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

Dreams of Decadence, #16, Winter 2001

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"Red as a Cherry Blossom, White as the Snow" by Fiona Avery
"Thicker Than Water" by N. Lee Wood
"A Different Hunger" by Terry Hayman

Dreams of Decadence is subtitled "Vampire Poetry and Fiction." This issue contains one longish vampire poem, seven vampire haiku, and three stories dealing with the undead in some fashion. There's no non-fiction in this issue, but the glossy pages are lavishly illustrated in black and white. Some are cartoonish and unnecessary; others are subtler and more stylized, and add nicely to the overall mood.

"Red as a Cherry Blossom, White as the Snow" by Fiona Avery

After an off-putting opening line ("Once upon a time, when men were not bastard cowards..."), "Red..." settled down to being a competently told yarn. Set in Japan's past, during the reign of Emperor Okimoto Ryokai, this is a simple story of an enchanted musical instrument, the musician who saves him, and the yurei who saves him. In Japanese folklore, yurei are ghosts with an array of supernatural powers (most often female). This one was the Emperor's mistress, put to death to preserve the ruler's honor. This story is an almost. It almost achieves the simplicity of a fairy tale, but not quite. As a result, it seems a touch too easy, a touch too slight, for the accused musician and the yurei to both be caught by a love of music and their Emperor's shallow sense of honor.

"Thicker Than Water" by N. Lee Wood

The longest story in this issue, "Thicker Than Water" is also the most ambitious. It tells the story of three people. The first is Adelaide, a wildly drawn artiste who at times seems a caricature, at times a type (the artist, larger than life), and, thankfully, at other times wholly and disturbingly original. The second is Libby, a self-denying social climber who works for the local art museum, and who comes with Adelaide to "the House" to catalog her art collection. The third is, of course, the vampire, an embarrassingly named Payne Damont (too close to double bilingual puns of "pain/pan [bread] of the world" for my tastes), a sleek, good-looking, apparently young man.

What's nice about this story is its self-awareness, and the fact that it doesn't depend on a trick ending. Instead, Wood makes the striking choice of showing us characters who know exactly who they are and what they are doing. In this the story fits better with the allure of decadence that the title suggests than either of the others; these characters each know that they are subject to socially unacceptable hungers. Occasionally they flush with shame, but more often, night after night, they revel in them, and the main pleasure of "Thicker Than Water" is Wood's ability to capture this. Part of this comes through the lavish care devoted to describing the art works in the story. The one weakness is that things are just a little too pat; I'm not convinced that genuine hungers work out so cleanly.

"A Different Hunger" by Terry Hayman

This story is almost as ambitious as "Thicker Than Water," but less successful. In this one, we follow what seems to be a vampire on the hunt, trawling the street for victims. I say "seems to be" because there is a limited reversal in the story. The main thing this story adds that is new is that the vampire is blind. This gives Hayman reason to linger over the senses, and allows us to see just how acute the other vampiric senses are. (The flip side of this is that this was just wrong to illustrate the story, thereby letting us know what he would be seeing.) However, besides the fun of description, the blindness isn't really used. Instead, it seems to hang over the story like one of several obvious metaphors--the undead predator who is kinder than the living mother, the blind who sees more than the sighted, etc. There was promise here, in the violence and the descriptions, but this feels more like a rough draft than a polished story.

Taken together, these stories offer a pleasant, but not challenging, foray into the realms of the undead.

Greg Beatty was most of the way through a PhD in English at the University of Iowa when his advisors agreed that letting him go to Clarion West 2000 would be a good idea. Bad idea. He finished his dissertation, on serial killer novels, then gave up on traditional academia and returned to his original dream of writing fiction. He's had eight stories accepted in the past six months, with acceptances by Ideomancer.com, the Hour of Pain anthology and deathlings.com. Greg's non-fiction appears in Strange Horizons and the New York Review of Science Fiction fairly regularly.