Thursday, January 19, 2023

Nightmare #124 (2023)

Nightmare, ed. Wendy Wagner. Issue 124 (January 2023). Online at nightmare-magazine.com.

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

The 124th issue of Nightmare is, for this online magazine of horror and dark fantasy, typically compact, consisting of three short stories, one poem, one essay, one book review, and some author interviews. Freshly freed from holiday hell with the people who are the reason you are in therapy, you might not welcome the news that the issue’s central thread is family. But you might concede that horror has an endless furrow to plow through this topic. None of the stories in this issue of Nightmare go with the obvious. There are no wicked stepmothers here, nor evil children, nor men making Stepford Wives or mummifying their overbearing mothers before moving on to murder women who incite their desires. Instead, the works of fiction mine other dark corners of family life.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Karl, Exogeny (2022)

Nathan Karl, Exogeny. Self-published, 2022. Pp. 101. ISBN 978-1-0880-5771-1. $6.99.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

I’ve been reading DC’s current Poison Ivy mini-series, which is excellent. The main thrust of the story is that Ivy, to one degree or another, is becoming a plant monster and is making other people into plant monsters or moss or mulch or trees or what have you. I also read a lot of Jeff VanderMeer; his stories often have strange new hybrids of plants and animals folded into people. The bottom line is—I’m not sure if we’re in a particular stage of sci-fi/horror that’s focused on this vegetable type of body transformation, or if it’s just my current reading predilections. An argument could be made that we’re seeing a response to both the pandemic and the climate crisis; nature is taking things back. That’s not new, but the stories I’m seeing are just much gooier than their predecessors. Microscopic becomes macro in a bulge of puss and spittle. Good stuff.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Sizemore and Connor, Apex Magazine 2021

Jason Sizemore and Lesley Connor (eds.), Apex Magazine 2021: The Companion Anthology. Apex Book Company, 2022. Pp. 544. ISBN 978-1-955765-06-0. $27.95 pb/$8.99 e.

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

Apex Magazine 2021: The Companion Anthology serves up 48 stories originally published in Apex Magazine in issues 121–128, representing the year the publication bounced back from a brief hiatus. Buying a copy, in either paperback or digital form, is a great way to support an award-winning speculative fiction magazine whose issues are otherwise free to read at the magazine’s website. On the upside, the stories are of generally high quality and come from authors from a variety of places around the world. One entire issue included in the anthology was devoted to Indigenous authors telling speculative fiction stories with Indigenous protagonists—a definite breath of fresh air. But, reader, I warn you, at 544 pages (or 626 if you include front and back matter), the anthology is a long slog through darkness. It's definitely not an anthology built for binge-reading.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Rosen, Cascade (2022)

Rachel A. Rosen, Cascade: The Sleep of Reason Book 1. Bumblepuppy Press, 2022. Pp. 410. ISBN 978-1-7770944-5-4. $19.95.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Rachel Rosen’s Cascade is the first book of a trilogy, The Sleep of Reason, alluding to Goya’s etching of the same title, in which a young man is sleeping on his desk and swarms of bats, owls, and other denizens of the dark flock towards him—or is it from his dreaming brain? The titular Cascade refers to the major cataclysmic shift that has occurred an indefinite period before the novel’s start, resulting in weird occurrences, like cracks appearing in the surface of the earth, people being transformed into demons, the sprouting of “shriekgrass” to replace edible crops, and the general appearance of magic. As one major character, a wizard, puts it, the question is not what can we do to preserve our way of life, but what does magic want?

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Strange Horizons (November 2022)

Strange Horizons, ed. Gautam Bhatia (et al.). November 2022 (four issues). Free online at strangehorizons.com.

Reviewed by Storm Blakley

Strange Horizons’ November issues have a lot to say, and in them, I saw a reflection of much happening in the world today, from the climate crisis to the digital world, monsters and magic and far-away planets. Stories and poems about communities standing together, of breaking free of what chains us, of creating a better world for those to come (including ourselves); these issues really resonated with me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Applegate (ed.), It Was All a Dream (2022)

Brandon Applegate (ed.), It Was All a Dream: An Anthology of Bad Horror Tropes Done Right. Hungry Shadow Press, 2020. Pp. 338. ISBN 979-8-986920-20-7. $16.98.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

When Hungry Shadow Press announced It Was All a Dream, I was immediately curious and a bit puzzled. The foremost question in my mind: What does it mean to do a trope right? There are many possible answers to this question, and It Was All a Dream showcases all of them. The stories in this anthology fall into four categories: Parodies, metanarratives, inversions, and stories that are played straight. Quite an assortment!

