(Flatiron Publishing, Fall/Winter 2018, pb, 161 pp.)
Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett
This anthology contains twenty-seven stories covering all three speculative genres, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In addition to the new stories there is a reprint by Robert Silverberg, not reviewed, and three stories not reviewed because they weren’t in a speculative genre.
“Mud” by Salinda Tyson
The World War I nurse is bringing an ambulance full of wounded from the front lines in this short fantasy. With enemy shells bursting nearby her ambulance breaks down in the mud. After arranging the transfer of her most gravely injured to other ambulances she refuses to leave her last patient.
As the shells continue to close in causing the mud underneath to lurch, she waits for death from the gas shells. Then the heaving mud wakes a strange mystical beast, but was it there to help or finish them off?
It was a poignant tale, but the prose was average.
“Father O’Neill’s Confession” by Jen Downes
In this short fantasy, Father Hugh O’Neill has a failing liver from twenty years of drinking whiskey. For weeks he prays for help, so he can continue to serve his treasured parish. But when no help comes, he resorts to a different approach. One steeped in the occult. Can witches do what prayers have not?
Downes has written a simple but well-crafted story, though it offers little in the way of expanding the fantasy genre.
“Replica” by John Paul Davies
Small islands that are accessible only at low tide are the setting for this short horror story. Throughout the islands and connecting mudflats sixty or more iron statues stand in the likeness of Gorman, the island’s lone occupant. Each statue represents Gorman at a different year of his life.
The mainland teenagers come at night, during low tide, to deface the statues and torment Gorman. He seems powerless to stop them.
This story’s dull plot wasted the prose’s elegant similes and metaphors, leaving the reader to wonder why.
“Music, Dogs, True Love, and a Gateway” by Steven Mathes
Dave is the caretaker for NASA’s musical boondoggle in this SF short. The boondoggle responds to any sound with harmonic responses, a remnant from man’s search for alien life.
When the socially inept Dave meets the musically talented Daphne, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot. If only he could remember what it was that scared him about the boondoggle!
This was a slow-paced story that had little suspense to it until the final third.
“The Android Graveyard” by Diane Morrison
In this SF short, Annabelle administers the android graveyard where robots come when their service life is over. Each android has a chance to display its parts as they wish; a final gesture of their individuality.
Annabelle has been doing this for a very long time, she alone mourns for the autonomous machines that come here for deactivation. But what will become of the graveyard as she approaches retirement?
Morrison has penned an engaging story. A touch slow in the beginning, it soon picked up the pace.
“Annabel and Edgar” by E. M. Sheehan
Sheehan’s short fantasy covers the last days of Edgar Alan Poe. Edgar creates a final character, Annabel, who then comes alive to haunt the ailing author.
No one else can see the aberration and so Edgar’s friends see him as less than sane as he appeals for peace. Can he reach an accommodation with the spirit before it is too late?
This was a slow story that jumped about too much to be entertaining.
“The Dance of a Thousand Cuts” by Liam Hogan
Ellie has a magical self-teaching sword in this short fantasy. It has taught her well and now she is the best swordsman in the kingdom.
After winning a national contest the judges have chosen her to fight the Crown Prince on the day they will crown him King. Can the royal court allow a fair fight that would risk the Prince’s life?
This was one of those charming stories that fly past far too quickly.
“The Occasional Cabin” by Stefon Mears
In this SF short, a man wakes in a remote cabin near the mountains. This wouldn’t be strange, except he went to bed in Manhattan. And this is the third time he’s found himself transported here against his will.
Outside the cabin, birds chirp in the overgrown forest, and he must cut a path to the water pump to drink. On this third visit, the man finds himself dressed in PJ’s. Does this mean he is here forever? He sets off to explore the forest but what he finds leaves him shaken to his core.
Mears has written an engaging snippet of a story filled with mystery. The prose was easy to get immersed in.
“Captain Carthy’s Bride” by K. G. Anderson
Anderson’s short fantasy reveals Moira, a silkie engineering her chance at a better life with a captain. She lets the captain find and steal her silkie suit and capture her so she can become his wife.
Now, with two grown children and a pleasant life behind her, Moira finds her past catching up to her. The sea beckons to her to pay the price for her past unsavory actions.
This was a pleasing and easy to read story that concealed its ending twist well.
“Scales, Fallen from His Eyes” by Kelly A. Harmon
The ex-soldier wants the last, ancient dragon to eat him in this SF short. With an injured and putrefying leg, he climbs the hill to reach the chained dragon and convince it to supplement its diet with him, a two-hundred-and-eighty-three-year-old human.
In these future days, humanity has found the fountain of youth. But they use this double-faced benefit to bring sorrow to the world and to the dragon, who is reluctant to grant the ex-soldier’s request. Can the old man convince the dragon to end his life?
This was an interesting and nicely written glimpse into a future where the scientific advances have not benefited humanity as expected.
“Spacism is Still with Us” by Matthew Reardon
He has just arrived at an ancient tide-locked planet at the galaxy’s edge in this SF short. His mission is to visit planets that have potential for intelligent life and try to make peaceful first contact and exchange ideas.
This ten-billion-year-old planet has cloud-like beings floating around. At first, the clouds seem incapable of interaction, and he thinks that they lack anything beyond a rudimentary awareness of themselves. But then the beings reveal their true feelings.
This was an insightful and unusual view of the future that provided some new ideas for the SF genre.
“Winter War” by Samuel Chapman
In this short fantasy, a little girl, Maggie, tries to decide where to buy some fudge at a winter fair. A troll, two dwarves, and a band of brownies each run one of the three closest stalls.
