|Art by grand failure|
It’s a strange month at The Dark Magazine, with two original stories that take some very novel approaches to some rather tried and true subjects for dark SFF—mummies and science. These are pieces that don’t really retread ground, though, instead blazing very new interpretations on the ideas and tropes they tackle. The results are stories that are anything but expected, that are fun and mysterious and weird. And before I give any more away, let’s get to the reviews!
“After Life” by Shari Paul (4701 words)
No Spoilers: Set is a mummy. Like in the movies. Cursed to never die and even if he did make it to the underworld, to be devoured there as punishment for...something. The thing is, he doesn’t really remember. And he’s never had the chance to try and find out more. That is, until he’s brought back in the Twenty-First Century by a man hungry for power and corporate dominance, who hopes to use Set as a weapon against all those who stand against him. Then things start to change, and Set has the opportunity to maybe break the cycle of the curse that has plagued him for so long. The piece is something of a monster story but also about the ways that Set is nothing like the mummies of the movies, and really very tired of being used. And it’s about the ways that he uses the tools available to him in order to reach toward freedom.
Keywords: Mummies, Resurrection, Magic, Assassins, Memories, Names
Review: This is a fun story, charming even as it plays with the classic horror staple of the mummy. Because Set is not, despite his name, set in his ways. He’s able to learn and to change, to see the world around him and grow with it. Personally I love all the little details of the story, the way that he actually watches mummy movies, the way that he reads fanfiction, the way that adapts so easily to the internet. Part of what makes these monsters monsters so often is that they come from this Other Time and Place and it makes them seem strange. But Set is not stuck in the past, really. He embraces what the present offers and appreciates all the ways that no one expects him to. It allows him to be much shrewder than people might think, and ultimately I like that it’s his ability to keep with the times that really sets him free. Contrasting that is his “master”, O, who is a businessman and an asshole. Who uses Set to kill rivals and is so frightened of death that he decides he wants what Set has, even knowing that it’s a curse. Making O conservative here shows that it’s that brand of conservatism that’s really more backward-gazing. That it’s O who is stuck in the past and has something of a difficult time adjusting. Who doesn’t want change because he’s comfortable and powerful as things are. And it’s what makes him weak, and ultimately what leads to his downfall, which is a wonderful moment that the story manages with action and a certain grim satisfaction. A wonderful read!
“Modern Science” by Nelson Stanley (4725 words)
No Spoilers: The main character of this story is a patient man, perhaps because he is good at waiting, and perhaps because he is getting treatment from an unknown malady from a Doctor of perhaps dubious talents. The piece is incredibly strange, focusing on the ways that the patient man can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong with him, interrupted by the odd methods of the Doctor and his practice. The piece is a bit thick and viscous, like honey, pulling in a way that is hard to define. For that, though, it offers up a singular experience, weaving the patient man through these obscure and rather creepy treatments in search of a cure for something that’s never even very clear to begin with.
Keywords: Doctors, Treatment, Memories, Honey, Queer MC
Review: There is a part of me that wants to just write “well this was really weird” and leave it at that, because that’s probably the most accurate review I could give. It’s a piece that for me defies a lot of conventional approaches because it seems to me to be about the attempt to define something that might be undefinable. That in shaping this story around a man who wakes and finds himself Not Well, and all of the attempts to “fix” him using some rather extreme methods, the story is really engaging in something of a critique of the drive not for knowledge of scientific understanding but the lack of room given for the unknown and the unknowable. And to imply perhaps that sometimes the anxiety of finding a cause and an “proper explanation” can become its own kind of malady, and one that can only be “solved” by letting it go and finding something in the moment to get away from the fear and the worry and the doubt. That sometimes some fairly “unscientific” answers are the ones that are most successful at alleviated mysterious symptoms. Because it steps back from the need to prescribe and diagnose and focuses instead on what is happening on a different level, to try and find a context for the problem that doesn’t require science at all in order to work through it. For me, the piece is a weird kind of romp, unsettling in how the patient man submits himself to all of these strange treatments because he just wants to be better, not realizing until much later that it might not be a clinical answer he’s looking for. And it’s weird and rather fun and definitely worth spending some time with! A fine read!