edited by Colleen Anderson & Steve Vernon
(Edge, Fall 2013)
Reviewed by Cyd Athens
This issue offers “fresh new stories and poems of horror, science-fiction, and fantasy from authors residing in EACH of the provinces and territories of Canada.” In this review, we will only cover the stories.
“Vermilion Wine” by Claude Lalumière
Monica is a wine columnist on vacation in Venice, Italy. Some of the details of her life, such as her relationship with Katherine, come across as superfluous. Monica visits the Museo d’Arte Erotica and becomes obsessed with learning all she can about vermilion wine after seeing mention of it in one of the museum exhibits. Eventually she finds, and later imbibes, the wine. It acts as a magic potion that transports her to Venara, “the city of Venice’s dreams: unfettered by the constraints of mundane reality, petty morés, or dreary human concerns.” Unfortunately, the buildup to Venara takes up most of the story, leaving little for what happens after Monica gets there.
“The Wall” by Rhea Rose
This eponymous wall is a monster that devours animals and people. The wall moves of its own volition and regurgitates soggy remains of its meals. While a mother is smashing wine bottles against the concrete garage floor, she loses her baby to the wall. Afterward, she attends a postpartum support group. Learning that others have also seen and lost loved ones to the wall helps her decide to go into the wall and get her baby back. The good news is that she is eventually able to get into the wall. To share the bad news would be to give away the story.
“2020 Vision” by Lisa Smedman
The Church of Spock is alive and well. Abe, who accidentally founded the church, is visited by a believer. Reluctant to receive visitors, Abe wants to ignore his fellow on his stoop. Against his better judgement, he admits the young man, Sonny, who explains that he is there to kill Abe because of a story Abe wrote. Abe persuades Sonny to give him the opportunity to talk his way out of being killed. Sonny listens, then takes things to their logical (pun intended) conclusion. This story about logic and belief is not a typical piece of fan fiction.
“Why Pete?” by Timothy Reynolds
When Lieutenant Colonel Lillian Bianca Rayn, Commander of the International Space Ark Mayhew is awakened from deep sleep, the first voice she hears is her hated ex-husband Pete’s. She realizes that it is the AI speaking to her and putting her through the series of tests she must pass before she can be released from the pod. Things do not go according to plan. In fact, once she is out of the pod, she learns that she is the only survivor on the ship and must continue her mission alone. Though we never learn the answer to the titular question, this is a fun story with nods to Gordon Lightfoot and George Carlin, and Tuckerization of Justin Bieber.
“Bird Bones” by Megan Fennell
Thirteen-year-old Charlie Feyton knows that there is no such thing as a monster under the bed. In his household, the monster is kept in the shed. This monster is named Isaac and is an “improved” boy with wings. Charlie’s father is the one who made Isaac’s modifications. After an uproar where authorities find other monsters living in a neighborhood shed, Charlie’s father hides Isaac in the house. Once Charlie stops observing Isaac and starts paying attention to him, Charlie realizes that there is more to Isaac than his father has told him. This is a feel-good piece with a young adult protagonist.
“Bedtime Story” by Rhonda Parrish
Clara hides in the closet with her goose-necked lamp and listens to her one-armed doll, Laura, tell a story. In Laura’s tale, vultures steal children from their homes and enslave them. As Laura’s story continues, Clara, the lamp, and even the slippers and hangers, grow scared. When Clara’s mother finds them and puts Clara to bed, we learn why Clara has reason to be afraid. A simple but effective story.
“Graveyard Shift” by Holly Schofield
At the age of twenty-four, Ryan Leong has completed his PhD in Education and become qualified to teach. Because the world has changed, making brick and mortar education institutions obsolete, he is in debt with no job prospects. To top it off, his mother just died. Understandably desperate, Ryan breaks into a cemetery to pay his respects to his long-dead grandfather. Ryan hopes for some insight about what to do. Though it is a decent enough story, were it not for the high-tech headstones and the cemetery’s sterile plastic fauna, there would be no speculative elements here.
“The Path of Souls” by Edward Willett
A traveler meets a human woman on an alien planet in the “City of Light and Death.” She tells him how she comes to be there. Twenty years ago, her now-deceased male companion accidentally destroyed one of the aliens’ soul-lanterns. For his crime, the aliens took his life. She has remained here all this time waiting for the constellations to align precisely as they were at the time of his death so that she can release his soul to its final rest. Told from the first person POV, this is a simple story with no surprises.
