"Sins of the Father" by S. E. Ward
"Grandmother’s Road Trip" by Cat Rambo
"Dream Caused By the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate" by Stephen M. Wilson
Issue #26 of Chizine contains the story winners of their latest contest, picked by Kelly Link, Elizabeth Bear, and Hannah Wolf Bowen.
"Sins of the Father" by S. E. Ward is about a Muslim tribe in approximately 1853 France (using 610 A.D. as the date when Muhammad received the first of the teachings that make up the Koran) in which the tribe is rotting away because they are ghul/ghulin (an eclectic mix between Vampires and Zombies). Immediately, the author does a good job at evoking setting and situating the reader in the point-of-view of the character.
"In the 1243rd year of the word of Muhammed…." and "his people were brought from Algeria to Auvergne," are two examples where setting and point-of-view is invoked to good effect as opposed to directly telling us this information, which would cheapen the story. There is no question this character is a Muslim from the opening line, while the second quote referring to Algeria and Auvergne hints that this story takes place in France (without directly telling us), since any history buff will know Algeria was subjugated by French Imperialism and Auvergne has an obvious French name. Not until later does the author even mention the word: "France" or "French."
All very good examples of using setting. However, the question remains if the story works overall. At its core, the story has a simplistic plot. Muslim father who is a ghul can’t control his spoiled son who is also a ghul, and they must face the consequences of their "less than human" status. Thus there are major themes of regret and being an outcast, further explored by comparing these ghul Muslims to the human Jews who happen to live in the same town.
However, a few major problems do linger within the work. One is the sudden presence of Fae within the middle of the story. This superfluous element distracts from the tale; they jarred me right out of the story when they first appeared. Another problem is that important questions are never answered such as: why can only Muslims transform into ghul/ghulin?
Unfortunately for all the good the story has going for it, these problems bog it down and harm its credibility.
"Grandmother’s Road Trip" by Cat Rambo is about a mother and a granddaughter, Shayla, bringing grandmother across the country to her new nursing home, even though grandma doesn’t want to go. An easy story to relate to in this American society which forgets its old.
The speculative element in the story is slight, almost bordering on mainstream. It appears in the form of a phantom toy that grandmother refused to buy for Shayla because it was so worn. This is, of course, symbolic for the grandmother’s current situation, a kind of twisted irony.
A very depressing ending, which I’m not sure I completely liked—somber even by my standards. Also, the final ending stretches the "toy" metaphor to its limit, perhaps surpassing believability.
"Dream Caused By the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate" by Stephen M. Wilson is hard to define, hard to discuss, and hard to completely contemplate. No review could possibly do this story justice. It is slipstream bordering on unadulterated surrealism. Parts of it read like an encyclopedia, others read like an actual story, and others like a science or math lesson. It has aliens, poetry, and relies heavily on the Sleeping Beauty archetype, as well as pomegranates and honey as repeating motifs. Firmly reminiscent of the Kelly Link school of writing, yet Wilson manages to do something in that tradition all on his own.
It also had some feminist elements thrown into the mix, which are depicted with originality via the imagery: "As the drone ejaculates into the queen, his genitals are ripped from him, rupturing his abdomen. His male organ left dangling from the queen’s vulva, the male plummets to the earth and dies." Too bad many of the themes get slightly buried under the style, however it gets major brownie points for that particular style. I hope this one gets nominated for the Tiptree award.