Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Quick Sips - The Dark #11

Well, as always, The Dark Magazine offers up just what it promises, four stories of inky darkness that frighten and delight. The issue has a nice mix of dark fantasy and outright horror to satisfy fans of all stripes, though things are kept strictly speculative. And, more than the darkness, the stories carry with them a sense of mystery, that idea that the dark here is concealing something too horrible or glorious to behold, something full of sublime that we can only glimpse the reflection of. From alien threats to mental illness, the stories build worlds where the dark is encroaching into the lives of the characters. So time for me to get to those reviews!

Art by Daniel Bérard


"Birds of Lancaster, Lairamore, Lovejoy" by Michael Wehunt (5362 words)

This is a rather interesting and moving picture of grief and loss and estrangement, wrapped nicely in a story of a woman buying a small glass owl. I liked the way that it built up and fleshed out the complex feelings of daughter and father, of shared loss that made a love turn into hurt and hate. The speculative elements here are done with a light touch, and were actually the parts that I had the most problems with as a whole. Because most of the spec elements involve a young man with Down Syndrome who turns out to be a bit magical. And the use of non-neurotypical characters as magical or otherwisely gifted in some ways to make up for their mental differences is…a bit questionable. It's not terribly done, I thought, and I did like the bird imagery and use, but I hesitate about the story as a whole because of this aspect of it. Overall I think that it does a very good job of exploring grief of various kinds and estrangement. It’s a sweet kind of story about acting before it's too late, about freedom and letting go of hatred in the face of death, and at the very least it's a comforting tale for those who view estrangement as a bad thing. It's a lovely story, one that I find myself a bit conflicted with personally but that's probably more to do with my personal experiences with estrangement than anything else. It's a moving story, and one I encourage people to make their own minds up about.

"And The Woods Are Silent" by Amber van Dyk (5019 words)

This is a powerful story about inheritance and about the terror of uncertainty. Firstly I must say I loved that the story included a polyamorous triad, each person loving each other, committed to each other in a way that seems quite stable, even if the main character, Saki, has some issues she's dealing with. In some ways I thought that the story was dealing with the idea of inherited mental disorders, with trauma and with fear and with the battle between knowing what is real and what is not. Saki's mother was a raven and her father was a wolf, and Saki is feeling the pull of that legacy, a pull that is threatening to take her away from her partners. Watching the story unfold is uncomfortable, unsettling, the question lingering about how much is real and how much is something else. The story captures the at-times terrifying reality of living with something deep inside that's threatening to get out and living with someone going through such a struggle. To me, the story becomes a way of looking at reality and about the mind, about inheritance and the thin spaces that can exist between love and destruction. And I liked that it is raw, unflinching, that it doesn't cast Saki as broken but rather as between worlds, between and without a good way to settle into one or the other, wanting both and being pressured to conform. It's a striking story and yeah, go read it.

"Between Dry Ribs" by Gregory Norman Bossert (6213 words)

This is a nice and creepy story that really makes good use of an interesting setting and a classic premise, that there is something bordering the human that is not quite right. I quite liked the way that the story built the seclusion of the ice hotel, the distance and the cold and beauty of it and the way that it compliments the alien beauty of what confronts Chlöe in that barren stretch. There's a nice voice, too, and the structure of the story makes great use of foreshadowing and tension, that scene in the bar at first innocent, strange but benign until the flashback, until everything is revealed and then there's the turn which is frightening and well done. I'm partial to stories that take place out on the ice, that evoke such things as "The Thing" (or I guess "Who Goes There?") and bring up the question of how you tell a person is truly human, the fear and the anxiety that comes from not knowing what to trust, from knowing that there are things out there that are so alien as to be terrifying and dangerous and very much interested in blending in. The action is gripping, intense, and bloody, and the story as a whole manages to be scary, shocking, and yet nicely balanced. For fans of horror, this is definitely one to check out.

"All the World When It Is Thin" by Kristi DeMeester (3062 words)

This story continues in the vague tradition of this issue of capturing a nice vague creepiness, something not quite defined and dark and filled with a quiet malice. The story centers on three sisters who quite early in the story become two. And there's a nice small town gothic feel to the work, to the setting that's established, the sheriff and the pastor and all the townspeople who look at this presence in their midst and shy away but who do nothing. Who did nothing to help the sisters who had been left rather defenseless against the dark, against the unknown terrors of beyond. I got a strong sense of loneliness that comes from being women living alone, shunned and thus more easily victims, no one willing to try to help them. And that's where the tragedy and the creeping terror springs from, that darkness at the heart of the town, that willingness to watch as the sisters walk into what everyone knows is evil. And I quite enjoyed the descriptions o the story, the mystery of it, the absences that drove the sisters on in their quest, and how their want grew and grew until the very end. It's a strong story with a nice vein of horror and cosmic uncertainty, the sublime and dark unknown that exists beyond the thin border where this world meets above, beyond, and below. A moody story and a good one!

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