Each group uses their magic to beguile Maggie to come to their stall and soon it turns into an open war the humans cannot see but sometimes feel. Who will win Maggie’s business?
Chapman has authored a story with an original feel to it, though at times the prose lacked a smooth flow.
“The Octopus in the Millpond” by Emmett Schlenz
Miller’s Glen has a monster octopus occupying its millpond in this short horror offering. But then, each of the nearby towns has its own monster plaguing them, so there’s nowhere for the people to go. The octopus demands payment in gold and randomly snatches people from the streets to drown them. But none of the people can remember a time when it wasn’t this way.
Bernadette, a member of the town’s watch, has decided to take on the octopus. Other townsfolk have tried, and the monster has either killed, wounded or merely humiliated the person. Bernadette has no realistic expectation that her fate will be any better, yet still she feels compelled to try.
Though the plot was light, the prose was engaging, and it was easy to empathize with Bernadette.
“Field of Honor” by Gustavo Bondoni
Bondoni’s short fantasy paints a future where magical spirits invade and condemn men to battle each other. Hina follows the armies to use her mystical sight to harvest these spirits from the bodies of the slain. She will use the spirits to protect her village through the winter months.
In one body, she finds a rare blue spirit. When an ordinary scavenger of the dead challenges her and Gorbi, her young assistant, she must find a way to keep her precious booty.
This was a short and engaging story, though its end was predictable.
“Shadow Harvest” by Melanie Rees
The stranger is shadow-rich in this SF short set on a world dominated by its sun Sorath’s deadly light. People pay in pieces of their own shadow and the more you pay, the less protection you have from the sun’s rays.
The stranger enters Sheriva’s desolate bar to offer her a fortune for the shadows from her trees. Sheriva refuses, saying she is content to stay where she is and promising to protect her small patch of this hostile world. But the stranger has power and threatens to destroy her.
The author shows the reader a wonderfully strange world as a setting for another good versus evil story.
“All the Moon’s Children” by Kiki Gonglewski
In this short fantasy, Matt’s new friend Jason plied him with mysterious questions. Could he swim, was he happy, and how long could he hold his breath?
Finally, after a month of questions, Jason tells Matt about a secret passage through the lake that opens at the full moon. Jason invites Matt to come with him through the portal to a new and better world. But can Matt pluck up the courage to go with him?
This fantasy had a mundane and predictable plot coupled with creative prose. An unusual combination.
“Only the Weak Survive” by Caroline Sciriha
Sciriha’s SF short paints a future where an unknown apocalypse has killed most of humanity. Now, on an island in the ocean, two people take the time to explain how they survived that fateful day to a circle of rapt children.
The children listen attentively to the story as they have in the days before. The two survivors try to explain the meaning of justice, but can these strange children ever understand?
This was a quick but engaging piece that gave the reader plenty to think about.
“War Dog” by Wulf Moon
The Conquistadors have landed in Central America in this short fantasy. Balboa, the leader, sees the Pacific Ocean and prepares for a new world order with equality for all. At Balboa’s side is his massive Alaunt war dog, Leoncillo.
Soon, the Spanish King puts all Balboa’s plans at risk by sending an autocratic governor who sets up Balboa for an ambush. But Leoncillo has special powers from the indigenous peoples of the New World.
An interesting alternative history with a twist in its dog’s tail.
“If a Tree Falls” by Dan Micklethwaite
Betula is a tree that has just fallen in this short fantasy. She hopes someone will right her, make her useful again. But no one seems to care. Until, one day, a farmer stops by. Maybe he will find a new purpose for her.
The only speculative element is whether a tree has consciousness, otherwise this story had little to offer a fan of the speculative genre.
“Memory and Muchness” by Rhonda Eikamp
In this mysterious SF short, Marney mourns the loss of her elder sister, Paley, who has just disappeared up a yellow hole. Marney lives underground with other children under the tutelage of the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Cheshire Cat. Every day they must learn new skills.
Normally each child progresses at a similar pace, but Marney seems different, she is already aware of the White Rabbit and is rebelling against the strict rules imposed on her. Can she find a way to stop her older friends from disappearing too?
Eikamp has authored a well-crafted story full of suspense. Though many others have explored this subject in the past, she has found an original way to spin the tale.
“My Lady of the Park” by Blake Jessop
Jessop’s short fantasy shows us a lamp-lighter in London who runs afoul of a tree spirit threatening to kill him for polluting the world. The man pleads for his life telling the Lady of the Park that there is much in the world that is wonderful, even if it no longer follows the old ways.
As he leads the spirit around old London, they encounter both the good and bad sides of humanity. Will it be enough to appease the irate spirit?
This story did not add anything to the fantasy genre, the prose was okay, and the plot was predictable.
“Oceans of Time” by Elizabeth Twist
In this flash horror story, Dracula is looking for a late-night bite at a nightclub. It’s been a while and he isn’t certain of the current cultural norms. He quickly runs afoul of a good pick-up line as he tries to score.
This was a little hard to follow at first, but soon the reader will get the hang of the prose as it gives an off-beat view of being a vampire.
“How to Have a Productive Relationship with Your Semi-Autonomous Vehicle” by Josh Taylor
Sharon is trying to escape the ongoing demonic apocalypse in this flash horror story. But her autonomous car is making it difficult, preventing her from running over the demonic monkey barring her escape route. She must reach a compromise with her car if she is to survive.
This story was an intriguing alternative look at the horror genre, a nice story.
This is an interesting, eclectic mixture of stories, mostly science fiction or fantasy, with a couple of horror stories and a couple that are outside the speculative genre. Overall the reader will find several engaging stories.