Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Barnett, The Dark Between the Trees (2022)

Fiona Barnett, The Dark Between the Trees. Solaris, 2022. Pp. 350. ISBN 978-1-78618-797-0. $24.99/£15.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

As a Canadian, coming to England has been an interesting experience. Much of Canada’s history prior to the arrival of the European settlers has been forgotten or deliberately lost. So coming to a country where we can walk freely through Neolithic ruins and 2000 year old Roman coins are routinely dug from the river mud is… odd. It is a place that is rife with mystery and secrets—and the potential for horror.

The Dark Between the Trees opens with a group of five academics making their way to an ancient woodland. They are there searching for the remains of a troop of 17th century soldiers who disappeared within its boundaries. The historical record describes the Parliamentarian battalion fleeing from an ambush, battered and demoralised, and then experiencing impossible horrors. Disappearing and reappearing landmarks, changing light… and the inescapable feeling of something following them. Two men deserted, and managed to stumble their way out of the woods and into the nearest village, where their strange story was written down into history. Their companions were never seen again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Penumbric #V.6 (April 2022)

Penumbric Speculative Fiction Mag, ed. Jeff Georgeson. Vol v issue 6 (April 2022). Online at penumbric.com.

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

The April “2k22” issue, entitled “Experimental Realms,” completes the second full year of publication of Penumbric following a fifteen-year hiatus. “Experimental Realms” is also one of Penumbric magazine’s roughly annual special “art and prose” issues. There is certainly no shortage of either (plus poetry) in the issue; 78 numbered pages thick, it features nine speculative fiction tales, six poems, and, including the cover, seven works of art as well as panels and notes relating to the webcomic Mondo Mecho.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Saxey, Lost in the Archives (2022)

E. Saxey, Lost in the Archives. Lethe Press, 2022. Pp. 220. ISBN 978-1-59021-723-8. $16.00.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

“Archives” is a surprisingly bendy term these days, currently popular as an academic theory of textual collection and collation that has staggeringly little to do with the reality of physical materials hosted in libraries, records offices, and various institutions. As an actual archivist who spends real time up to her elbows in odds and ends in various levels of process, it’s a topic I can get a bit cranky about. E. Saxey, author of Lost in the Archives, is a queer academic who clearly knows the feeling; their debut collection spans the past, present, and future, this plane and other planes, and gracefully and effortlessly bounces between soft romance, cynical academia, and both hope and pessimism for our cloudy future.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Wolford (ed.), Mothers of Enchantment (2022)

Kate Wolford (ed.), Mothers of Enchantment: New Tales of Fairy Godmothers. World Weaver Press, 2022. Pp. 217. ISBN 978-1-7340-5456-9. $15.95 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Julie Reeser

The best part of fairy tales for me isn’t the reversal of fortunes or the justice delivered. For me, it’s always been the slantwise magic that follows rules we can’t see—an early form of magical realism wherein the burdened and despairing characters find relief. This wild magic often arrived in the form of a fairy godmother, subverting the ill-fated mothers and scary stepmothers sprinkled like blood stains over the pages. The fairy godmother feels deserved and arbitrary at the same time, allowing a reader centuries in the future to believe that they, too, might one day be magicked into a gorgeous gown and a happily ever after. And as Wolford points out in her introduction, “many people transform our lives with simple generosity and kindness.” We all have that magic within us.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Mythaxis #29 (Spring 2022)

Mythaxis Magazine, ed. Andrew Leon Hudson. Issue #29 (Spring 2022). Online at mythaxis.co.uk.

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

Mythaxis Magazine, if you haven’t previously had the pleasure, is currently a quarterly online magazine of speculative fiction that feels like a glimpse into the internet we could have had, had we not allowed it to turn into a virtual shopping mall, a brewer of bullying, and a weaponized spreader of disinformation. Free to read and free from advertisements, Mythaxis is a labor of love that will take you strange places and feed you amazing ideas just because excellence is an excellent endeavor. The stories that Mythaxis serves as a portal to are exactly the sorts of stories you hope you would be true enough to your ideals to produce, if you had that kind of talent. Or, at least that’s how it feels to me. People with talent should be doing great things with it, not just the same old thing, averagely, already done by everyone else.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Henry, The Quarter Storm (2022)

Veronica G. Henry, The Quarter Storm (Mambo Reina #1). 47North, 2022. Pp. 287. ISBN 978-1-54203-391-6. $13.49.

Reviewed by Julie Reeser

Veronica G. Henry is not from New Orleans and does not practice Vodou, but she consulted experts for both, and this careful consideration shines in details and authorial voice in her mystery novel The Quarter Storm. Unlike many past representations of Vodou, Henry focuses on the history and faith, and leaves the fetishization behind. This second book is a departure for Henry from the dark fantasy of an evil carnival, and instead brings characters who could easily be found during a walk through your city, and a murder that feels ripped from the headlines. (I originally assumed this book was self-published due to the surprisingly neutral and forgettable cover for the ebook; 47North turns out to be an imprint of Amazon Publishing, and they offer their acquistions through Kindle Unlimited—which is how I found it—as well as paperback and audio editions.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Pampuro, Wish List and Other Stories (2022)

Amanda Pampuro, Wish List and Other Stories. Alien Buddha Press, 2022. Pp. 107. ISBN 979-8-78138-337-5. $10.44.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

