|Art by Yupachingping / Fotolia|
March brings a pair of rather chilling tales to Nightmare Magazine even as spring arrives to the Northern Hemisphere. The stories look at broken systems, broken worlds, that push people into places where they can only participate. Where they can only choose how much they want to be victims or perpetrators. Where opting out isn’t really possible. This might take the form of a legacy and a world that bring about drastic and violent changes, or a criminal justice system where the justice part has been shattered entirely. The stories provoke and challenge, putting the characters in impossible and horrifying situations and forcing the readers to sit there with them, experiencing those no-win scenarios first had. It’s effectively done, and before I give too much away, let’s get to the reviews!
“All the Hidden Places” by Caldwell Turnbull (5199 words)
No Spoilers: Nikki is traveling with her father, from the island of St. Thomas, all the way to somewhere in the snowy north. They are aiming for something, an old family home in a world that has been ravaged by a disease that acts a bit like rabies, that makes people not precisely zombies, but just as dangerous and infectious. As they travel, desperate for a respite, Nikki senses a secret that her father is carrying with him. About what happened to her mother. About why they had to leave the island. What she’s not prepared for, though, the secret she’s been carrying herself, that reveals itself at a rather dramatic moment.
Keywords: Snow, Post-Apocalypse, Monsters, Wolves, Eating, Family
Review: This story captures a great sense of bleak desolation. That Nikki’s father has taken her to in hopes of finding safety and isolation. So that he can tell her something. Only for all that the landscape is barren, there are still plenty of dangers, and not all of them are people carrying the disease that has wiped out so many. There are “regular” humans as well only too happy to indulge in their cruelest impulses, and it doesn’t take too long for them to find Nikki and her father alone in the snowy wastes. I do like the way the story evokes the snow and the cold oppression of it, the slowness that it gives to everything and the danger, that people need shelter from it in order to live, that people need escape from it in order to be warm. Only the escape that Nikki gets is much more to do with her legacy, his inheritance from a mother who didn’t quite understand what was happening. And I like how it it framed, that the old world is over, failed, and a new world has asserted itself. One that requires a different sort of power and skills. One where regular humans might no longer be dominant. It’s a gripping read and a visceral one, bringing Nikki to a place where she can find a way forward into this new future, even if it’s on a road paved in blood and teeth. And I like how it shows that in the face of human monstrosity, sometimes the only answer is to adopt a monstrosity even more powerful. A great read!
“Example” by Adam-Troy Castro (5802 words)
No Spoilers: Hector Ortiz has been on Death Row for a long time for a crime he didn’t commit. Finally, on the day of his execution, he’s expecting to go through with the moment that’s been waiting for him for so long. Only things don’t exactly go to plan, and as the story progresses how the criminal justice system has progressed in the future the story imagines is revealed and it is...well, pretty fucked up. The piece maintains a focus on Hector and the mix of resignation and hope that the story takes him through, always aware of what’s coming and trying his make peace with it, even in the face of the complications that spring up, that threaten to break down his very careful composure. It’s a story that speaks to a future of the death penalty that it’s not hard to imagine, where corruption has made a mockery of justice.
Keywords: Prisons, Justice, Innocence, CW- Death Penalty, Exoneration, Bargains
Review: The take on justice here is an interesting one, and I like the way the story brings Hector back from his more stoic acceptance of events and proves that even though he thought he was done with hope and hurting, he’s not. Because worse in some ways that being wrong convicted of the crime and serving so much time is that he’s now found innocent and it doesn’t matter. And that’s where so much of the impact of the story comes from, from the incredibly hollow but “reasonable” justifications given for why it’s been made illegal to reverse an order of execution. How it’s placed the Correctness of the state and people pushing for the death penalty above the actual spirit of law and justice. For me I like the distinction made between Law and Order and justice. Because for me Order isn’t just. It’s about things being in place and kept in rigid control but there’s nothing just about it, and if the system by which things are ordered is evil then, well, the order is evil too. And such it is with this, showing how any system that allows for people to be murdered who could be innocent is wrong. That it’s better to murder no one than to let one person die who was wrongly convicted. Especially given the impact of intolerance and racism in that process. It’s a nice way of capturing the problems with the death penalty and projecting that forward, imagining what could happen is the bullshit reasons for executions were expanded (always in bad faith) so as to build up the spectacle of executions to make people afraid to break the order of the wealthy, rather than having anything to do with justice. Definitely a story worth checking out!