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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Weirdbook #37, November 2017

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Weirdbook #37, November 2017

"Sea Glass Harvest" by Bear Kiosk

"The Changeling" by R. Rozakis
"The Maiden Voyage of the Ariona" by Dale W. Glasger
"One Million & One" by Andre E. Harewood
"War is Grimm" by Clifford Beal
"Blood Pact" by Sharon Cullars
"Something I Have to Tell You" by John B. Rosenman
"The Curious Simulacrum of Dr. F" by Michael Canfield
"A Cure for Restless Bones" by Angela Enos
"Homecoming Corpse" by Andrew Bourelle
"A Chorus of Voices" by Sarena Ulibarri
"Graveyard Wine" by Joshua L. Hood
"My Last Sixteen Hours" by Angela L. Lindseth
"Wide Wide Sea" by Jackson Kuhl
"The Safari" by Michael S. Walker
"The Water Horse" by Bill W. James
"The Long Way Home" by S.E. Casey
"'Unseelie Things'" by Taylor Foreman-Niko
"The Veneration of Evil in the Kingdom of Ancient Lies" by John R. Fultz
"Livingstone" by Cody Goodfellow

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

The thirty-seventh issue of Weirdbook is chock full of twenty science fiction, fantasy, horror, and even mainstream tales. While I can't fully recommend any individually due to various technical problems, many of them (the Rozakis, Glasger, Harewood, Beal, Canfield, Hood, James, Casey, etc.) have at least an idea or image or motif of some kind that has great power. The issue as a whole has some pulpy fun and I wish more technically polished stories in other venues would be more like these in that regard. For those who do read the issue, I'd suggest spreading it out over time. And one non-fictional complaint/warning: this is shot through with proofreading errors from typos to dropped words to doubled words which strongly detract from the reading experience.

"Sea Glass Harvest" by Bear Kiosk

Sonia doesn't have to do much of anything she doesn't want and what she wants is to design jewelry out of odd bits. When she's pointed to a place to acquire some good stuff and it coincides with her desire to avoid Halloween because of odd childhood experiences, she's happy to go. But more odd experiences await.

The first page of this four page story is largely irrelevant, detailing her ethnicity and non-odd childhood. The next two pages don't do much, but do get her from point A to point B. The final half page is a saccharine anti-climax. Readers will generally be well ahead of the character, and the story itself.

"The Changeling" by R. Rozakis

A mother's sickly child suddenly becomes more robust and the mother is convinced the child is a changeling. On threat of electroshock from the doctor, she pretends she believes the child is hers and raises it until a day of reckoning.

While a bit thin, this is reasonably interesting, with some effective emotional conflict and hews close to, but isn't slavishly locked into, the traditional "changeling" tale.

"The Maiden Voyage of the Ariona" by Dale W. Glasger

In a sort of 19th century, the narrator is a worker on a pilot project for an undersea rail which is ultimately intended to cross the width of the Pacific. But as above is not so below and there are some things Man Was Not Meant to Meet.

Suspension of disbelief is essentially impossible with this thoroughly retro story, which is conceptually a bit like Verne meets Lovecraft with a dash of Burroughs and told in a style where nacreous pearlescent rails fade into a brumous caliginosity. That said, it's quite imaginative and the late action sequence of the story is quite a lot of chilling, thrilling fun.

"One Million & One" by Andre E. Harewood

A human is abducted by aliens in 2017 and he and his captors fall into a time-frozen region as thousands of years pass, the galaxy is wrecked by unnatural causes, and two factions fight over the fate of the universe. Yet, despite all the Widescreen Baroque Space Opera, when the protagonist is extracted, it boils down to making a simple choice.

Somewhat like the immediately preceding story, this is half-fun and half-not-so-good. It attempts a shifting multi-viewpoint narrative technique which doesn't pay off quite as much as it costs and, most importantly, the climax is very unsatisfying to me but the ride was big and exciting. Fans of cosmic faction stories, especially of Babylon 5, may find it a little too familiar, though.

