Morpheus Tales VIII, April 2010

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“The Return” by Eric S. Brown
“When All The Bricks From The Morning Are Once Again Found” by J. W. Barber
“The Last Human” by Thomas Henry Dylan
“Hoodoo Woman’s Desire” by Willie Smith
“Lucy’s Wolf” by Simon Addams
“The End” by Kevin Brown
“The Middle Zone” by P. H. L. Svensson
“Final Justice” by Barbra Annino
“New Eden” by John M. Radosta
“The Colours Behind The World” by David Brookes
“Empty Vessels” by Aaron Polson

Reviewed by Maggie Jamison

Issue #8 of Morpheus Tales opens with Eric S. Brown’s “The Return,” a grim end-of-days story about a man who must come to terms with the rage he still carries toward the man who killed his wife in a drunk-driving accident. It’s a short and painful tale with a sympathetic if somewhat stock main character, that explores the true price of hatred.

“When All The Bricks From The Morning Are Once Again Found,” by J. W. Barber, is styled as a near-future thriller, in which Semele, an advertising contractor for a company that has developed a brand new form of transportation that will make all current forms of transportation obsolete, is held hostage by terrorists intent on shutting the company down. This story isn’t for the faint of heart, the emotional and physical trauma Semele receives is central to the story, but her plight does make it easy to care for her. I do wish Barber had taken a little more time to build up a sense of the world Semele lives in, however as it’s not particularly necessary to the plot, it’s understandable why the author chose not to spend too much time on it.

In Thomas Henry Dylan’s tale, “The Last Human,” an unnamed narrator emerges from a nuclear-fallout bunker to find the world around him very much changed from the world in the movies he’s watched and the world in his father’s stories during the life-long span of his protective isolation. I’ve seen stories that begin the way “The Last Human” does, however Dylan takes the story in a direction more focused on what it means to be considered human than on post-fallout civilization. The story’s pacing meanders from event to event, and there are times when scenes feel a little thin, but it was a pleasant if not particularly memorable read.

Willie Smith’s “Hoodoo Woman’s Desire” is a bizarre, sexually-charged SF tale in which insurance investigator Robert Dada visits the estranged wife of a famous porn movie producer after the man’s mysterious fall from an office window. Filled with sexual innuendo, a missing tongue, a windowless mansion, and a whole lot of weird science, “Hoodoo Woman’s Desire” was an interesting trip into the Bizarro genre, with it’s strangeness being front and center. It’s an enjoyable if somewhat unnerving read.

“Lucy’s Wolf,” by Simon Addams, is a dark fantasy in which Lucy meets the man of her dreams, only to find out he’s a shape shifter. This is a predictable story; however, the ending had substantially more emotional impact than I anticipated, which was a pleasant surprise.

Kevin Brown’s contribution, “The End,” is violent realism about the murder of a young boy by his unequivocally evil step-mother, who hates him perhaps in part because she cannot have children of her own after a previous teen abortion. I’m afraid this story didn’t work for me, mainly due to the black-and-white set up of the hero verses foe. It seems as though Brown has tried to make the step-mother character sympathetic—or at least pitiable—but the story as a whole comes off as a justification of why she deserved to die, which felt too cookie-cutter for me to enjoy or to gain any new perspective on the issues discussed.

“The Middle Zone,” by P. H .L. Svensson, is an SF-fable set on a sun-synchronous planet, and follows Geezer as he decides to move to the Light Side, governed by the joyous Lord of Light, after spending his whole life on the Dark Side, under the ambivalent rule of the Prince of Darkness. The philosophical analogy played out in this story is by no means subtle, but it is an interesting take on morality.   

In Barbra Annino’s brutal, revenge-style story, “Final Justice,” a young, unnamed main character longs for the end of his uncle Mick’s brutal reign over himself and the dogs his uncle breeds and freely kills. This one may not be for everyone, given the merciless portrayal of animal abuse, despite the fact that the perpetrator of the violence is clearly evil and deserving of the fate he receives. Being a revenge story, the ending isn’t a surprise. The manner of its resolution will either leave readers impressed or confused by the lengths Annino goes to in order to show how the main character will escape blame.

“New Eden,” by John M. Radosta, is a cautionary, legend-style tale in which the unnamed main character driving Route 66 comes across an old man in the road and decides to stop and talk a while about the washed-out bridge that blocks his way. The pacing of this story was a little too slow for me, as it is told primarily through the old man’s dialogue, and therefore made it a bit difficult to feel engaged. However, the idea the story is wrapped around is thoughtful, and may linger in the reader’s mind for a while after reading it.

“The Colours Behind the World,” by David Brookes, is a high fantasy set in the world of deserts, shahs, and mystics, and follows the Shah’s Oracle in her visions as she attempts to find the one woman in the kingdom who can bear the aging Shah a holy son. At it’s heart is the question: What justifies a sacrifice? Although this story has some painful imagery, the character of the Oracle is well-developed and her struggles easily won my loyalty and sympathy.  

Aaron Polson’s “Empty Vessels” is a modern-day horror story set in the bayou and the Gulf of Mexico after a disastrous flood has drowned hundreds of local people. Elroy Jantz, a boatman who occasionally contracted for shrimp companies, is drafted along with many other small boatmen to retrieve the water-logged bodies from the waters. This was one of the gems of this issue and made for a strong finish. The imagery is dark, but unique, and the development of the reader’s understanding of Elroy’s past is revealed carefully, without stunting the pace of the story.

Overall, this issue is very satisfying. Only one or two tales just didn’t sit well with me, and—as with all compilations of multiple authors—some stories are better composed than others. However, this issue provided a number of unique and thoughtful stories, and provided an enjoyable mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

The Morpheus Tales website can be found here.