On Spec #117, September 2021
“The Next Waltz” by Mike Rimar
“Grandpa’s Eye on the Afterlife” by Chris Kuriata
“Capricorn Games” by Robert Silverberg (reprint, not reviewed)
“Sugar Moths” by Danielle Burnette
“Flies in the Fibres” by Roxanne Klimek
“Rec and Dec” by Andy W. Taylor
“Elesa’s Eyes” by Elizabeth Whitton
“Little Wild Girls” by Halle Gulbrandsen
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
In addition to seven new works of fiction and a classic story from a Grand Master of science fiction, this issue offers poetry, art, and interviews.
In “The Next Waltz” by Mike Rimar, the narrator suffers from intractable pain as well as a sense of failure, and contemplates suicide. An encounter with a street musician in a subway station leads to an unexpected meeting with a stranger, and a new life for the narrator.
As this synopsis may suggest, the speculative content is very subtle, and the story might be thought of as mainstream fiction. There are slight hints that the musician and the stranger are something other than just ordinary people, but this is quite ambiguous. In any case, the work has emotional appeal, but some readers may find the narrator too self-pitying to be sympathetic.
The narrator of “Grandpa’s Eye on the Afterlife” by Chris Kuriata replaces her own eye with that of her dead grandfather. (When he was alive, he placed his eye in her socket, and she was able to see things through his vision.) She sees an attractive world beyond the grave, but when she gives the eye to her sister, it terrifies the other girl.
There is little to this brief story other than its bizarre premise. The difference in the way the two sisters view the afterlife adds a touch of irony.
In “Sugar Moths” by Danielle Burnette, the narrator suffers from insomnia after the death of a loved one. A visit to a diner in the middle of the night allows the narrator to sleep after a friendly waitress offers a delicious dessert, as she does to other insomniac customers. After a violent incident at the diner, a supernatural encounter offers the narrator a chance to recover from mourning.
For the most part, this is a gentle fantasy, mingling quiet melancholy with renewed hope. The scene of violence changes the mood drastically, which some readers may find disconcerting.
“Flies in the Fibres” by Roxanne Klimek takes place in a rural area that has been placed under strict quarantine after a viral plague infects the livestock, rendering the meat unfit to eat. After using up all available sources of food, the residents face the choice of death by starvation or eating the infected meat, which is guaranteed to kill them. The two main characters make use of even more extreme measures to survive.
This is a gruesome, visceral horror story, intended for readers with strong stomachs. The actions of the two protagonists seem grotesquely outrageous, even for persons desperate for food. The presence of a deadly virus, and severe government measures in response to it, may suggest some political intent on the part of the author. (The characters speculate that the plague and the quarantine are government plots to exterminate them.) Even if this is the case, however, the main purpose of the story, it seems, is to terrify the reader.
In “Rec and Dec” by Andy W. Taylor, a disgraced space worker has to prove her worth by accepting a low-level job and training a rookie. Their job is to remove snail-like alien pests from a derelict spaceship. The task proves to be much more dangerous than expected.
Once the two main characters discover what awaits them inside the vessel, the story turns into a typical science fiction monster yarn, more appropriate to the cinema than the written word. Fans of films like Alien are likely to enjoy it, while others might wish for something more original.
“Elesa’s Eyes” by Elizabeth Whitton takes place in a high-tech, dystopian world with the flavor of cyberpunk. A combination of innate talent, technology, and drugs allow some people to become relentless trackers, able to locate their targets with extraordinary skill, or die in the process. One such person, having lost a lover to the early death that nearly always claims trackers, accepts an assignment to find the missing brother of the dead tracker’s relative. The hunt leads the tracker to a dangerous foe, and a discovery about the relative.
This grim, action-packed thriller offers a combination of brooding emotion and violent battle. The hardboiled but sentimental protagonist is appealing, but the antagonist is less fully developed, coming across as nothing more than a one-dimensional villain.
In “Little Wild Girls” by Halle Gulbrandsen, female children act like animals until they reach the age of nineteen, at which time they become fully civilized ladies. The narrator, who has already seen her eldest sister change in this way, goes on a trip with another older sister, who is about to grow up, for one last chance to share their childhood.
This is much more of a character study than a plot-driven story, as the somewhat less animal-like narrator envies her more feral sister, and mourns for the impending loss of her wildness. An interview following the story makes it clear that the author uses the fantastic premise to explore gender roles and violence against women. The story can also be read as a metaphor for the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Whether or not readers interpret the story as feminist, or as an allegory for the pain of growing up, they are likely to want to know more about these characters, and how they will deal with adulthood.
Victoria Silverwolf is not a Capricorn.