Strange Horizons — July 30, 2018

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.

Strange Horizons, July 30, 2018

Special SEUSA Issue

“Hide Me in the Shadow of Your Wings” by Christopher Caldwell

“Strange Mercy” by Christopher R. Alonso
“The People Who Sleep Beneath the Waves” by Malena Crawford
“Dying Lessons” by Troy L. Wiggins
“Venus Witch’s Ring” by Inda Lauryn
“Every Good-bye Ain’t Gone” by Eden Royce

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

This special issue contains half a dozen fantasy stories set in the southeastern part of the United States, the Caribbean, or the Atlantic Ocean.

“Hide Me in the Shadow of Your Wings” by Christopher Caldwell takes place in New Orleans during the time of slavery. The narrator is a free young black man. After his mother dies in an accident, his godparents adopt him. He works for his godfather as an apprentice furniture maker. Historical fiction becomes magic realism when he gains the ability to grow wings when he wishes. His godfather beats him when he sees this miraculous transformation. He encounters an escaped slave who can change the lower part of his body into that of a fish. Together they face a ruthless hunter of runaways, and seek a place they can live in freedom and safety.

This is a well-written tale, with an appealing pair of protagonists. The most exciting events occur in the middle, making the rest of the story anticlimactic. The antagonist is a one-dimensional villain, and is defeated too easily.

“Strange Mercy” by Christopher R. Alonso takes place in Cuba. People who live in extreme poverty use magic to bring a murdered woman back to life, in gratitude for the many ways she helped them. She seeks revenge against the man who killed her. This is a brief, simple tale of supernatural retribution. The author frequently uses Spanish phrases in the story. This may add authenticity, but often seems arbitrary.

A slave ship is the setting for “The People Who Sleep Beneath the Waves” by Malena Crawford. The narrator, torn from her native land and her family, only wishes to die. With the help of another slave with magical powers, she journeys to the realm of an ocean deity and wins her help. Although the author presents the climax of this story as a victory for the slaves, readers may find it depressing.

“Dying Lessons” by Troy L. Wiggins takes place in the near future. Racial tensions evolve into open warfare. The narrator learns how to manipulate shadows from his father and how to bend light from his mother. He makes use of these magical skills to fight back after an attack on his family and neighbors. This is a violent, pessimistic story with no hope for peace.

The title of “Venus Witch’s Ring” by Inda Lauryn is taken from song lyrics by Jimi Hendrix. This is appropriate, as the story involves popular music, from the early Twentieth Century to the present day.

The protagonist journeys to the crossroads in Mississippi where, according to a famous legend, the great blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for mastery of the guitar. She showed signs of musical ability as a child, but her family could not afford to buy an instrument for her. A supernatural being shows up and offers her the chance to experience the life of a brilliant drummer and bassist of the late Twentieth Century and early Twenty-first Century. She must then make a difficult decision regarding her career and that of the musician whose life she shared.

This is a compelling story, which draws the reader in through a simple, elegant, and realistic style. The author displays a profound knowledge of popular music. The plot depicts racism and sexism in the music industry in a convincing way. Despite these themes, the story ends on an inspiring note.

“Every Good-Bye Ain’t Gone” by Eden Royce takes place in Charleston, South Carolina. An elderly woman and her two adult children make a living by communicating with the dead. They do this by offering the deceased the foods they enjoyed best in life. A widow hires them to contact her husband. This causes complications, because the man was formerly married to the daughter of the family. Although this is an interesting premise, the story suffers from a melodramatic conclusion. The dead man’s second wife is a stereotypical shrew. It is hard to believe that he left his first wife, a completely sympathetic character, for such an unpleasant person.

Victoria Silverwolf lives in the southeastern part of the United States.