|Art by Chainat / Fotolia|
The stories in Nightmare’s final issue of 2018 is focused very tightly on violation. On women who are targets and who have been hurt. Who have been put into a situation where they don’t really have many choices left. They can fight or they can submit, and often that choice is rather loaded because there’s so rarely an expectation of victory. And loss can be so terrible. But the stories both take on this idea in very different ways, one of them featuring a woman fighting against the pressures to give in and the other…not doing that. Which makes for two stories that could almost not be any more different, but that provide an interesting contrast. To the reviews!
“The Ten Things She Said While Dying: An Annotation” by Adam-Troy Castro (3406 words)
No Spoilers: Robyn Howlett has a lot of reasons to regret taking a job as a clerical assistant for Dr. Emmanuel Eggard. Most of them no longer have to do with the sexual harassment she’s endured, but rather the being who might have just exploded out of the doctor’s chest and set her shattering into a nearby wall. Unfolding from this being’s perspective, the story follows Robyn’s last words, and what they mean. It’s a rather unsettling and skin-crawling experience, as the being in question isn’t exactly of the savory variety, and following its look at these desperate last words and how it unpacks them is disturbing. For fans of reveling in the otherworldly malevolence of beings far removed from (and in their minds, far superior to) humans, it’s a wicked and slick read.
Keywords: Injury, Portals, Bargains, Coercion, Employment
Review: I’m not traditionally a fan of stories that center perspectives that enjoy cruelty for its own sake. And here we find that the narrator is a being who very much enjoys being powerful and toying with people. Even the man he explodes from within is trapped in a state of worse-than-hell where he’ll be tortured forever, and it’s with this in mind that the narrator approaches Robyn. She’s injured, nearly dead, and presented with something so far outside her experience that it’s shattering. And then she’s forced to make decisions about how she wants to spend eternity. It’s not much of a choice. Robyn’s victimization is a foregone conclusion, and it’s there that I draw the most horror from the piece, from how it captures the joy the narrator has at toying with her, of forcing her through violence and coercion into a deal where she has to submit to being consumed. Between that and being endlessly tortured, there really isn’t much of a choice. It draws parallel to the way that the doctor wanted to abuse her as well, and that she might have been able to avoid that seems almost like a challenge to the narrator, to show that it is more vile than any mere human scumbag. It’s a rather difficult read at times for just that reason, for how it makes the terrible wrong being done to her seem to the narrator like salvation. And I’m not going to lie I really don’t like reading this and maybe that’s the point, but at the same time I don’t really think it succeeds at doing much with this incredibly loaded and upsetting material. It’s dark and unsettling and I recommend people check it out for themselves and see how it strikes them.
“The Island of Beasts” by Carrie Vaughn (6386 words)
No Spoilers: Lucy is a rare woman werewolf, called just wolves in this alternate history, who has been exiled to the Island of Beasts because of her refusal to submit to the will of a man. Because she wouldn’t give into the pressure to be a mate and used. And the Island is where all exiled wolves go, a place that is supposed to be lawless, wild, and dangerous. Lucy goes expecting to find her death, to have to defend herself as the wild wolves went mad and pulled her down. What she finds instead, though, puts the island and her situation into a much different perspective. The piece pairs quite well with the last, actually, because both deal with the gravity towards abuse and violation that women face when surrounded by men or beings who feel entitled to their bodies and their labor. Here, though, the outcome is much different, the setting richly built, and the cast considerably less slimy. A tense read, but one that ultimately is a lot of fun as well.
Keywords: Werewolves, Exile, Islands, Bargains, Civility
Review: I like how this story gets into Lucy’s head, to that place of just waiting for the inevitable to happen. Because for her that’s what it is—inevitable. It’s what she’s been taught to expect, the punishment for her refusal to play by the rules of the wolves in power of the men who want to use her. First to be dumped on this island and then to be brutalized and murdered. And I love that she doesn’t exactly accept it. I mean, on one level she does, but only in the sense that she knows the threats and the patterns. She’s lived with them her whole life, and knows what happens to those who step out of line. But she does it anyway. She fights. Though to this point it has gotten her exactly what she thought it would. She’s been pushed out to the edge of the gangplank and finally shoved overboard, into waters she has been told are full of sharks. There’s a terror and a certainty there that I just love, because it feels so real. Only what she was told turns out to be incorrect. And that the story doesn’t give into that narrative, into that gravity towards her violation and death, is to its vast credit. It takes something that could have been so unpleasant to read and makes it into something else, into a joy, into something fun. It’s like twisting that expectation turns all that dread that has been building into this release and in its place there’s a relief and a triumph. And I just love that, the kind of charming truce that she finds on this island that isn’t home to beasts at all, but rather the one place where maybe she will be allowed to be. It’s a wonderful read!