more dimensions than is apparent upon first glance.
Marissa K. Lingen’s “Silent Teraphim” starts near the end of the biblical tale of Joseph and is narrated by Dinah, Joseph’s only sister. The teraphim from the title are the household gods of Joseph’s once-estranged family, brought from Canaan to Egypt. The action doesn’t pick up until Dinah meets Medan, the son of an angel and one of the Pharaoh’s gardeners. In Dinah, Lingen has crafted a character to connect with and care about. Medan, and some of the minor characters, like Dinah’s mother, also have distinct personalities. In addition to her strong characterization, Lindgren adds depth and gives a feminine twist to what is traditionally a male story.
The two protagonists in “The Cryptic Diary” by Nancy Malcom are the person who finds the diary and the young, female narrator who wrote it. After the finding, this story within a story transitions to the young narrator’s take on moving to a new town, a boy named Fred Smelter, and something called the committee. Nancy Malcom’s “committee” is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “lottery,” which should tell you that being a member of the committee is not a good thing. Both the story’s format and the voice of the diary’s protagonist lend a reality to the action, especially in the seemingly-mundane setting of Illinois. It is clear that the diary’s narrator is not only young, but also naive or totally self-absorbed, or possibly both. The horror is amplified by the readers’ realization of the outcome long before the narrator. Unfortunately, these strengths aren’t enough to make up for the re-hashed nature of the plot.
Andy Warhol once said, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” implying that everyone wants the chance to be noticed, to be somebody. In Eugie Foster’s “Nobodies and Somebodies,” the reader sees what the opposite side of that coin might be, when a person fades into nothingness and nobody sees them. “Nobodies and Somebodies” kicks off with a psychiatrist listening to his patient’s story about pollen, the problem being, he’s having a devil of a time focusing on her story; she’s just so darned ordinary. But what if the pollen is a precursor to other things besides springtime? And what happens when somebody notices that the pollen never really goes away? Foster effectively chronicles the protagonist’s transition to an alternate plane of existence which appears to parallel a descent into madness, but is in truth a heightened reality. The characterization is strong. From the psychiatrist’s use of language, to his unwillingness to acknowledge or share the patient’s experiences, his behavior keeps him firmly rooted in “reality,” while the obsessive-compulsive tendencies of the patient make it easier for her to slip into a space shared with many more nobodies than anybody imagined.
In “Heart of the Forest” by Ian Creasey, people have encroached too far into the wilderness, and the forest’s denizens decide that action is necessary to stop their invasion. When the woodwoose’s violent resistance doesn’t work, nature decides to try the dryad’s plan: infiltrate humanity. Joining the human race, the dryad is adopted by Alda the Healer and transforms into Linnet. Unfortunately, Linnet is hard to connect to. She loses sight of her plan almost immediately, and because she isn’t really human, she doesn’t have human loyalties; she just moves from one new adventure to the next. Other characters, like Alda and the woodwoose, aren’t quite fleshed out. Only Doran is really interesting, more for his actions than any connection a reader could make to his character. The final message is ambiguous. If you’re looking for an interesting narrative, “Heart of the Forest” may be for you. If you want compelling characters, look elsewhere.
"Under the Radical Sign" by Ralph Milne Farley is a brief bite of a story about the reality of being a negative number, where it’s hard to be anything but humble. Farley’s personification of Minus One is cute and makes it easy for readers to empathize with the character’s aggravation.
In “Such As Dreams Are Made Of” by Marie Brennan, Holt is a redeveloper, buying properties to tear down and build anew. He loves the challenge and the nuances of his occupation, and has little concern for its effect on others. But what unanticipated repercussions are there when you destroy the heart of a thing? It’s hard to describe the action without giving away the plot, but suffice it to say that Holt is easy to loathe, making his ultimate fate seem just. While the woman Holt encounters is appealing, the characters really only exist to move the story forward. But the ideas that Holt and his tale generate are worthy of notice. Brennan provides a window into another world that is both alien and frighteningly real, even if it exists only in our thoughts.
In “Imarja’s Children” by Sarah C. Brandel, Imarja is a storm, a force to be reckoned with. Ruling over her planet with an iron fist, she only grants subsistence to those who respect her power and her fury. In naming the storm, Brandel personifies nature itself, but for all her might, the real story is in how her “children”—a group of young crash survivors led by a boy named Blake—adapt to her and cope with the rigors of an alien planet. “Imarja’s Children” is the mirror image of Ian Creasey’s “Heart of the Forest”; on Imarja’s planet, there is no ambiguity, nature wins every time. Definitely worth a read.