At least one lifetime ago, I took a graduate class covering rhetoric and technology. It was a great class with a great professor and classmates whose company I enjoyed. One evening we were discussing the ability of technology to track us, and I mentioned my frequent customer fob for the gas station I frequented. I hadn’t thought of it before, I said, but a so-inclined Speedway marketing manager would have been able to figure out an awful lot about me based on what I bought at each station I visited. About where I lived. About where I visited. How many kids I had and their approximate ages (because who in their right mind buys four slushies at one time?). What days I attended class. The approximate day the doctor told me to stop drinking slushies. A general idea of what kind of car I drove. It was a scary reminder of all the information I happily turned over just to earn a free slushie after every fifth purchase.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Powell, The Shadow (2021)

Sharon Powell, The Shadow. Austin Macauley Publishers, 2021. Pp. 265. ISBN 978-1-6475-0760-2. $15.95.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Sharon Powell’s novel The Shadow is idiosyncratic. That it is in the tradition of Frankenstein literature is evident from the name of the central character, Victor Frankenstein. This Frankenstein is a doctor who dissects corpses, but upon finding a young man who has been buried by an avalanche and cryonically preserved, he keeps the young man in the best cold storage possible in early 19th-century central Europe. In overseeing his living but unconscious body, the doctor is surprised by a spiritual visitation: the spirit of the frozen young man appears above the gurney and addresses him, involving the doctor in a plot to rescue a group of children who are “cared for” by one of the most respected men of the village, but who, according to the spirit, has possession of this group of orphans and, in a Dickensian twist, is working them to death. Simon, the spirit, and the doctor team up to locate the orphans to free them, and ultimately bring their tormentor to justice.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Cotton Xenomorph (Jan–Mar 2022)

Cotton Xenomorph: No Creeps, ed. Chloe N. Clark, Teo Mungaray & Hannah Cohen. Jan–March 2022. Online at cottonxenomorph.com.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

One of the advantages of an online literary journal is its accessibility. Assuming some level of stability, all the issues are there and easy to open. All the gleaming nuggets waiting to be unearthed. For a reviewer, however, that can be daunting. There’s just no way I could read the entirety of everything the excellent online journal Cotton Xenomorph has to offer, at least not in time to file an already overdue review. The sampling I did read, however, will motivate me to read the rest once this review is on its way to our editor.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Omenana 20 (2021)

Omenana: Speculative Fiction Magazine, ed. Mazi Nwonwu, Chinelo Onwualu, Iquo DianaAbasi & Godson ChukwuEmeka Okeiyi. Issue #20 (December 2021). Online at omenana.com.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

Omenana, the now-quarterly bilingual publication (English and French) of African and African diaspora SFF is still going strong with issue 20. The name of the publication is Igbo for both divinity and culture, and speaks to the speculative that permeates African histories, folklore, spirituality, and future-dreaming. As continental African writers show up more in Western SFF, it’s easy to overlook the key role of local African publications, especially as incubators for experimentation and new voices—but it matters immensely. The four-person editorial team of Omenana is Nigerian, with one member living in Canadian diaspora, and although they can only offer token payments for now, you can invest in their Patreon to help them grow the outlet. Issue 20 offers ten stories, eight in English and two in French, which span a wide range of magical and science-fictional contexts.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Manzetti, 150 Exquisite Horror Books (2021)

Alessandro Manzetti, 150 Exquisite Horror Books. Crystal Lake Publishing, 2021. Pp. 210. ISBN 978-1-7377-2187-1. $11.99.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

There is an art to creating a “Best of” list, whether that be a “Best of Shakespeare’s Plays” or “Best Singles by Take That.” You are inevitably going to make a lot of people angry. Art and tastes are subjective, and one man’s trash is another person’s treasure. And nowhere is this more true than with horror fiction. Fears are as individual as fingerprints. The film or book that terrify us and make chills run down our spine might make be utterly dull to another. And we horror fans are desperately protective of our best beloveds. I have seen knock-down drag-out fights between fans who can’t agree whether Matthew Stokoe’s Cows is trash or a masterpiece. So creating a volume in which you want to compile the best of modern horror fiction is a bit of a risky endeavour. Fortunately for all of us, Alessandro Manzetti decided to take on the challenge, and he took it on with grace, courage, and a library I can only dream of possessing.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Brozek & Rambo, Reinvented Heart (2022)

Jennifer Brozek & Cat Rambo (edd.), The Reinvented Heart. Caezik SF & Fantasy, 2022. Pp. 274. ISBN 978-1-6471-0042-1. $34.14/£21.01.

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

Sometimes an anthology is just a really good excuse to sit with strong and wide-ranging storytelling. Such was certainly the case with The Reinvented Heart, a collection of 24 stories centered on a wide range of emotional bonds, challenges, and opportunities. Across the board, the writing was deft and immersive, the stories were distinct and memorable, and many worked in striking conversation with their neighbours. The organization of this collection into three overarching “movements”—”Hearts,” “Hands,” and “Minds,” each opening with a small but potent bit of poetry by Jane Yolen, and revealing plenty of resonant story placements—also makes for an excellently curated reading experience, best read in the provided order. My only caveat, before I leap into high praise for the pieces themselves, is that I don’t think all of these stories reflect the anthology’s explicit mission statement. Then again, an anthology is often expected to carve out a singular role for itself in the market, and promotional material often makes sweeping claims to bring readers in.