Review: Nightmare #74

Nightmare #74, November 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung” by Usman Malik (horror novelette)

This is an unusual issue of Nightmare in that it has only a single original story (a fairly long novelette) instead of two (usually both short stories unless one is a very short novelette). In the snaky “Dead Lovers,” a Pakistani heroin addict makes his statement to a cop. He describes how he was saved from an overdose by a man who was looking for his lost wife, whom he’d bought when she was a child. With the two men’s lives now entwined, they head off to a sort of mystic religious music concert near a shrine where the husband thinks she may have gone in search of the “Cobra Stone” which fascinates her. When they arrive, the tone and nature of the story becomes much darker and graphically violent and those are only the first steps in the escalation.

The characters are interesting (and become more so in different ways) and the narrative voice, itself, works but the awkward strategy of making this be a person’s long-winded statement to a cop doesn’t help, shown most vividly when the story breaks from first-person narrative to introduce into evidence a key letter written by the missing woman. (On the other hand, one superb element of this story is that you are definitely in Pakistan and there are many unusual or outright unfamiliar words and concepts but it’s lightly done and never obstructive or isolating but invites you in with a strong sense of place and culture.)

The story does a fairly good job of somehow maintaining some interest but over 8000 of the 12000 words are prologue and mainstream prologue at that. When we finally arrive at the climactic section, the narrator’s frozen horror is initially unconvincing. Sure, we’re in an underground cavern a snake has just come out of and some creepy guy is singing weird stuff to the weird friend but either there’s not enough there or it’s not written so that it seems like enough. Then it goes from not enough to too much, jumping straight to a gross-out with a graphic description of viscerally repulsive stuff. The next phase (no spoilers) is actually well done but calls into question whether this is even fantasy at all.

Finally, this seems rich with thematic material and symbolic imagery and could tie together moths and flames, fireflies and snakes, humans and transcendence, along with the obvious intrinsic connections of heroin needles to viper fangs but instead is overly explicit about arbitrary “white queen” stuff instead. It was ultimately interesting but extremely mixed for me, though readers’ reactions will probably run the gamut.

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Review: Nightmare #73

Nightmare #73, October 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “The Inheritance” by Joanna Parypinski (horror short story)
  • “A Mother’s Love Never Ends” by Halli Villegas (dark fantasy short story)

This issue of Nightmare introduces us to Madeline and Miriam and, while only Miriam observes that a town looks “frozen sometime in the 1950s.” both stories have a little of that in them.

When a disturbing stranger appears on her doorstep talking about an impossible “Inheritance,” unhappy Madeline must decide whether to let him in. The tension of the meeting is done well enough and the nature of the “inheritance” is clever enough, but the woman is characterized too much to be Everyone yet too little and too negatively for much sympathy and the story is slight. In “Mother’s Love,” Miriam is riding the bus with her mother’s ashes and, while on the bus and at the various stops, experiences a surreal swirl of past and present and Never as intimations about her broken home and the games parents play arise and we learn about their effects. While overly disorienting on one hand, it was effectively creepy on the other, with an ending which may resonate for some.

Review: Nightmare #72

Nightmare #72, September 2018

NM72

Original Fiction:

  • “House of Small Spiders” by Weston Ochse (novelette)
  • “True Crime” by M. Rickert (short story)

True Crime” is a single, 971-word, non-speculative block of short sentences babbling about how a Women is killed by a Men.

Much more interesting (and therefore, ultimately, disappointing) is “House of Small Spiders.” Susan’s cutting herself in her closet as the story opens and we find out its related to the fact that her mother’s recently stabbed herself to death on top of the washing machine. We later find out that that odd detail is connected to more tragedy. Meanwhile, dad vividly attacks a couple of religious proselytizers and we learn about blood, ideas, and houses with souls and spiders. The bursts of horrific violence were quite effective and there are some nice observations and ambiguities or paradoxes but the villain ultimately comes off as clownish with incongruously pedestrian motives, the “morality” of the “heroine” is hard to take, and the resolution is far too talky.

(There’s another, arguably smaller, problem with the end which is hard to articulate without spoilers. And, while I’m at it, Craftsman was a Sears brand which is now sold at Lowe’s via Stanley Black & Decker, not Home Depot (as far as I know), “condemning them that it is their fault”  isn’t good English, and the extra word after the final sentence in my copy isn’t good proof-reading.)

