Aegri Somnia edited by Jason Sizemore and Gill Ainsworth

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“YY” by Jennifer Pelland
Image“The League of Last Girls” by Christopher Rowe
“All Praise to the Dreamer” by Nancy Fulda
“Nothing of Me” by Eugie Foster
“Heal Thyself” by Scott Nicholson
“On the Shoulders of Giants” by Bryn Sparks
“Dream Takers” by Rhonda Eudaly
“Letters from Weirdside” by Lavie Tidhar
“Wishbones” by Cherie Priest
“All Becomes as Wormwood” by Angeline Hawkes
“Well of the Waters” by Mari Adkins
“Mens Rea” by Steven Savile
The opening story, “YY” by Jennifer Pelland, effectively twists our expectations. What does our perverted protagonist want with an innocent little boy abandoned at his house? And what’s down cellar? Perhaps the true perverts exist there… Taking a vicious little dig at our culture’s valorization of masculinity, Pelland serves up a gory tale with an unreliable, but ultimately sympathetic, narrator.

In "The League of Lost Girls" by Christopher Rowe, Sammi, sole survivor of a plane accident, arrives at a mysterious compound full of unusual girls. They all seem associated with disasters…or superpowers. While juggling some interesting ambiguities, Rowe encompasses a lot of material, but seems to lose track of it. For example, this story knows its superhero tropes; there’s a scene in which Sammi’s keepers enumerate all her fellow dead passengers according to function (the Best Friend, the Slut, the Black Guy), but this identification doesn’t really further the story. After two careful reads, I still didn’t know the exact details of Sammi’s crash or her reason for being at the compound, a fact that left me puzzled rather than properly disturbed.

The plot of “All Praise to the Dreamer” by Nancy Fulda is pretty simple. Evil alien bugs with tentacles want a mother’s baby. As engrossing and brief and clever as a Twilight Zone episode, Fulda’s story hooks your attention from the first sentence and stays with you, long past the startling, yet fitting, end.

Eugie Foster [Tangent‘s managing editor] shows her love for classical mythology once again with "Nothing of Me." Based on the myth of pitiable monster Scylla, the story reimagines the timeless story of Beauty and the Beast to make modern and poignant observations on the ugliness of self-hatred. Foster’s sure, restrained prose gives this one quiet power.

"Heal Thyself" by Scott Nicholson pits the bitter [white] Jackson against seemingly placid New Age [black] therapist Edelhart. As Edelhart takes Jackson through a past-life regression, Jackson finds that he and Edelhart both have close connections to the horrors of plantation life. With prose that unsuccessfully wields racist slurs and overdetermines the emotional responses of characters and reader, this story is the weakest of the anthology.

The next story, "On the Shoulders of Giants" by Bryn Sparks, fares better. David Archer struggles to save his lover: the incapacitated brain-in-a-machine battle bot J.C. The grim situation is leavened with touching insights as Sparks gets inside both Archer’s and J.C.’s head. I especially like the AIs’ deadpan responses to human irritation. A melodramatic but good story.

“Dream Takers” by Rhonda Eudaly follows the classic plot of hubris overcoming an innovator as a brilliant doctor’s dream transfer therapy goes nightmarishly [hah!] wrong. I’m not quite sure what happened in the end with the doctor and the serial killer, so the pay-off is diminished, but it’s still well-constructed and well-rigged.

“Letters from Weirdside” by Lavie Tidhar begins with a witty parody of disenchanted sci-fi editors everywhere. Howard, bored with overwrought prose [“Your momma’s eldritch!”], nevertheless cannot resist the anonymous, dire manuscript about the strange place, Weirdside. With the atmospherics of Poe and the lurking doom of Lovecraft, Tidhar writes a richly metaphorical creep fest where the violence, disturbingly enough, appears to be internal.

In “Wishbones” by Cherie Priest, a Civil War prison camp and a nearby modern pizza parlor suffer the hauntings of a man-eating (?) monster. The resigned despair of the soldiers 140 years earlier contrasts nicely with the insouciant delivery boys, who realize rather too late what they’re up against. And I have to say that the monster’s salient feature—the way in which it reconstructs itself—makes it more memorable and disturbing than your average horror creature.

Moving to modern events still within most of our memories, Angeline Hawkes sets her story in the ruins of Chernobyl, where photographer Alex discovers radioactive mutants and their plot for the rest of the radiation-free world. Hint: They hope to achieve the results of the title in which “All Becomes as Wormwood.” Can Alex trust one of the mutants to help him save the country? With an exciting mix of mutants, fanatics, and even zombies, “Wormwood” moves briskly toward an ending that comes too soon.

“The Well of the Waters” by Mari Adkins unites a trio of ancient priestesses with a future woman undergoing high-tech dream analysis. The priestesses look into Jenna’s world, while Jenna looks into theirs…all of which is fascinating and compelling in its dream-like progression because we wonder what will happen when the two lines of vision converge. But, for all the promising, reverie-like build-up, nothing happens in the end, and I felt as if I were reading a preview rather than a full story.

In “Mens Rea,” Steven Savile takes superhero tropes to gloriously seamy new depths when Jack Nolan, a cop infiltrating a prison, gains new powers, thanks to the sick ministrations of a prison gang leader. Gritty and pulpy, the explicit details of this story make you feel every blow to the guts received by our protagonist. The story spends so long describing the hell of prison in lurid, luscious detail that you fully expect this to be a fall-of-man story. But wait for the ending. It’s cinematic and, like much of Aegri Somnia, very satisfying.
Publisher: Apex Publications (Dec. 2006)
Trade paperback: $12.95
Hard cover: $25.95