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Into the Yellow and Other Stories by Barbara Davies
Posted byDonna Watkins
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"Into the Yellow"
"Cordie and the Merman"
"Caverns of the Heart"
"Journey to Niskor"
"Time and the Maid"
"A Question of Gender"
"The House on the Via Aurelia"
"Dog and Kat"
"The Creature in the Cut"
Into the Yellow and Other Stories by Barbara Davies sends the reader on a journey through raging seas, tormented minds, hyperborean lands, and otherworldly realms. She uses every chicanery at her disposal including POV changes, alliteration, and similitudes. While her style is unconventional and her voice singed by sarcasm, Davies plies the English language and tames it into submission. Her writing is vivid and clear, bringing the story into focus with bright colors and sharp images. While I did not agree with some of the themes here, they were, overall, exceptionally presented.
Each story ends with a brief afterword in which she divulges where she got the inspiration for it, and thereby shedding new light on the offerings. “Into the Yellow” refers to a deadly haze that has engulfed a tribe of lizard-like inhabitants’ home. Kesho is young, ready to become an adult. She dreams of doing what no other being in her tribe has done—fly through the Yellow and see what’s there . . . or not there. Rumors fly about those who have passed into it and never came back. The older ones don’t wish to discuss it at all; the young ones urge her to try.
“Lone Wolf” scared the blue blazes out of me. It starts with a confusing action scene that keeps the reader in as much darkness as the unwary character being chased through a shadowy parking lot. Tarian is as careless as she is brave. Ignoring the rules and orders of her supervisors, she sets out to hunt classic monsters living in modern times who feast on commuters and complacent nightshift workers. Tarian is driven to rid the world of these creatures and driven as well by a streak of the very monster she hunts living within her. While the story is reminiscent of the Blade movies, the author puts her own twist on it.
“Morris Dancing” is a dark comedy with an open ending. A boy meets a dragon in a meadow. What follows is the untimely death of one and the phenomenal escape of the other. Short and to the point.
In “Cordie and the Merman,” a woman occupies a role usually held by a man: a swordfish boat captain. Cordie lives in a masculine world, but she is unprepared for what she meets. While accustomed to the unpredictability of the sea, this time it throws her a real whopper, and she must make a decision. She can either make her crew happy and do what they suggest, or follow her sea-weathered heart and do the right thing.
In “Caverns of the Heart,” Mira is a young girl doomed to a life in the mines, digging minerals from the bowels of the Earth for her masters. One day, she discovers something she is not willing to share with her pedagogue, and it leads her on a journey that will change her view of her world.
“Babalawo’s Drum” will be music to the ears of anyone who is a horror fan. Young Rob is thrust into servitude after his father’s death. His master is kind and spares the lash, but the horrible secret Rob discovers about him twists everything the boy knows about humankind.
“High Flier” takes off slowly with a lot of dialogue that doesn’t go anywhere. The new man in a space-age conveyance company, Jeff is confronted by flirty girls and gritty old men, but his biggest challenge awaits him. If only he can break away from the stigma of his past and bear the yoke of the new title propelled on him.
“Journey to Niskor” is evocative of Jack London‘s wildlife adventures. While not as polished or refined as other stories here, as an avid animal lover, especially of dogs, I was willing to overlook that, although I would have liked to have heard more about the dogs instead of the self-absorbed Viro. He is a healer and has hired a musher and her snow-dog team to take him to Niskor where his services are needed. Here, again, Davies presents a woman in a profession traditionally occupied exclusively by men as Viro and the musher face the typical obstacles of dog-sledding in the Arctic—animal care, unusual ways to stay warm, the unforgiving cold and wilderness. Both learn life lessons and share their extraordinary gifts before the end.
“Time and the Maid” is a work of historical fiction featuring Joan of Arc. Professor Williams has invented a time machine and he wants to be sure it’s safe before presenting it to his supervisors at the university. But thanks to a guileless lab assistant, the secret is out. Not only that, but the assistant changed the outcome of a well-known historical event, and now the professor has to make it right. In keeping with the familiar time travel trope, his attempts to fix the mistake are to no avail. But unlike the expected trope outcome, his finale is quite extraordinary.
“Throwback” is the coming-of-age story of a young vampire, Milos. Milos needs to come to grips with the fact that he will never be a proper vampire. It’s the source of much teasing and distress, but one day, his shortcoming becomes his asset. This is a little tame for a monster tale; the biggest adventure Milos and his blood-sucking friends find is a county fair. The author claims this to be the least fantastic of the collection, and I agree.
With “A Question of Gender,” Davies pays tribute to a late friend by using an idea they worked on together. In this sci-fi mystery involving strange, brutal creatures and the benign scientists who study them, the scientists get a wake-up call when they try to interfere with the alien culture under their supervision. Reminiscent of the 1951 movie, The Thing from Another World, it’s an exciting read.
“The House on the Via Aurelia” is set in ancient Rome, prompting me to try to remember what I knew about Roman mythology. Quintus is a quiet and ordered Lar, or lead household spirit. His easy life is interrupted by the arrival of a family ghost, Decimus whose traitorous and deceitful nature proves unbearable for Quintus. Something has to give. In providing a fresh look at the culture of spirits, ghosts, and gods of the Romans, the family of characters exhibited too much of the modern for me. The supernaturals sounded like they were conversing in the neighborhood coffee shop instead of in ancient times.
“Dog and Kat” is riddled with sexuality and inhumane cruelty, and it sent me reeling. Two POV’s give us a glimpse into the erratic life of an artist, Heather: her dog, with an enhanced intellect, and Heather’s business-associate-turned-lover, Kathryn. I found the sex to be gratuitous and out of place here, doing nothing to further the plot except insert some tension. Although there are parts of the dog’s viewpoint which struck me as poignant. He looks at one of her paintings and cannot figure out the abstract lines, indefinite shapes, and bright colors. If only his mistress would paint baskets and dog treats and cats, then he could make something of it. However, he loves the paintings anyway because his mistress made them. Then the story takes a dark turn, and a ghastly event takes this story beyond what this reader considers the realm of good taste and judgment. It took a great deal of self-persuasion to finish this one.
“The Creature in the Cut” follows a standard monster-dredged-from-the center-of-the-Earth trope. A band of boatpeople fear a creature from another dimension has taken over their tunnel, their only route to the open sea, when the father and sons of one family are found dead. The discovery of their dead is met with little emotion, and they decide to kill the creature using a beloved animal companion as bait to lure it into the open. While I was unenthusiastic about the monster from another world angle, but despite that, “The Creature in the Cut” is a charming tale of grit and good versus evil.
“Demonsbane” is a lurid story of supernatural sex and demon killing. Regen is the manager of a rock band, Demonsbane, which appears to be their job as well as their name. Brad is a mere mortal swept up into their world of debauchery. While I appreciated his dilemma, I had a hard time sympathizing with him since he came across as a brainwashed slave with no redeeming qualities. Regen is the strong character, and it’s hard to tell if she is the good guy or the bad guy.
Barbara Davies has been described as a writer of "offbeat fiction" by Christina Francine Whitcher and also as “cheeky and absorbing” by Trevor Denyer, and I agree. Her stories shock the mind and leave the reader reeling. Her work isn’t for everyone, but for those who appreciate her brand of storytelling, this collection will be a delight.