“Sin A Squay” by David Jón Fuller
When Marion’s sister, Jenny, comes to live with her, their reunion wakens something evil from their shared past at a parochial school. That something, a sin a squay or leech that feeds on human energy much like a vampire does, kidnaps Jenny to get Marion’s attention. The cultural canvas upon which this story is painted enhances what might otherwise be no more than a revenge story with supernatural overtones.
“Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost” by Mark Leslie
Patrick Collins is not just any ghost; he is over 500 years old and has many renowned parts to his credit. He has played the London Tower, Theatre Royal, and Drury Lane. That, however, was in his heyday. Nowadays, he is little more than an ectoplasmic has-been who is well past his prime. Still, the thrill of the theatre is strong in Patrick and he is not ready to lay down his laurels and relegate himself to a quiet and unsatisfying afterlife. This is a fun story about how Patrick negotiates his next contract.
“Anywhere” by Alyxandra Harvey
The day the bloodbirds come for Tashi, her warrior family does not fight back. Instead, dressed in the white of mourning, they turn their backs on her and let the Sultana’s Riders take her away to an uncertain future. At her new home in the catacombs, among others who have various forms of magic, some of it untried and useless, Tashi makes friends with an older man, Declan. He is a truth-dreamer and rescues her from a challenge circle because he believes she will lead him to his lost love. When Tashi discovers her magical gift and its anchor, she learns that “fighting” and “fighting back” are not the same thing. This is a story about coming into one’s own.
“Secret Recipes” by Costi Gurgu
Without his Master’s permission, Morminiu has upgraded the Recipear’s network with a new storage unit that was acquired under suspicious circumstances. When Morminiu finds the new unit gone and the old units corrupted beyond repair on the same day that he is to take his own final examination in his field, he has to find the stolen unit and pass his grueling exam at the same time. This is a test that is as much magic and spider oil as it is luck. And the thieves are no pushovers. The title here refers to more than the Recipear’s database. Unfortunately, the phrils and vyrs and other alien terms convolute what could have been an easy read.
“Star Severer” by Ben Godby
John Mueller destroys planets for a living. Searching out Terretics throughout the galaxy, he is the triggerman who sets the machinery in motion that will kill billions of people, even though some of them have never heard of Earth. After each mission, Mueller’s mind is wiped and he is sent out to kill again. When he finally decides he’s had enough, Mueller alerts his superiors that he wants to retire after his current job and be sent to some far-off solar system to retire. This story brings to mind a mash-up of Total Recall and The Bourne Identity.
“The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” by Dave Beynon
After a while, William, a loner who has taken a job as a lighthouse keeper, gets lonely and sends off for a mail-order bride. Meirong arrives in 1906. She is fresh off the boat from China and speaks little English. William does not know what to do. Things right themselves, and the marriage takes—each spouse learning a little about the other’s language and ways. Too short a time later, consumption takes Meirong. William is distraught. A chance encounter with an oiler gives him a magic balm purported to bring the dead back to life. This is predictable like a holiday that you know is coming, but can still surprise you.
“Graffiti Borealis” by Lisa Poh
Unlike Cole in The Sixth Sense, Daniel does not see dead people. Instead, this Malaysian who has relocated to Canada sees graffiti. And the graffiti is alive and in need of help only Daniel can give. Initially unwilling, Daniel eventually offers his assistance. This is a lukewarm story that paints Daniel as a reluctant hero. The ending, however, resonates with a reality to which many can relate.
“Team Leader 2040” by Catherine Austen
In this dystopian future, the poor and elderly consider themselves lucky to have jobs pretending to be zombies and having people pay to shoot them with taserballs. The narrator is a refugee who has landed a job as a Team Leader—a coordinator for customers who have come to celebrate or recreate by shooting those less fortunate than themselves. As with most things in life, some customers play fair; others, like the rich father and son here who consider themselves superior to the “refuse,” believe the rules do not apply to them. This story capitalizes on the sins of –isms—nationalism, classism, and racism in particular—and paints an exaggerated picture of haves vs. have-nots.
“Sand Hill” by Elise Moser
This may or may not be a story about a boy and a girl who find each other early in life because they both have dreams that feel more real than their everyday reality. It might or might not be a tale about what happens to them as they grow up and grow closer. It could or could not be telling us about their transformation from human to avian. The reason for the uncertainty is that the story goes on overlong about the mundane day-to-day stuff and only at the end shows its speculative colors. The truth of the story must be taken from the clues offered in the everyday—much like a scavenger hunt. This is one for those who enjoy unraveling their stories.
