Strange Horizons, January 5, 2015
Reviewed by Martha Burns
In “Vacui Magia” by L. S. Johnson, a middle-aged witch mourns the fact that she’s beyond childbearing age as she cares for her dying mother who, like so many mothers before her, wishes she’d only had a grandchild. In response, the witch makes a golem out of baby bones and mud, yet this is not a story in which a witch completes her life by creating a pram full of horrors. “Vacui Magia” is a play on “horror vacui,” which translates as “fear of empty space,” but is more generally know as the dictum “Nature abhors a vacuum.” The interplay between those two concepts is important if a reader is to understand how the golem baby functions in the story. If L. S. Johnson had used “horror vacui,” we would have a tale in which the witch fills her empty spaces with something grotesque. In a moving scene, the witch lets go of the not so horrible golem baby, and this allows her to let go of her mother and of her childlessness. That is the strength of this engrossing story, which is part narrative and part recipe for a golem baby. The story is an adult take on grieving in which one goes on after loss, no longer haunted by it. Recommended.