- “This Sword for Hire” by Gregg Chamberlain, Ares, January 12, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
- “Ice” by Diana Silver, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, January 14, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Brooklyn Fantasia” by Marcy Arlin, Diabolical Plots #35B, January 15, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” by Senaa Ahmad, Strange Horizons, January 15, 2018 (science fictional short story)
- “Chocolate Chicken Cheesecake” by M. J. Pettit, Nature, January 17, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “The Owner’s Guide to Home Repair, Page 238: What to Do About Water Odor” by Vincent Michael Zito, Nightmare #64, January 17, 2018 (horror short story)
- “The Ghoul Goes West” by Dale Bailey, Tor.com, January 17, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
- “Benefactors of Silence” by Nin Harris, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #243, January 18, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Nneamaka’s Ghost” by Walter Dinjos, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #243, January 18, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “The Eyes of the Flood” by Susan Jane Bigelow, Lightspeed , January 18, 2018 (science fictional short story)
- “Dream Job” by Seamus Sullivan, Terraform, January 18, 2018 (science fictional short story)
There aren’t a lot of wombat stories this week. The only significant theme is that there aren’t really any SF stories (only horror, fantasy, and fantasy-tinged SF-ish stories) and they’re almost all negative/down stories but that’s not unique to this week. There are, however, a lot of short-shorts of less than 2000 words (or just over), so I’ll begin with those.
An AI robot makes “Chocolate Chicken Cheesecake” on a reality cooking show that’s supposed to prevent the Apocalypse. A woman with an addictive personality gets her nightmarish “Dream Job” selling her sleep to others. (I’ve read this story before but I can’t remember the author/title of the predecessor.) Lightmare and Nightspeed bring us two sub-2000 word stories written in second-person present tense, beginning with the even more nightmarish “The Owner’s Guide to Home Repair, Page 238: What to Do About Water Odor” which doesn’t help a guy dealing with the horrifically foul-smelling water coming out of the pipes in his house (the ending is clear by the middle and the story is arguably non-fantastic horror) and concluding with “The Eyes of the Flood” which is a post-apocalyptic story about someone being fantastically changed by the experience. “Benefactors of Silence” may be a leftover from BCS #242 as it also deals with music but, specifically, with two people of opposite allegiances aiding and/or tormenting each other after a war. Finally, “Brooklyn Fantasia” cracks the 2K barrier with nearly 2300 words spent on describing a griffin, a dream-thingy, and an animate rock going apartment hunting. The first couple of hundred words seem like they might begin a charmingly eccentric story but the other two thousand don’t do anything at all. None of these appealed to me, but the horrific ones were fairly effective at specifically being horrific if not generally as stories.
For longer short stories, I reviewed “The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” for Tangent. “Ice“ describes a sort of wind-spirit bonding with a boy who is looking for his father as a member of an expedition to the North Pole. Much like the horror stories, this has an effective element, here conveying the white, cold, snow-covered environment (and it was a good time to read it as we’d just gotten five or six inches of snow here which is unusual to say the least), but it’s underplotted and undermotivated. (At one point, there’s a signal from Fred when the spirit asks, “Why was I helping [the boy]?”) In “Nneamaka’s Ghost,” the narrator has been exiled after being blamed for being responsible for the princess’ death. The ghost of the princess visits him and promises him great rewards if he will return to the village and steal her body (a month dead) in order to resurrect her (and threatens him if he won’t). Despite his fears, he agrees. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go as planned. This would have been more effective in third-person rather than first, but was reasonably effective in places.
Finally, there are two long novelettes to discuss.
Ares releases print issues and presumably will release #5 at some point but also releases some individual stories directly to the web. Last week, they published “This Sword for Hire,” which I missed. It takes place in a sort of alternate history England with horse-drawn carriages, elves, and noir-PI-flavored duelists-at-law (not to be confused with Pohl & Kornbluth’s gladiators-at-law). A beautiful blonde barmaid rushes into the protagonist’s office and pleads with him to save her fiancee, who has been maneuvered into a duel he can’t win. The story opens with a somewhat clunky feel and ultimately pulls subsections of the Code Duello out of a hat and drops into an overly easy ending but was fairly entertaining.
This week, Tor.com finally returned from its lengthy, unexplained absence and gave us “The Ghoul Goes West.” If my math is right, the narrator’s older brother, Denny, died in 1983 and, ten years later the younger, Ben, decided to pen the tale. Denny and Ben both loved movies, with Denny going to Hollywood to be a script writer and Ben going south to be an academic. Things didn’t go so well for Denny and Ben heads out to puzzle out what happened. Among other things, he learns that Denny continued to share Ben’s fascination with Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood, and Wood’s entourage. Where it led Ben to try a thesis on Wood, it led Denny to contact with another dimension (via a magic video rental store) in which Lugosi didn’t die in 1956 but went on to make Wood’s The Ghoul Goes West in 1957. This story tackles dreams, shattered and otherwise, and reactions, and possibilities.
Few stories have balanced so precisely between a recommendation and an honorable mention. The embedded review of Dracula is dead-on. There are moments of great power, such as the “already dead” brother watching that movie for the first time and the “unfathomable dream” of the other brother years later. I even admire the avowedly problematic ending. However, the story, while always intriguing, is a bit loose in places and probably will not enthrall people who aren’t interested in Wood and Lugosi and Tinseltown, especially since the single fantastic element doesn’t appear until two-fifths in. More importantly, there is something odd in writing off a guy who is a scriptwriter (if even of a crappy sitcom) at the age of about twenty-five. He’s ahead of many others and it’s akin to writing off Tom Hanks as a failure at the time he was starring in Bosom Buddies. And this plays into the general irresponsible attitudes that “Hollywood killed him” and suchlike. The prematureness and passivity bother me. But it’s still at least a pretty good story and is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve discussed so, with those reservations, if it does sound interesting to you, I do recommend it.
 “Turning to the nonseries anthologies, we are reminded once again that anthologies come in bunches—or, at least, that often a number of anthologies with similar themes seem to come out all at the same time . . . so that, say, there’ll be no anthologies about wombats, and then suddenly there will be three of them. No one knows why.” —Gardner Dozois [which I generalize to any random fictional floods]
 This is translated from the Dutch and I don’t ordinarily review translations but it was CRES‘ first story of the year and I wanted to go ahead and get started.
 My guess is that this was “written” in 1993 as the latest possible date Tim Burton’s Ed Wood wouldn’t need to be discussed in the story.