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

Weirdbook #38, February 2018

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Weirdbook #38, February 2018

Harlot Road” by Michael Bracken

With a Poet’s Eyes” by John C. Hocking
The Wishing Well” by Robert Graves
O King of Pain and Splendor!” by Darrell Schweitzer
You’d Do It for Diamonds” by Adrian Cole
Dreadful Appetite” by Franklyn Searight
The Handmaid of the Key” by R. C. Mulhare
Blue Moon” by Allen Mark Price
She Who Gives Life” by C. I. Kemp
An Implement of Ice” by W. H. Pugmire
Night of the Circus” by Sharon Cullars
Wolvers Hill” by Tim Jeffreys
Rafts” by Lorenzo Crescentini
Clean Sweep” by Edward Ahern
Leaving Malaga” by Cynthia Ward
Cattle Call” by Gregg Chamberlain
Abomination is Her Name” by J. N. Cameron
Kachina” by Kenneth Bykerk
Flat is Flat and That is That” by Davis J. Gibbs (not in genre)
Death is Not My Master” by Scott Harper

Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett

The 38th issue of Wierdbook contains twenty original stories, including two novelettes and three flash fictions.

Harlot Road” by Michael Bracken

A land ruled by a despotic king is the setting for this short fantasy. An experienced prostitute hates the King’s government and his brutal soldiers. She uses her wits to keep a low profile and stay out of their way.

Then one day she helps a thief accused of stealing the King’s jewels and in the process becomes embroiled in a possible revolution. She finds herself walking a fine line between protecting what is dear to her and her increasing frustrations with the King’s administration.

At times the prose was deliberate, but the overall intrigue and danger kept the story engaging.

With a Poet’s Eyes” by John C. Hocking

Lucella and her friend search for the lost Kelsh in this short fantasy. Kelsh, a philandering poet, has mysteriously disappeared and the Princess has sent her best two aides to determine what happened.

At Kelsh’s house the two aides discover signs that he is still alive and under duress from one of his erstwhile paramours, a shaman’s daughter. The aides cannot approve of Kelsh’s womanizing behavior, but can they find Kelsh in time to save him?

An easy to read story with some interesting twists and mysteries.

The Wishing Well” by Robert Graves

In this horror short, a family moves into a house, where the previous occupants disappeared three years previously, during a bad winter storm.

All seems fine until the first winter storm when the family sees the apparition of a woman and child standing beside the wishing well. The sightings repeat whenever a snow storm comes. Can the new owners solve the riddle of why the woman and child appear next to the old wishing well?

The story’s strong prose did not compensate for what was a rather mundane ghost story.

O King of Pain and Splendor!” by Darrell Schweitzer

Schweitzer’s short fantasy tells the story of a merciless king named Vishal. He came to power by killing his father and seven brothers. Now he rules with a mixture of brutality and sorcery believing he is more powerful than the gods themselves.

One day he conjures the presence of a spirit, a long dead powerful sorcerer named Sekenre. The spirit appears in the form of an urchin boy, but poses a challenge that far exceeds anything else the sorcery King has faced.

The story created an interesting world. Overall an intriguing read.

You’d Do It for Diamonds” by Adrian Cole

Mr. Stone is about to earn a great deal in this pulp fantasy novelette. Some bad guys from the Pulpworld dimension steal the key to the lost city of Oparra and a philanthropist hires Mr. Stone to go there and find out who has it.

The Pulpworld is a dangerous place. Even with the help of the rat-like Rooftop Runner, Mr. Stone soon finds himself immersed in a dangerous battle to find and extract the precious key.

The author wrote this novelette in the old pulp-fiction style. At times it was amusing to read, at others it seemed slow. Overall it was predictable and didn’t add anything new in its genre.

Dreadful Appetite” by Franklyn Searight

A giant bird snatches Kuthar’s young son, Rondo, in this short fantasy. Kuthar, the village chieftain, sets off in pursuit of the thief, as it flies towards the distant mountains. Along the way, Kuthar rescues an old woman with a broken arm before a giant bear can kill her.

Half way up the first mountain, Kuthar spies the giant nest and climbs up to confront the massive bird of prey. But he finds no bird, just an old man, Armor, who has Rondo bound by a rope. Kuthar demands his son’s release, but Armor is a powerful shape-changing wizard and plans to feed Rondo to his fledglings. Can Kuthar win back Rondo’s life?

This was a run-of-the-mill fantasy with an unrealistic and often predictable plot.

The Handmaid of the Key” by R. C. Mulhare

In this short horror fantasy, Lavinia is raising her twins fathered by Yog-Sothoth, the guardian of the gate. She may nurture them, but she knows she cannot keep them, despite being their mother.

She tends easily to Wilbur, the more gentle and reasonable of her sons. But the other child remains locked up; kept away from prying eyes and unfettered access to blood.

The plot seemed like a snippet of a much longer story. Slow and overly detailed, the few mysteries it raised weren’t enough to make it an engaging read.

Blue Moon” by Allen Mark Price

Sean’s life has gone to the dogs in this short fantasy. His gay mother’s girlfriend moves in with her teenage daughter and Sean hates them both.

After they allow his dog to drown in the cesspool, Sean stews over what to do about them. In time, the overflowing cesspool offers him some intriguing possibilities.