2018 Best of the Best: 2017 Stories Selected for Multiple Year’s Bests

This doesn’t contain any information not already in “Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links)” but, because that list might look dauntingly large and a little busy, here’s a list of the twenty-six stories which appear in two or more of the nine “Year’s Bests.” (Twenty of these stories are available online.) For clarity, they’re just alphabetized by title with no distinction beyond an asterisk which indicates I’ve noted them to one degree or another on this blog.

Review of Black Static #64 for Tangent

If you’re not picky about genre, this issue of Black Static is a good one. A third of it is non-fantastic horror dealing with insanity. Oddly, the fantastic stories, while generally very readable, aren’t as good except for the last (fourth overall), which is superb and the best of the issue.

Full review at Tangent: Black Static #64, July/August 2018.

Recommended:

  • “The Blockage” by Jack Westlake (non-speculative horror short story)
  • “The Monstrosity in Love” by Sam Thompson (dark fantasy short story)

Honorable mention:

  • “Why We Don’t Go Back” by Simon Avery (non-speculative horror novelette)

Review: Nightmare #71

Nightmare #71, August 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Dead Air” by Nino Cipri (novelette)
  • “Crook’s Landing, by Scaffold” by G.V. Anderson (dark fantasy short story)

Dead Air” is listed at 10,204 words, but I only get 7,643. It’s a novelette, either way. It features Miss Nosy and Miss Dark Secret (basically the extent of the characterization) and details their romantic relationship and how Nosy talks Dark Secret into returning to her hometown of Garbled and re-visiting the scene of The Accident. Naturally, horror ensues. All this is told through the narrative gimmick of audio recordings and a third character giving really elaborate stage directions.

Crook’s Landing” is much more appealing though I should disclaim that I’m a sucker for posthumous fantasies (this isn’t really a horror story or even as dark a fantasy as it might be). In this “Bill? Barry?” is hanged two days after his younger brother and, as a crook, ends up in the titular place. Most people suffer almost instantaneous amnesia but BillBarry holds fast to his brother’s memory and looks all over Crook’s Landing and other afterplaces trying to find him. Finally, the murderers from Cutthroat Cove arrive to offer a deal. It’s all a little pat and has some really sentimental murderers and some other issues, but it was a decent read.

SF Miscellany: Magazines/Books, WorldCon Kerfuffle, Grand Masters

Over the past month or so, I was struck by the discrepancy between magazine and book content, aspects of book marketing, the latest in the interminable line of WorldCon fights, and the deaths of great and honored SF luminaries which prompted thoughts on who remains to be honored. I thought these might become detailed and considered posts but, as usual, I just went with a hodge-podge. I am sure about the last section, though.

Where the Readers Aren’t

With “How Do You Buy Your Science Fiction in 2018?Auxiliary Memory brought us another fascinating post, this time about the science fiction market. I was also most struck by slide 35, though for my own reasons.

Slide35-1024x768

(Before I even start, I have to note that there are several problems with the slide. First, I have no idea how temporal/qualitative descriptions like “Classics,” subject genres like “Military,” source categories like “TV… Adaptations,” structural categories like “Anthologies,” and formal genres like “Short Stories” are treated as equivalent. Second, I have no idea why “Anthologies” and “Short Stories” appear twice, the second time combined with each other. I also have no idea what the difference between “Alternate History” and “Alternative History” could be. So the slide has to be taken with a grain of salt but I still think it demonstrates some general truth.)

Here’s the question prompted by the slide which should occur to all SF magazine editors and lovers of short fiction: if LGBT, Alternate History, Steampunk, “Metaphysical & Visionary” and Time Travel sell so little and Military, Adventure, Space Opera, First Contact, Genetic Engineering, Galactic Empire, Hard Science Fiction, Colonization, and Space Exploration sell more, why does the vast majority of magazine (especially webzine) science fiction I read deal with the former categories (or similar) more than the latter and might this be a contributing factor in the increasing irrelevance of short fiction? (The sole reach for a wide readership I see in magazine SF is the negative and probably incidental one of Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian.)

