Aeon, #4

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"The Game of Leaf and Smile" by Lawrence M. Schoen
"Blood Pith Crux" by Kelly Hale
"A Game of Cards" by Carrie Richerson
"The Tinker’s Child" by M. Thomas
"The Knife Birds" by Kij Johnson
"Copper Angels" by Joseph Paul Haines
"End of Day" by Laura Anne Gilman

The fourth issue of Aeon has arrived to close out their first full year of publication. While most of its stories mainly deal with relationships and death, a small waver of hope floats about within the issue.

Lawrence M. Schoen‘s "The Game of Leaf and Smile" opens the issue and is a real holiday treat. Two ancient demons mark the territory of one Philadelphian street as grounds for their annual Hallowe’en tourney. They are playing for souls and each others’ energies in this one. The stakes are high, the scene is set, and the kids are trick-or-treating.

Told from the viewpoint of the mouthless demon, Zhole—who we feel sympathetic to from the start—the sickening notion of demons playing games with mortals captivates the reader right away. Maybe it’s the voyeurism aspect that makes the story work; maybe it’s the raw level of sadness. I really thought there was no way that a work about demon lords playing with the souls of the living could be so thought-provoking; Schoen has created a tale worth reading again and again. It’s dark fantasy, but with a sliver of light stuck in.

"Blood Pith Crux" by Kelly Hale is a piece I struggled with at first. I am a fan of anything dealing with Greek or Roman mythology, but this tale of loneliness and isolation seemed forced. A young woman, referred to as Calypso, rescues a man, whom she calls Ulysses, when he washes ashore her desolate island.  She cares for him, feeds him, and wonders about him. A fleeting romance begins, but with the sad realization that it cannot last long; Ulysses wants to leave the island, return home—Calypso does not. What is to become of their love?
Hale’s writing is short and sporadic, almost to the point of being rushed. She switches back and forth between first person Calypso and third person Calypso, giving the reader some insight into who the woman is. Unfortunately, not as much light is shed on her companion. There is some nice imagery, but other than that, nothing but a lonely, sandy beach in the end.

Carrie Richerson‘s "A Game of Cards" is a strong offering; a high-stakes poker game between a man, his father, and his mother take place while streaming down the brown, muddy Mississippi.  Except it’s hard to fathom if the characters are really who they claim to be.

Richerson writes the main character from first person.  This makes for a severely limited world view even though it puts the reader directly in the scene. I felt like I was playing poker in some dusty cabin aboard a boat. The underlining theme of family is prevalent throughout the tale, weaving its way into the poker game, the cards, and the river itself. "A Game of Cards" is not the happiest tale, but it does what it does, marveling with images and emotions, and is well worth the read.

M. Thomas‘s "The Tinker’s Child" welcomes you into a world where the rain never stops. Due to this weather phenomena, a mechanical boy, Olaz, is forced to stay indoors, always obeying his master. Rumors spread amongst the rainy world denizens that the maker of these mechanical boys has erred; something is not completely right in their heads. It is through this tale that a man learns the truth about Olaz, his own family, and the workings of machines.

This is the first story I’ve ever read by Thomas, but if all her creations are as interesting as this one, then I’m a sold fan. She writes with a strong knowledge of her world, and great pacing. Some things are easily predicted, but those can be forgiven. I found this piece to be very interesting, set in a fantastical-yet-believable world where words spoken to a machine can be taken literally, but lovers of cats need not read.

A reprint from Tales for the Long Rains, "The Knife Birds" by Kij Johnson is another story with its basis in Greek and Roman mythology—dealing with the character of Homer and the nature of death. A youth asks to hear something new from the famed poet, a story maybe, and while reluctant at first, Homer speaks of the knife birds and their relationship to death.

Johnson’s words worked, for the most part, though like the youth in "The Knife Birds," I felt like it wasn’t really a story—more of a conversation frozen in time. The background and history of the knife birds themselves was well thought-out, but the ending left me wanting to know more.

"Copper Angels" by Joseph Paul Haines was a disappointment. A young girl, Mary, has ratted to the Dekes about her mother’s behavior.  But has she done the right thing? Told through Mary’s flashbacks, she tries to understand her mother’s actions after the time she fell, and understand what it is that she, Mary, truly wants in life.

The story has a strong religious theme to it, but the focus is more on Mary’s interpretation of the world around her. It’s young, naive, and full of confusion. Haines’s structure for telling the story is captivating, with a back and forth narrative, but unfortunately, with such high standards nowadays for printed literature, to see grammatical errors in a story is extremely jarring; they pulled me right out of this one. Interesting concept, but the errors made for troubled reading.

Laura Anne Gilman
’s “End of Day” closes the issue, but in my opinion, not well. I was hoping for something truly astounding since this issue opened with such a wonderful piece by Schoen, but what readers get is a tale of a group of dragons—at least I think that’s what they are—finding a dead body stuck on a white post, a mediocre plot at best. They take the body back to their home where one of them finds something dangerous in its hand.
However, the plot is not the problem; it’s Gilman’s style. Her prose is unnecessarily convoluted.  Too much jargon and too many made-up words required me to reread sections because I didn’t know what was happening. Rereading should be for when a story is exciting, mesmerizing, or thrilling, not confusing.

To me, this issue was clearly one-sided; the first four stories were quite pleasing with wonderful voices and characters to care about, but the second half of the issue, save for “The Knife Birds” which I just wished was longer, was a letdown. In good news, Aeon #5 will be featuring stories from Jay Lake, a personal favorite.