“The Sum of His Parts” by Kevin J. Anderson
“The End of Crazy” by Katherine Sparrow
“The Gunslinger of Chelem” by Lavie Tidhar
“Locked In” by Mary Robinette Kowal
“Projector” by Daniel LeMoal
“At the 24-Hour” by William F. Nolan
“Pyramus and Thisbe” by Jeremy Adam Smith
“Sufficiently Advanced” by Bev Vincent
“Don’t Show Your Teeth” by Rob D. Smith
Kevin J. Anderson brings more character depth to Frankenstein in “The Sum of His Parts” by giving the stories of the people whose body parts made up the Frankenstein monster. The build-up is slow but soon speeds up to a crescendo at the end, and the way each character’s story is interconnected is both a stroke of genius and very believable for a small village setting.
“The End of Crazy” by Katherine Sparrow is a dark tale with its share of twists. Allison and Flip, two paranoid delusional schizophrenic lovers, decide to get off the medication that has allegedly made them “better,” and they soon fall victim to a psychological horror-fest. But is what they’re witnessing just in their heads, or is it actually real? Sparrow keeps you guessing all the way until the end, and even then, this reader wasn’t certain. She makes you sympathize with both characters as they go through their own personal hells then slams you with a twist that, while a logical progression to the story, still makes you go, “Whoa! No way!”
What can I say about “The Gunslinger of Chelem” by Lavie Tidhar, other than "read it"? In a world where people can kill each other in dreams, Raphael specializes in hunting down and bringing to justice such killers. But this time around, he’s dealing with a dreamer whose dream-self is a gunslinger in a dreamscape completely in his control. Will Raphael persevere, and if so, how? An engaging tale that leaves you reminiscing about certain old Westerns, I found it to be quite humorous.
“Locked In” by Mary Robinette Kowal is a dark and serious piece of flash fiction that’ll disturb readers on any side of the “Pro-Life/Pro-Death” issue. The story is emotionally engaging, provocative, and leaves you thinking. A fine read that I highly recommend, but only to those who haven’t had to go through such ordeals in recent months.
“Projector” by Daniel LeMoal is like an SF crime drama with a horrific twist. LeMoal hooks you in, lets you think you know what the story is about, and then shows you just how wrong you are. Andrew Jessop, a 26-year-old drug addict, owes Mr. Nospharrat money, a debt Nospharrat is happy to “forgive” if Andy does a little favor: kill a former associate named Keeney, a psychic projector. With the help of three others, Andy is reluctantly determined to do just that in order to pay off his debt and get his next fix. But then things get twisted. A very enjoyable read.
“At the 24-Hour” by William F. Nolan is a flash piece about a man who enters a coffee shop and then reveals the type of monstrous person he is. The story is well-written, and the characterization is competent, but overall, there’s not much that makes this story stand out. If anything, it reads more like the prologue to a longer tale, since there’s no conflict or resolution of any kind. For readers who love to get into the psychological make-up of an evil mind, this story is recommended. But for readers looking for a little story to their stories, perhaps another tale will be better.
“Pyramus and Thisbe” by Jeremy Adam Smith is a dark, futuristic tale inspired by the myths of the Greek Underworld. Pyramus, an android disguised as a human, comes to the port of Eusapia, a city whose inhabitants are fearful of androids (and for good reason, considering the back history). He falls in love with the human woman, Thisbe, who then commits suicide when she discovers what Pyramus truly is. And so a mourning and obsessed Pyramus undergoes a quest to enter the city’s Underworld-ish mirror image in search of his lost love’s soul.
Smith delves deep into the emotion called love and also reveals its tragic shallow flaws when that emotion is driven by false assumptions. Overall, a strong story, even when Smith sometimes falls away from showing and goes into telling mode. But in this, I think he does so on purpose to give the tale an authentic, mythic feel. Possibly the best and most meaningful story in this issue, and well worth the read, despite its length.
Next is “Sufficiently Advanced” by Bev Vincent. What can I really say about this short piece other than it’s ironic in its macabre humor while also poignant in its meaning? Henry, an astronaut, crash-lands on a planet full of primitives capable of magic abilities such as teleporting. I can’t say more without spoiling the story, so I’ll just say this instead: read it.
“Don’t Show Your Teeth” by Rob D. Smith is another brief story with a macabre twist. And it all revolves around a pair of false teeth from a vampire movie. The problem is the fuzziness of Nik’s motivation. If I knew why he was so obsessed over those teeth, I might have enjoyed it more. There’s great dialogue and characterization, and enough of a hook to keep the reader interested. But where’s the motivation? Maybe I missed it…
Or maybe there’s something about those teeth! Oh great, now I’m obsessing over them.
Smith weaves a good story—one you might start obsessing over if you’re not careful.
“Sonorous” by Paul Abbamondi is about attracting the beast with music, but not in the way you’d want to. I often grit my teeth when reading a story in second person present, but it does seem to be an effective device with flash fiction pieces like Abbamondi’s tale. A short and sweet read. Well, sweet in a sick and twisted kind of way.
Note: “Cain XP 11: The Voice of Thy Brother’s Blood” by Geoffrey Girard is part one of a four-part serial, and thus I won’t review it here. However, I found the first part to be quite interesting and enjoyable and felt the need to at least mention it.