Strange Horizons, October 31, 2022

[On May 10, 2021 Strange Horizons officially expressed its political support for Palestinian solidarity. The views of Tangent Online reviewers are not necessarily those of Strange Horizons. Fiction critiqued at Tangent Online is, as much as is humanly possible, without prejudice and based solely on artistic merit.]

Strange Horizons, October 31, 2022

“Folk Hero Motifs in Tales Told by the Dead” by KT Bryski

“A City on Its Tentacles” by R.B. Lemberg (reprint, not reviewed)

“A Whistle on the Drum” by Mir Plemmons (reprint, not reviewed)

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

This special issue offers a trio of stories dealing with music, one new and two previously published elsewhere. The single original work is also appropriate to the Hallowe’en season.

“Folk Hero Motifs in Tales Told by the Dead” by KT Bryski takes place in the world of the afterlife, a dreary place of extreme cold and endless sunlight. The inhabitants tell each other stories about one of their own kind, called Skullbone. Among his heroic deeds was a descent into the abyss that borders the land of the dead, from which he never returned.

A boy arrives, saying that he came out of the abyss, and claiming that Skullbone will soon emerge from it. The narrator considers the boy’s story, and ponders the possibility of entering the abyss.

The connection with music is the fact that the narrator misses it more than anything else about the world of the living, although this is not a major part of the plot. Narrative paragraphs alternate with accounts of the feats of Skullbone, at least one of which is a variation on a familiar myth. In postmodern fashion, the text is partly a consideration of the nature of stories themselves. The author creates an effective portrait of a dismal afterlife, with just a touch of hope that there might be something else beyond it. Some readers may want to know more about what happens after the ambiguous ending.

Victoria Silverwolf wrote this review on All Saints’ Day.