"War is Grimm" by Clifford Beal

The protagonist is an ex-SS soldier working in a criminal gang to hide from the Russians in their zone when he wanders into the woods, meets a strange lady in a cottage, and things oscillate between better and worse for the rest of the tale.

While it has an underwhelming conclusion, this semi-modernized fairy tale effectively creates a succession of tense and dark situations that keep the reader involved.

"Blood Pact" by Sharon Cullars

In 1888, a trio gather at the church where one of them preaches. They teleport to Whitechapel and dark rites ensue.

Many typos, outright errors, and illogicalities mar this mannered, first-person present tense, pseudo-Victorian tale which has no particular dramatic drive and is generally unsurprising but does have one striking scene of casual violence.

"Something I Have to Tell You" by John B. Rosenman

A husband tells his wife of his past life in a wonderful world where he was a magic flying creature and is surprised by her response.

But we aren't. Aside from the telegraphing, these two pages are clever enough and succinct.

"The Curious Simulacrum of Dr. F" by Michael Canfield

Probably less than a century before "Blood Pact" and in about the same place, Dr. Jekyll visits his friend, Dr. Frankenstein, who has decided not to continue with graveyard galvanism and has instead taken up cloning. What follows is a melodrama concerned with aspects of self-consciousness.

The characterization and interaction between the two characters has reason to be askew but felt wrong even so, and the whole was set up rather awkwardly. Otherwise, this relatively long tale read quickly and had an interesting element.

"A Cure for Restless Bones" by Angela Enos

A woman dies to stay alive as a River Bride, marrying one of the creatures from the other side of the New Styx. Then we follow what it's like to be such a woman among such men, giving birth to strange creatures, and so on.

This almost surrealist allegory of existence and gender has a clotted style and lack of plot which makes it drift like an unpoled ferry, but people who like such things may find something of interest.

"Homecoming Corpse" by Andrew Bourelle

What happens when the presumptive homecoming queen dies in a car crash but remains animate, like a zombie? Well, it's nauseating, that's for sure.

This is certainly a striking and likely memorable story, but not generally in a good way. This bare concept could have made a great Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode and does make a great song but the execution is so awkward (a geek seriously describes the crush of his life as being found "stiff as a frozen chicken breast"?) and literally putrescent that I can't imagine a wide audience for it.

"A Chorus of Voices" by Sarena Ulibarri

A monk-in-training gets "his" call to go to the Face of God (a face-like mountain) where s/he can learn from those who are supposed to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. However, the Head Cantor has learned a strange new song and bad things occur.

This is almost the opposite of the previous story in that it's a pretty conventional "corrupted power"/"incursions from beyond" theme but fairly well executed and interesting until marred by a hurried and thin (if otherwise apt) ending.

"Graveyard Wine" by Joshua L. Hood

A slave is being tortured with a weapon which makes weapons stronger when a link in his chain happens to get weakened, which he later accidentally breaks, so ends up free, until he finds himself at a witch's grave and things reach a new plane.

I don''t know why this particular slave is supposed to be so brain-dead when his fellow slaves don't seem to be and, while it seems to be another allegory like "Cure" (this time economic), the unsatisfying literal ending also doesn't seem clear in symbolic terms. There is some weird spooky chiller stuff with the graveyard scene, though.

"My Last Sixteen Hours" by Angela L. Lindseth

A death row inmate narrates his "last sixteen hours."

This is not fantasy (the only trace of fantasy elements can easily be described as hallucinations). The choice of first person, present tense narration costs more than it buys. The protagonist's thoughts and feelings are apt enough and have depth, but not extraordinarily so, and are unsurprising and undramatic. While some of the dialect rings slightly wrong, the narrative personality and internal conflicts are well done.

