“Just Another Word” by Carrie Vaughn
“Hanuman’s Bridge” by Euan Harvey
“The Hag Queen’s Curse” by M.K. Hobson
“A Close Personal Relationship” by Thomas Marcinko
“The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara” by Christopher Kastensmidt
Reviewed by Maggie Jamison
The April 2010 issue of Realms of Fantasy begins with Carrie Vaughn’s subtle story, “Just Another Word.” As a lonely blues musician, Janis is certain there’s a better world somewhere just beyond her reach. But when a beautiful, mysterious woman appears at her local gig and offers her everything she’s ever wanted, Janis knows there’s more than luck afoot.
Vaughn’s tale is short, but its power comes from the narrative voice. It swings, it flows: it sounds like blues. Some readers may find the mystical element too vague for their liking, but this brief tale is a solid and enjoyable read.
Euan Harvey’s “Hanuman’s Bridge” is not quite so subtle, though it is also brief. On the cusp of a new nuclear crisis, just following the bloody resolution of the civil war in Sri Lanka, “Hanuman’s Bridge” begins with the blessing of the new bridge that spans the distance between Sri Lanka and the Indian mainland. Yet as the priests attempt to bless and honor, the bridge’s architect, Davis, learns about the origins of the Ramayana and the demons it portrays from a man who knows all too well the truths behind the myths.
“Hanuman’s Bridge” is a powerful and thrilling tale, captured in a brief exchange between Davis and the official Mr. Dashamukha Raban, “of the War Office.” While there is more talk than action, Harvey leaves no doubt with the steadily building tension that the end of this tale is only the beginning of a much larger conflict. Those familiar with the Ramayana may predict the ending, however Harvey’s execution of the story will likely keep even the most Ramayana-savvy reader entertained and leave them with a powerful sense of impending doom.
In “The Hag Queen’s Curse” by M.K. Hobson, Newport, Oregon finds itself the proud owner of a surly hide-pirate with a penchant for fine boots and the desperate Navy officer trying to bring him to justice, both thrown from 1786 into modern times by the curse of a disgruntled Hag Queen. Newport locals Kat and Jeff, gifted in their ability to communicate telepathically with one another, are swept into the conflict when hide-pirate Captain Flaneur steals Jeff’s body for his own nefarious use. Chaos ensues, much of which involves smoking weed, munching Arby’s curly fries, snatching flashy boots, and using a whole lot of good, old-fashioned magic.
“The Hag Queen’s Curse” is a humorous, if at times dark, tale that will not fail to entertain. True to form, M.K. Hobson delivers a playful story while simultaneously exhibiting her flair for unique and colorful characters.
“A Close Personal Relationship” by Thomas Marcinko takes a long, hard look at just what might happen if there truly was a Second Coming of Christ. Unlike his happy-go-lucky co-workers, Ted isn’t so thrilled by the way things turn out when “Junior” is in full command of the world—and subsequently everything else in existence. In his Interview with “the Big Man” himself, Ted must once and for all come face to face with his doubts about the new universal government, and just what it means to have the All-Seeing as a close, personal friend.
Witty and unflinching in its grim humor, Marcinko’s storytelling in “A Close Personal Relationship” is sharp and entertaining, and Ted’s personal conflict is one that will make any fan of the Cretaceous era sympathize with him. Marcinko’s perspective of the Eternal Resolution of war, scientific disagreement, and religious conflict makes for a solid, if cynical tale.
The fiction element of the issue finishes off with Christopher Kastensmidt’s novelette “The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara.” The story follows Gerard van Oost, a Dutchman in the midst of the Portuguese expansion into Brazil, as he searches for a way to make his name by adventuring into the wild jungles to kill the mythic monsters therein. After he’s denied employment by the established explorer Antonio Dias Caldas, Gerard meets a powerful African monster-slayer, trapped as one of the men destined to be sent as a slave to a sugar mill in Rio de Janeiro. Learning of Oludara’s experience killing a dragon in Africa, Gerard decides that the only way for him to make his name in the jungles is by freeing Oludara and teaming up with him to start their own expedition.
Kastensmidt’s tale is a solid story, but suffers from a lackluster cast of characters who all seem to sound exactly the same. Oludara is by far the most interesting of the duo, but even during his main scenes, it’s hard to ignore the writer’s presence and become absorbed in the character or the story as a whole.
Spanning worlds, eras, and philosophies, this issue of Realms of Fantasy has something for every taste and interest. Those looking for the elegance of suggestive fantasy will be drawn to “Just Another Word” and “Hanuman’s Bridge,” while those seeking something a bit more swashbuckling will enjoy “The Hag Queen’s Curse” and “The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara.” And if you’re craving dark humor and a twist on Armageddon, “A Close Personal Relationship” is the perfect fix.