This was a slow and difficult story with just a hint of a fantasy element.

She Who Gives Life” by C. I. Kemp

Sharon is a jilted animatrix witch in this flash fantasy. And that is unwelcome news for her unsuspecting and erstwhile lover.

Sharon animates an innocent seeming object and then invites him over.

This was a quick and easy story to read, a pleasant light snack.

An Implement of Ice” by W. H. Pugmire

In this horror short, a young man is putting his late great-uncle’s estate in order. From the Uncle’s housekeeper he learns about a mysterious Tibetan dwarf that dominated his uncle’s last years.

Alone, in his deceased uncle’s apartment, he makes a strange discovery in the freezer, a mask encased in ice. The mystery and horror start when he thaws out the foul-smelling trophy.

The plot was interesting, but the prose was overly pedantic, which made for a tedious read.

Night of the Circus” by Sharon Cullars

Lulled by promises of a better future, all the residents of a poor and depressed town enter a circus tent in this horror short. The appearance of the imposing black ringmaster quickly lays bare their deep-seated racial prejudices.

But that is the least of their concerns as the ringmaster reveals some harsh truths about their roles in the town’s recent past. Few will avoid justice tonight.

The mystery pulled in the reader and the well-structured prose kept the reader engaged. This was an intriguing story.

Wolvers Hill” by Tim Jeffreys

Bisma is driving with Fergus, her almost-blind husband, in this horror short. Fergus is the navigator, and his complacency has got them lost on a quiet road in Somerset, England.

As Bisma drives down the narrow and spooky country lane, strange things begin to happen. And as the evening sets in, Fergus isn’t much help since he is night-blind. To add to her woes, the car is low on fuel.

This story was an interesting read, but the ending fizzled away just as it reached its climax.

Rafts” by Lorenzo Crescentini

In this flash fantasy, a blind dog commandeers a young boy’s dreams. The old dog can only ‘see’ the world again through the boy’s dreams.

At first the boy resists and begrudges the intrusion. But soon he comes to understand his role in what is left of the dog’s life.

The author and translator have created a story perfectly fitted to the flash fiction format. It was charming, enlightening, and engaging.

Clean Sweep” by Edward Ahern

Employed as a ghost fumigator, Ralph is short of money in this horror short. His company uses a mixture of catnip, acetone, and other hallucinatory drugs to ‘freeze’ the ghosts before sucking them up.

On a routine extraction, Ralph encounters a ghost that has an interesting proposition for how he can make more money. At first pleased, Ralph slowly develops a concern for the ghosts he exploits. Until, that is, he runs afoul of some ghost gangsters.

The story developed at a steady pace but lacked any strong pull until the last third. But it did present an unusual take on the ghost premise.

Leaving Malaga” by Cynthia Ward

Frenchy and Eliza are two marooned teenagers in this short fantasy. As they eat steamed lobsters on a small rocky island, two local vampires surprise and capture them. The bigger and meaner vampire strikes Frenchy down, but doesn’t want to kill him.

The smaller vampire guards Eliza, believing she is relatively harmless. But she practices the African magic of her ancestors. As the sky darkens, the seas begin to swell, even though the weather is calm.

Though vampires were involved, this was not a gory, suck’em dry horror story. Instead the story was well structured and a pleasure to read.

Cattle Call” by Gregg Chamberlain

In this flash fantasy, a casting crew interviews candidates for a role in a horror movie. But in this future, where many normal-seeming people are mythological horror creatures, the casting takes on new aspects.

This was a throw-away story that lacked enough mystery or intrigue to engage the reader.

Abomination is Her Name” by J. N. Cameron

A bleary-eyed father faces an alien giant bug invasion in this horror short. Roberto and his young daughter, June, watch as the spaceship crashes through the clouds ala Independence Day. Within minutes the arachnid-like aliens descend strands to rip apart anyone they find.

Roberto and June hide out, before joining a small group trying to survive. It becomes a game of cat and mouse. Except, now they are the mice, trying to take advantage of their relatively slight size.

This story had some cliché elements to it that distracted from the proficient writing craft.

Kachina” by Kenneth Bykerk

Horatio Parsons is a frontiersman in this horror novelette. Accepting self-exile seven years ago to escape capital punishment, Parsons has lived most of his adult life among various Indian tribes. But now, he finds himself fleeing from the normally peaceful Hopi Indians after stealing some of their most precious religious artifacts.

Trying to out-distance their relentless pursuit, Parsons stumbles upon an old Hopi dwelling, lost among the cliffs and unused for centuries. This dried out ruin has an even greater treasure, but it also has a power that Parsons’s western eyes are incapable of seeing.

The plot was well constructed, and the prose kept the interest going. A little slow at times, overall it was a pleasant read.

Death is Not My Master” by Scott Harper

A powerful member of the undead tries to save his Master from the necromancer Carandini’s relentless hordes in this horror short. Justain is a tireless warrior for his Master, ever since his Master restored him from his mortal death. Now Carandini is throwing an invincible army at his city in a final attempt to steal the power of his Master. Time and time again, Justain swoops down to dispatch swathes of the advancing army. But all seems to be in vain as the powerful necromancer has long planned this attack.

This was an interesting tale. The writing style was easy to read, and the mystery and danger engaged the reader throughout.