|Art by Emma SanCartier|
"Pocosin" by Ursula Vernon (5000 words)
A story about a witch helping out an old possum god to die, this one is all about the mood, the tired witch fed up with the work of doing good. Fending off God and the Devil from taking the possum god, the witch wants a break, but things like this keep happening, and because she has a sense of right and wrong, and because she has the power to help, she lets herself be pulled out of her rest. I loved her reactions to everything, the world-building that the story manages where there are these forces at work and Maggie, the witch, is caught in the middle. And I rather like the message, that doing the right thing takes work, and that you shouldn't give up even if it's hard and thankless, but sometimes you do make a difference and sometime you do get a reward of sorts, even if it's only a break and some booze and a promise that there's more work to do.
"Multo" by Samuel Marzioli (3770 words)
A creepy story about a childhood fear returning. A man is contacted by an old neighbor and reminds him of an encounter with a ghost when he was young. There's something about immigration going on here, as well, with the main character being an immigrant as well as the ghost that tormented him as a child. The ghost attached itself to an old woman first, causing her to become withdrawn, haunted. And then it attaches to him, or maybe it's all in his head. That part of the story is very well done, that question of whether this is real or not. Obviously it could just be his fear, that as a child he believed the stories and now as an adult he remembers that uncertainty and it bleeds over, causing him to doubt, to see what isn't there. But then, it's also possible that it's real, that this is happening and a ghost has found him. But it's a classic fear of the dark story, a fear of the unknown, one influenced by stories from a different country. It's an interesting piece and contains a nice amount of creepiness.
"Anarchic Hand" by Andy Dudak (3300 words)
This story is a bit of a trip, because it operates with a disoriented narrator in the form of the mind of a cryo-perserved woman woken as a mental infection. It makes more sense than I can properly describe, but it's still a learning curve, and most of the story is simply explaining the situation and the main dilemma, that Dimia, the narrator, has to make a choice of what to do in her new situation. She's not alone in infecting a man's body, and she can either join a group that want to take over him entirely to go where they will in his body or can use him to enter into a place where more consciousnesses like hers have gathered. There really isn't a good option here, and Dimia changes her mind a bit. To be honest, I don't think I really followed enough to understand if her choice in the end was better or worse than anything else., Maybe it was neither. Maybe that's the point. It's an interesting idea, but it took a lot to simply understand what was going on, and I can't help feel it would have been better suited as a much longer piece, so that the actual story could play out more and the exposition wouldn't have been so overwhelming.
"John Dillinger and the Blind Magician" by Allison M. Dickson (4900 words)
A fun story featuring John Dillinger and Prohibition Era wizards and some violence and double-dealing. Not exactly a subtle story, but there's enough there to keep things interesting, wondering what the moral option is when Dillinger wants magic assistance in getting out of the life. Things aren't quite what they seem, and it all makes sense in the end, though it's a bit convenient, everything sort of falling together very neatly but without the mess that would have made it a bit more interesting. Again, it's fun, and the lightest of the stories in the issue. I'm not the hugest of fans of the time period, but I like the world-building and this feels more like a sample of a longer work than anything else. It works, but begs for more.
"Doors" by Alina Rios
A poem of short lines and short small stanzas, this one puts me in the mind of being outside at night. Something is going on with trees, though whether the "you" of this poem is a tree or is a person who sort of becomes a tree is a little hazy to me. I'd probably come down more on the side that the "you" is a person and the dreamlike quality of the poem is a way of saying that the "I" of the poem has traveled through a door where things are not quite the same, and not quite safe. It has a nice mood, but I found it a little hard to parse. Perhaps my lack of experience with poetry showing...
"The Poe Twist: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe" by Armel Dagorn
A fun and kinda creepy poem about playing hide-and-seek in the dark while evoking some Poe to get the job done. It brings together a lot of nice elements from Poe's stories, the darkness, the throbbing of the heart. That it is framed as a game, and a children's game (though not one being played by children), is nice and adds some mystery. Another poem with shorter lines, leaving more unknown, unsaid, it works pretty well. It never really bothers to clear up the relationship between the hider and the seeker, but that central mystery is what makes the poem most interesting, imagining if this is something kind, tender, or dangerous, violent. Good stuff.
"Before My Father Vanished" by Wendy Rathbone
A poem about a gift given to a person by their father, this one is more strictly science fiction than any of the others. And also good at capturing the way the "I" in the story is trying to hold onto this trace of their father. They cling to it, and yet it cannot last, and breaks, and is only reclaimed in part, in pieces. Like dealing with loss of parents, with the loss of memory, what remains is still real and still important, but so is the realization that breaking the string of crystals didn't break what the person's father was. The father remains at the end, and the "I" seems to grow a bit, realizing that things keep going, that there are some things that are never lost.
"The Other: HP Lovecraft, Alien, and Ghost Stories: Monstrifications of Dunbar's Number" by DeAnna Knippling
This is a fascinating look at the Other and monstrosity, a topic that is ever-recurring in speculative fiction. From Frankenstein and even before, it's something that really infuses not only the majority of horror but the majority of science fiction and fantasy as well. Orcs? Aliens in general? It's a great piece on how the Other becomes externalized and internalized, how it is contrasted between the in-group and out-group. Really interesting stuff to read, especially for nerds who can't help but drawn parallels between different sources. Something that brings up Lovecraft, Alien, and The Thing in the same breath is an article that I have to tell people to go and read. Also, yes, Jones the cat and "insufficient mass." There would need to be tiny face-huggers and tiny aliens. Which they should really do. Because that would be terrifying. Have they done that? Maybe in the terrible AvP movies? I never saw any Alien related movie since the first AvP. I feel okay about that, but the questions remain. Anyway, go read this and think about things. And stuff!