“The Ripping” by Vincent Grant Perkins
Donna begins this story as a hoarder who goes out scavenger hunting on cleanup day. During her hunt, she finds an interesting item that she later—after noticing the magical (and erotic) effects it has on her—decides is a man-skin. With a feeling that her life is about to change, she stores it in the guitar case under her bed, though she must first remove the instrument. When she goes out again the next day, she finds two woman-skins. She brings these home and begins to feel that trio of skins—not her World of Warcraft-obsessed husband, her married daughter who is there to watch out for Donna, or her drug-addicted daughter—are her family. Feeling inspired and happy, she throws back the blinds to let the sunshine in and cleans out her house of everything she has collected. This is not enough. The end of this story wraps it up nicely by bringing it full circle and explaining something that might not have been clear otherwise.
“Pique Assiette” by Catherine MacLeod
The female protagonist here, whose first name we never learn, has the magic that runs on her mother’s side of the family. This is magic with which they can also kill. Theirs is an ability to do an exorcism of unwanted memories. They subtly encourage visitors who seek them out without knowing why to talk. As the visitors talk, they cry. Never do they seem to notice that their tears are collected. Always, they feel better after the visit. When a serial killer slaughters her aunt and tries to kill her, the protagonist survives and leaves town. That her decision at the end is unknown makes this a worthwhile read instead of an open-and-shut case.
“Everybody Wins” by Rachel Cooper
What would you do if a colored sphere hovered about two feet in front of you and its metallic voice kept repeating, “Touch me and win twenty thousand dollars?” That is exactly what the people in this story did with millions of spheres that appeared around the world offering everything from $20,000 to world peace—all to be delivered sixty days out. An expected uptick in the news is followed by conspiracy theories as things play out. The story is told by someone who did not win in the first round.
“In the Bubble” by William Meikle
To help solve a murder, Rogers relives the victim’s memories through the victim’s dying biote—a symbiont that sits on the back of your neck, feeding on your blood and memories through a “feeder slipped painlessly into the bloodstream, sensor into the medulla oblongata.” After receiving the memories, Rogers starts seeing things that happened to the biote’s host. While what he observes causes strained interactions with some, his visions do their duty in helping to resolve the crime. This is a simple, speculative whodunit.
“Hermione and Me” by Dwain Campbell
Despite its title, this is not Harry Potter fan fiction. Rather, it is the story of an eight-year-old girl genius, Meredith, who has the ability to make literary beings such as Gollum, Sherlock Holmes, James T. Kirk, and Hermione Granger come to life. One night when her mother and father are fighting, Mom sleeping on the couch and Dad out drinking somewhere, aliens come to abduct Mom. It is up to Meredith and Hermione to save Mom. Quickly pulling together a plan that makes the best use of Meredith’s talent, they enact a daring rescue. The plethora of adjectives here verge on purple prose. However, there are also some nice twists.
“Blizzard Warning” by Jason Barrett
This is a speculative fiction version of those stories in which the main character is warned against doing something. “Blizzard’s coming soon. Don’t even look outside when it comes. It’s dangerous. This is no ordinary blizzard. Stay inside and don’t even look at it.” Though it is issued by someone in the know, the character disregards the warning and predictably suffers the consequences of his own stupidity.
“M.E.L.” by Dianne Homan
On Perfect Planet A (P.P.A.), people are known by their three-letter call signs. There is enough discussion to fill in background on the call signs’ significance before we get into the story proper—that of M.E.L., a prepubescent girl who is at odds with her perfect environment. Her deviance and rebellion begins innocently enough. Why a culture would frown upon people removing their foot coverings and enjoying the feeling of their own bare soles against the ground is curious. When M.E.L. starts adventuring in areas that are considered off limits, she finds herself yearning for more. Eventually, she runs away from perfection and begins “My Experimental Life.” M.E.L.’s encountering a male counterpart near the end of the story, with the obvious insinuation that these two could eventually become lovers, feels forced and mars an otherwise enjoyable read.
“The Calligrapher’s Daughter” by Patricia Robertson
The calligrapher’s daughter is set in the sixteenth century and tells the tale of a young Islamic woman who is born with a talent for calligraphy. Her sonless father takes her on as an apprentice. In time, her skill grows so much that she is commissioned to produce a Qur’an for the Sultan himself. After the Sultan receives the holy book, he sends for the daughter and asks her why a particular surah blazes out of the book at him. She cannot answer. The Sultan orders that though she is free to roam the grounds, she cannot leave until she can answer his question. From there, the story is about her search for that answer and her accompanying freedom. This tale does well at covering the subject of religion without becoming religious. The rich cultural details here balance the dearth of speculative bona fides.
Cyd Athens indulges a speculative fiction addiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W.