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"Desperate Barbarians" by Verna McKinnon
"Mandatory" by Jon Hansen
"The Locket" by Vera Searles
The current issue of Aberrant Dreams is a mixed bag. The stories range in style from tongue-in-cheek sword and sorcery to old-fashioned Lovecraftian type horror. Yet, there is a connection of sorts. Most of the authors use familiar ideas, characters, and themes and infuse them with their own style and musings. One theme of note, author Ramsey Campbell is loosely connected to not one, but two of the tales. Campbell is one of the modern authors who uses the Cthulhu Mythos—including Azathoth—prominently in his stories; he also lends his name to two of the characters in “Bradbury County.”
The featured story, “Azathoth’s Starship” by Gerald W. Page
and Jerry L. Burge,
has shades of H.P. Lovecraft running throughout, from the title to the very end. Azathoth, a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos, was first featured in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and authors of the Lovecraft Circle and later appropriated by other authors. Described as the demon god of ultimate chaos, it is Azathoth who created the insect-shaped, black ship at the center of the story. The action takes place in 2248 A.D. Page and Burge blend their own mythos with that of Lovecraft to blend something new. Those not familiar with Lovecraft or Cthulhu might be a bit annoyed with all the references, especially trying to separate the “real” mythos from the newly created one. Those who are up on Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos will probably enjoy the new elements Page and Burke have come up with.
“Desperate Barbarians” by Verna McKinnon is a sword and sorcery tale featuring Thora and Rela, teenage barbarians on a quest in the kingdom of Tumara. The men better look out; these two are devastating with a sword and really cute to boot. McKinnon gives her characters a sassy attitude and uses liberal doses of humor to spin her tale. There’s plenty to enjoy in “Desperate Barbarians,” from demon killing, to witch hunting, to a touch of romance. If you like your sword and sorcery to be really serious, this one isn’t for you. If like things a bit over the top, then jump right in.
“Bradbury County” by Rob Shelsky uses the names of famous science fiction and fantasy authors to shape a tale of a social occasion gone horribly wrong. Phillip can’t remember who invited him to the fancy party at the Commissioner’s or figure out why he would be a guest of honor. After all, Phillip’s beloved Bradbury county and the Commissioner’s Clarke county are bitter rivals. All of Phillip’s questions and more are answered by the end. I found the plot to be a bit predictable, but it was fun to see which science fiction and fantasy giants’ names would appear next.
“Mandatory” by Jon Hansen is a flash fiction piece about a “demented eight-year-old girl’s version of apocalypse.” The protagonist is an old man who chooses to face probable death rather than leave his home and burden his family. Hansen’s story is enjoyable, especially if you have a crotchety aunt, uncle, or grandparent. It’s also cool to get to the end and find out what’s coming that makes evacuation a necessity.
“The Infinite Vision” by Robert A. Madle explores what happens when a person spends all his time pondering the imponderable. Protagonist Allen Barton is always imagining “what if,” daydreaming through work during the day and lying in the fields staring up at the sky at night. One day, Allen is inexplicably drawn to his customary evening spot. It is there that he encounters a kindred spirit who offers him the chance to see all the things in the universe he has only dreamed of. I found this story a bit tedious, mostly because Allen is annoying. I do love the way author Madle uses language. Allen speaks exactly the way you might expect him to. “The Infinite Vision” is short enough to take a chance on. You may be glad you did.
“The Locket” by Vera Searles focuses on Effra, a vampire who is a distant relation to Count Dracula. A cavity sends her to a shady dentist who has designs on more than her teeth. When the dentist strikes, her honored ancestor comes to her rescue. Effra spends the rest of the story slipping in and out of time, having to choose between a past with Dracula or her own present. I never really had a strong sense of Effra. The most I got was that she was a bit haughty and very proud of her lineage. The dentist is suitably creepy, just like a villain in a horror tale ought to be. Dracula and his infinite abilities really make him the most interesting character, but the story is really Effra’s to tell. Dracula and vampire story fans will find Searles take on things interesting, even if the story itself doesn’t quite satisfy.
“Plague Ship” by Joseph Green
pits one man’s responsibilities to his family and his country against helping those in dire need of assistance. Protagonist Lars Trygvistson has a thankless job. As readers, we get to share his dilemma and understand his resolve. The story isn’t a happy or particularly uplifting one. Most of the characters serve simply to move the story forward, although Sir William’s granddaughter is oddly compelling. The best thing about Green’s story is the glimpse we get of Lars’s humanity and the slice of Scandinavian history his tale is based on.