Realms of Fantasy, April 2007

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Image"A Touch of Hell" by Richard Parks
"The Rope: A New Tale of the Antique Lands" by Noreen Doyle
"Stephanie Shrugs" Josh Rountree
"Black Jack Davy" Trent Hergenrader
"Red" by Jackie Kessler
"Bottles" by Samantha Henderson
"The Tao of Crocodiles" Euan Harvey
While I found the last issue of Realms of Fantasy to be quite strong, I can’t recommend the April 2007 one as highly. However, there are a couple of gems in the offerings.

In "A Touch of Hell," Richard Parks tells a Japanese fantasy from a gentler time. Mercenary Yamado-san is hired to slay the ogress who killed abbot Saigyo’s sister and now wears her kimono. Using a talisman giving him invisibility, he approaches the ogress who lurks behind the Weeping Woman, a fourteen-foot-tall structure that legend proclaims is occupied by the spirit of a woman who died there. Unfortunately, the talisman doesn’t work.

This novelette is well written. In the end, it’s a mystery cleverly solved rather than an evil vanquished, but it’s Parks’s characters that bring this piece to life; he boldly Westernizes his characters’ dialogue to accommodate our occidental ear. Some readers might consider this a flaw, expecting the author to render these as we expect medieval Japanese to speak. But I appreciated the author’s storytelling choice, as a more traditional approach could have resulted in wooden characterization and cardboard characters. Parks’s careful description and use of Japanese place names were all that were needed to establish a Far Eastern setting. Recommended

"The Rope: A New Tale of the Antique Lands" by Noreen Doyle is a slippery tale of an alternate Middle Eastern world about an old blind man, a young woman named Ianheh, and a boy who climbs a rope up into the sky. This is a demanding story that reads like a dry textbook in parts, heavy on exposition. The writing technique is highly mannered, employing many abstractions and parenthetical thoughts, making for slow going. Doyle has a well-conceived world here, but there’s little to care about as the affected prose keeps the characters at a distance. The writing is beautiful in places, but overshadowed by the baroque styling. This will appeal to those looking for an erudite tale.

In Josh Rountree’s "Stephanie Shrugs," beautiful "rock-chick" Stephanie appears in the garage in Stanton, Texas, of the story’s guitar-swinging narrator in 1989. Before disappearing, she hands him a Nirvana album from the future, an album that changes his life. In 1993, he’s in Seattle, Washington, now friends with Kurt Cobain and member of an up-and-coming grunge band on the scene.

Told in short, episodic scenes occurring a few years apart, Stephanie keeps popping up, and eventually the narrator writes a song, "Stephanie Shrugs," which propels him to fame. Rountree captures the ambiance of the rock world well, but the episodic structure hinders the story’s momentum, and little tension is realized. "Stephanie Shrugs" reads like an outline for a longer work. Still, an interesting story with authentic charm.

"Black Jack Davy" Trent Hergenrader is a Western tale.  Widow Becca lives on a ranch with a ranch hand, Sam, and the owner, "the Boss." One day, the Boss brings home his fifteen-year-old child bride, Anna, who bears him a baby before being abducted by the mysterious Black Jack Davy, a phantom legend around those parts. While this story begins well, I found the ending too ambiguous for my taste.

Jackie Kessler’s "Red" is a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood." Told in short segments spanning years, Clara meets with a naked, hairy boy in the woods between her mother’s and Nana’s house. Of course, the boy isn’t who he claims to be. At around three thousand words, this one moved briskly enough, but a successful fairy-tale retelling requires a new slant on the original.  "Red" didn’t seem fresh enough or have anything sufficiently notable to add to the traditional tale.

The best story in this issue is "Bottles" by Samantha Henderson. A single mother discovers that her daughter has the power to store people’s souls in bottles, which places that person in a coma. Among other victims, the daughter does this with her new stepmother. Despite an awkward beginning, once this tale takes off, the pace never falters. The relationship between the mother and the daughter is well done. And while I think the descriptions of the imprisoned souls could have been stronger, this was a great idea. Recommended.

Euan Harvey‘s present tense "The Tao of Crocodiles" is about a man in Bangkok whose dreams and family’s dreams are haunted by a ghostly crocodile after his sister-in-law’s lover dies violently. This story will work best for readers who enjoy metafiction narratives without being distracted by the structure.