"Wide Wide Sea" by Jackson Kuhl

People on a French sub are committing suicide, depressed because it seems that everyone in all the underwater habitats are dead. This is an exceedingly vague milieu which may or may not be an alternate history (one odd reference) and may or may not be a world of climate change (one vague reference).

Like some others, this is an interesting idea which is massively under-executed and the story is mostly focused on a single, relatively insignificant twist.

"The Safari" by Michael S. Walker

A loser is sitting in his local watering hole, going crazy, with a hunter video game in the corner as his talisman.

This reminds me of the X-Files episode "Blood" except that, once again, this story is not SF or F, but is merely, as I said, a guy going nuts. The story spends too much time on the front end, leading to boredom. and the loser is a bit too bland (a losing loser) but this might have made a spiffy mainstream flash piece.

"The Water Horse" by Bill W. James

In this wintry Scandinavian mystery of the missing mother, we see the father and the inspectors and a darkly magical river creature through the eyes of the child.

This has potential (and is either based on a traditional fantasy critter or feels like it) but the narrative voice starts with words of one syllable and short sentences but later describes singing as "absently playful, and mockingly melancholy" and reacts to a cold house with, "I cannot abide it and venture into the night," etc., so doesn't sound authentically childish to me. Even aside from that, it's just a distant and uninvolving story, despite its potential.

"The Long Way Home" by S.E. Casey

Charles is a new resident to a town in the Great White North and is perplexed when the adult males of the town ask him to go trick-or-treating. He goes along, but without a costume, thinking it's a joke of some kind. Turns out, it's not, and things only get weirder when he gets to the other side of the town's lake and meets the older residents there.

There are some "odd" constructions/word choices ("the water stubbornly resisting to freeze," "the town's propensity of men of a certain age") and the second of three references to Charles' sweet tooth seems like an accidental redundancy. Finally, the symbolism is either too obvious (if I'm understanding it) or too obscure (if I'm not). That said, this had a nice sense of sardonic whimsy combined with a sense of mystery, danger, and anticipation, which kept me involved.

"'Unseelie Things'" by Taylor Foreman-Niko

A psychopathic rich kid grows up to have a little garden of horrors which he waters with the blood of the fae he kills, those creatures being driven to the urban areas by the despoliation of the woods. He is especially excited when a powerful and beautiful young fae arrives at his home.

This would seem to be a heavy-handed parable of colonialism. And, as with many revenge fantasies, what comes through is not justice admired, but envy satisfied. There is a late metamorphosis of one character which is particularly relevant.

"The Veneration of Evil in the Kingdom of Ancient Lies" by John R. Fultz

Magtone, the poet-thief, is drafted by the Adept Ogmandolin, who is a follower of the now-gone Zukario and one of the Thirty-Seven Adepts who protect Karakutas, the oldest and most powerful city in the world. However, the Adepts have fallen down on the job, and The Order of the Great Malignancy has taken root, gripping the populace in their skein of evil. So it's time for Og to destroy the city and for Magtone to write the epic tale.

The first half of this longest story in the issue, however entertainingly done, is still just a big infodump which fails to adequately characterize Magtone in order to make his actions in the second half plausible and the denouement is weak. The milieu is an interestingly conceived "Arabian Nights" sort of thing, though.

"Livingstone" by Cody Goodfellow

This is about "the great game that started with Columbus and ended with Coca Cola." Four soldier/cops are on equity patrol in a disaster-stricken Guatemala when the dead victims express their displeasure.

This doesn't describe action sequences very clearly and is particularly deficient in controlling point of view. The story seems to mostly be about Troy but opens with and makes a big deal of Harley, while Vic is in charge and Mitch is just kind of there. It flits about vaguely between them. It is also about as revolting as "Homecoming Corpse," as heavy-handed as "'Unseelie Things,'" and is about as weak an ending to the issue as "Sea Glass Harvest" was an opening.


More of Jason McGregor's reviews can be found at Featured Futures.