Strange Horizons, January 6, 13, & 20, 2020
“The Marriage Book” by Mitchell Shanklin (January 6)
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
“The Marriage Book” by Mitchell Shanklin takes place many years from now, but the story contains no futuristic elements. Instead, it is an allegorical fantasy. Two people wed and share a journal. What they write in it alters their lives. One final entry changes their relationship irrevocably.
Alternating with this plot are sections written from the point of view of an unidentified narrator, dealing with other ways in which reality can change. Like the fact that the setting is supposedly the future, although there is no evidence for this, these sections add little to a brief, simple tale.
In “The Orientation” by Julianna Baggott, people revive from a strange form of suspended animation, long after an unspecified disaster. A guide leads them through a museum. Eventually, two of the revived persons become physically intimate, despite the danger this poses to the fragile casings in which they are enclosed.
This story is full of odd details, seemingly random and trivial. It’s difficult to understand the importance of electric scooters to the revived people, or why the people of the future eat a certain kind of cheese with every meal. Other things are nearly impossible to imagine, such as a crown made of ossified dopamine. Perhaps the intent is to create a unique future world, or to satirize obsession with material objects. In any case, the author’s purpose is unclear.
The main character in “One Hand in the Coffin” by Justin C. Key is a child whose older brother died violently. To help him deal with his grief, he receives a puppet that vaguely resembles the dead boy. It soon shows signs of life, and dark secrets of the past threaten to wreak havoc in the present.
The theme of a haunted ventriloquist’s dummy is a familiar one in horror fiction, but the author handles it with particular grace, making it seem new. The characters are three-dimensional, the setting is vivid, and the style is compelling. An important flashback scene appears as one very long paragraph, a difficult and risky technique, which works well here.
Victoria Silverwolf will soon start binge-watching Dark Shadows.