"In the Lair of the Moonmen" by Jon Hansen
"Echoes of Me" Michelle Thuma
"Of Swords & Horses" Carrie Vaughn
"The Valhalla Job" by Sandra McDonald
"Shelf Life" by Thomas Seay
"Infants in the Lake of Fire" by M. K. Hobson
Leah Bobet tells a tale of crime, punishment, and magic in "Lost Wax." Simon works in a wizards’ factory in Calendar Point where he smuggles out wax that he takes back to the boarding house where he’s staying. A troubled young man, he longs for magic, to understand it, to possess it. Eventually he is caught and hanged, and his parents come and take him back to their farm to bury. But that’s not the tale’s climax as it continues on to make an existential point of transcendence. A unique idea and setting for a story, it has more of an intellectual appeal than an emotional one.
Jon Hansen‘s "In the Lair of the Moonmen" has a Golden Age pulp feel about it. I say that in a good way as this is the best story in the December 2006 issue of Realms of Fantasy. Varkez, of the city guard, accompanies visiting wizard, Qon, to the moon with a squad of warrior’s to defeat the Nightmen who have been plundering their city with attacks from the sky. Though much is made of medieval alchemy and elemental science, this is pure fantasy. They travel to the moon in an open skychariot hoisted by balloons, riding the ethereal currents. This is the longest story in the issue, well into novelette range, and while it went a bit long for its weight, it was a captivating read. In the beginning, much is made of Varkez’s life and desires, which might have been done away with, but it did turn him into a more rounded character and made his world come alive.
Personal demons are the subject in Michelle Thuma’s "Echoes of Me." Trying to deal with the death of her husband, Gil, Nancy is stuck, both in life and in the house she shared with her husband. Phantoms move around the house with her, accompany her to the mailbox, etc. Nancy’s sister, Helen, drops by and tells her it’s time to move on, that she’s become a slave to her own routines. This short-short did have a nice ending, but it made me feel old getting there—which is not something I seek out in fiction, regardless of genre.
In "Of Swords & Horses," Carrie Vaughn tells of a mother who raises her daughter, Maggie, on Disney princess movies. As Maggie grows, she takes fencing lessons and learns to ride horses. When she is seventeen, she vanishes, and the police have no clues as to what became of her. Two years later, at the lake property where Maggie disappeared, she arrives on a boat from across the lake with her new husband, the king. The king tells the mother that Maggie belongs to him now, and that they are both warriors protecting the mother’s world from a darkness she cannot fathom. The mother thinks this is silly, like the blurb on a paperback. So did I.
While well written, "Of Swords & Horses" didn’t work. Vaughn does such a good job of grounding the story in reality—the mother’s grief, the media circus after Maggie’s disappearance—that I really believed that mundane foul play was involved. Of course, this is a fantasy story so that’s not going to be the case, but when I got to the king’s line above, I wanted to stop reading. I pressed on, curious, as this is not a very long story, and I can see what the writer was going for—to show the mother clinging to reality while her daughter chooses her own path in a world that’s more sublime and adventuresome. But told from the mother’s first-person point of view, I never believed the magic. Her humdrum outlook stifled it before it even began. I believe there’s something important lurking just below the surface here, but the story elements clashed too much. It seems more likely that the mother hallucinated her daughter’s appearance, and if the detectives dragged the lake, they’d probably find Maggie’s body. And that makes it a psychological crime story, not a fantasy.
Sandra McDonald’s "The Valhalla Job" mixes modern-day media with Norse Mythology. Roger Ross is the host of Mission: Afterworld, sent to Valhalla to produce this week’s show. But first, Odin’s and Frigg’s junk needs to be moved out so the place can be renovated, and much of it is put up for sale at a yard sale. Enter Freya, who’s been feuding with Odin over the Brisingamen necklace for a long time, and she insists that Roger retrieve the necklace for her.
This is quite funny in places and a nice twist on tales of Ragnorak and Asgard. I did forget that they were producing a television program at times, and I think that could’ve been brought out more. Plotwise, it randomly arrives at a conclusion, but the laughs are good, and the cast colorful. I’ve never read a story by McDonald that I didn’t find memorable, and she never seems to repeats herself. Whimsical and fun.
"Shelf Life" by Thomas Seay uses books on the library shelf as characters. Life for the protagonist starts off as The Four Little Pigs, because three is an incredibly cliché number, he says, and wanting to be different. Exasperated, his mother, Pride and Prejudice, asks why he can’t become a nice The Sun Also Rises like his father. Eventually, he grows to discover postmodernism and calls himself 1985, but abandons that title when a teenage girl picks him up and mutters, "I don’t get it." Wanting to be accessible so he’ll be checked out of the library more, he becomes Hardy Boys 27.
To be honest, I thought I was going to hate this story. It starts off juvenile, employing silly personification and being too cutesy. But about halfway through, Seay won me over, and something happened I never expected. After finishing it, I found a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. Read this story. It’s much better than it sounds.
M. K. Hobson tells a tale of the afterlife in "Infants in the Lake of Fire." Five-year-old Jill plays games with the other children in the Limbus Infantum, the limbo for children who haven’t been baptized, as well as the limbo for idiots, cretins, and the like. Andrew, who is twenty-two, is her imbecilic companion. Hearing screams in the distance, they go to the lake of fire and proceed to pull the burning people from it. "Hurt" is not a word in Jill’s vocabulary, but soon she discovers its meaning, along with "time" and "memory." This is an interesting tale. Using simple language, Jill’s story is told in artless third person to show her childlike innocence, yet many poetic images emerge. Unique and enjoyable.