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Ebnou, Barzakh (2022)

Moussa Ould Ebnou, Barzakh: The Land In-Between. Translated from French by Marybeth Timmermann. Iskanchi Press, 2022. Pp. 209. ISBN 978-1-957810-00-3. $26.99 pb/$9.99 e.

Reviewed by Jason Kahler

I am acutely aware that I approach every book I read weighed-down by the baggage of my history. That load was particularly burdensome as I read the excellent Barzakh: The Land In-Between by Moussa Ould Ebnou. My exposure to African literature is woefully inadequate, so I can’t place this book anywhere within that tradition. I can’t tell you how it stacks up against contemporary African literature, or the African literature of the past. I can tell that my unfamiliarity with Africa as a literary tradition and as a geographic region heightened the sense of strangeness and other-ness I felt while reading. In many ways, that actually impacted my experience with this novel for the better. Readers who are more familiar with these traditions are sure to appreciate what they find in this story.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

brown, Fables and Spells (2022)

adrienne marie brown, Fables and Spells: Collected and New Short Fiction and Poetry. AK Press, 2022. Pp. 329. ISBN 978-1-84935-450-9. $17.00.

Reviewed by Julie Reeser

When I first encountered the work of adrienne marie brown, it was through her book, Emergent Strategy. That book showed me a gap in my existence and began the process of filling it in. brown introduced to me the concept of moving through systems in nonlinear and creative ways with whole minds, bodies, and communities. She embraces this perspective again in her new release, Fables and Spells: Collected and New Short Fiction and Poetry. The book is long and complex, ever-shifting like an octopus exploring the environment. It challenges the reader to find a place of relaxed alertness while acknowledging the pain of both change and stagnancy. brown is one of the few writers who makes the reader inescapably aware of the body—not just the reader’s body, but all bodies in space and time and politics. Her work and activism are tender and confident like a practiced lover, alive and breathing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Dark #88 (Sept 2022)

The Dark, ed. Sean Wallace & Clara Madrigano. Issue 88 (Sept 2022). Prime Books. $1.99 or online at thedarkmagazine.com.

Reviewed by Zachary Gillan

The Dark is a monthly online zine famous for both its excellent dark fiction output and its stringent and remarkably rapid rejections—indeed, while I was working on this review a tweet went somewhat viral from an author irate that they had rejected his manuscript three minutes after he submitted it. It’s a leading venue for modern horror fiction that favors atmosphere over gore, and provides a home both for the big names of the genre and relative newcomers. All four stories in the September 2022 issue are strong entries. Stylistically, they share a clear, realist voice, with rather straightforward narratives. There are flashbacks, and the smartly-paced unveiling of details necessary for the genre, but none are overly experimental or knotty in approach.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Roanhorse, Tread of Angels (2022)

Rebecca Roanhorse, Tread of Angels. Solaris, 2022. Pp. 176. ISBN 978-1-7861-8874-8. £9.99.

Reviewed by Andy Sawyer

The story begins in a gambling joint in Goetia, a mining town in the mountains run by a privileged elite. It’s an unholy place and Celeste, a dealer at the card tables of the Eden, “Perdition Street’s premiere gambling and drinking establishment,” has seen her share of squalor, degradation, and exploitation and there’s the obligatory saloon-fight in the first ten pages. But when her sister Mariel, a singer at the Eden, is arrested for a particularly nasty murder, Celeste is forced to embark upon a quest to prove her sister’s innocence. In doing so, she sees even more of the town’s darker side than she ever thought existed.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Polar Borealis #22 (2022)

Polar Borealis, ed. R. Graeme Cameron. Issue #22, July 2022. Free online at polarborealis.ca.

Reviewed by Storm Blakley

The 22nd issue of Polar Borealis, a publication I was until now unfamiliar with, opens with an editorial, musing on how far this Aurora-award winning publication has come in the six-plus years since its inception. Read all over the world, nominated for and winning awards, a paying market for Canadian writers and artists, while still acknowledging how challenging the industry can be. Overall, it’s cheerful and optimistic; hopeful, with an eye on the future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Winter & Moses (edd.), Split Scream #1

Carson Winter & Scott J. Moses, Split Scream, volume one. Dread Stone Press, 2022. ISBN 978-1-7379-7402-4. $12.99.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

Novelettes and novellas, the red-headed stepchildren of the book world. Too long to place in a magazine and uneconomical to publish on their own, they languish on hard drives, making an occasional appearance as the flagship piece in a single-author collection, but otherwise neglected. Which is a shame, because they’re my fictional first love. About the same length as a TV episode or a graphic novel, they’re a lean, focused form of storytelling, just the right length to fully explore a single arc without needing to detour into subplots. They’re a convenient airport-or-dentist size and they’re nice for those of us who have a bad track record of finishing full-length novels.