There are probably many answers of various kinds but one that occurs to me is that, in these days of low overhead and a market of dozens and dozens of magazines, all that’s needed is a fanatically loyal niche readership, much like a cable TV show vs. the shared culture of the pre-cable era. But if people want short SF to compete in the general marketplace and get it something like the honor it had and deserves (which is admittedly tough for several reasons), it might be better to go where the general SF reader’s hearts and minds are.

Variety Is the Spice

If all is not ideal in short fiction, there are issues at book length, too. As always, I was struck by the nature of the books listed in Locus’ “New Books” posts. Saying that I’m looking for a non-YA SF singleton doesn’t sound too restrictive. According to the last two posts from the 17th and 24th (which are very typical in these matters) this is what I have to choose from:

  • Satirical fantasy novel…series
  • Steampunk fantasy novel…third in a series
  • Epic fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, first in a series
  • Fantasy novel, first in a series
  • Fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, third in a trilogy
  • Alternate history fantasy novel
  • Contemporary fantasy novel
  • Horror novel, first in a series
  • [YA] SF novel… first in a series
  • [YA] Short SF novel
  • [YA] SF novel
  • Young adult SF novel
  • Young adult SF novel
  • Young adult sf novel
  • Humorous space opera novel, third in a series
  • Military SF novel, third in a series
  • SF novel, second in a series
  • SF thriller
  • Collection of [a series of] 18 stories…about a giant mountain man in the Old West
  • Collection of [a series of] five stories about a post-apocalypse ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter
  • Collection of 16 stories

If I get a little more restrictive and say I’m not interested in a “thriller” or the Old West or a post-apocalypse, I’m down to one book. If I want it to be a novel and/or in mass-market paperback, the counter hits zero. And so it goes…

WorldCondemnation

I’m not involved in fandom in any way except, y’know, being a fanatic about SF and reading and writing about it constantly. I’m sympathetic to some of the Sad Puppies’ desires for more “fun” in SF and a broader reach for it. I’m not sympathetic to some of their non-literary excesses, though (nor those of their opponents). Either way, it turns out the Sad Puppies were right about one thing, at least. Now that they’re not there to kick around any more, the Worldcon folks have turned on each other (as they used to do before the Puppies). Currently, a lot of people are complaining about the vast evil right-wing straight white male conspiracy which is keeping them from their entitlement of being on important panels and I was reminded of a video of a panel I’d seen while mourning Gardner Dozois. So I thought I’d point out how people like Dozois, George R. R. Martin, and Howard Waldrop were treated. I hope the video goes straight to 19:41 or so but, if not, you can fast forward there. The relevant segment ends at 24:55 or so. (Note that, at one place, Martin says “1985” and “1986” when he meant “1975” and “1976.”)

Grrr. Since it turns out the site owner has inexplicably disabled playback on other sites, you can either click the youtube button on the “unembed” above or this link.

Help Me, SFWA Prez, You’re My Only Hope

From one award to another.

As the last section relates to Gardner Dozois’ recent death, so this one was specifically triggered by Ellison’s (and there were a couple of Ellison anecdotes in the clip above). I got to wondering which of my favorite authors from earlier decades were still alive. I have several (overflowing) cases of SF books which contain an “era” per case. People who started in the 30s and 40s are in one case. They are all dead now. People who started in the 50s and 60s (with maybe three who started in the 40s but really started in the 50s) are in the next case. With Harlan Ellison’s death, they are now all dead except the Grand Masters Larry Niven and Robert Silverberg, the Author Emeritus Katherine MacLean, and… Ben Bova (b.1932), Carol Emshwiller (b.1921), and Norman Spinrad (b.1940). This leads me to again make a plea I’ve made several times before in various ways.

Please, SFWA prez’s, make Ben Bova and Norman Spinrad (two peas in a pod, there) Grand Masters next year and the next! Please, SF fans, pester the SFWA board to make this happen! (Carol Emshwiller may win a Nobel for Literature someday but doesn’t seem to have made quite the impact on the field that might be expected. If anyone wanted to give her a Grand Master, I’d be delighted. Surprised, but delighted.)

As a life-achievement award given to authors who must be living, seniority should be and usually is a major factor. The last time someone older than Emshwiller was given the award was Phil Farmer (b.1918) in 2001. For Bova, it was Wolfe (b.1931) in 2013. For Spinrad, it was just this year but Delany, Cherryh, Haldeman, and Willis are all younger and have already received it. Time’s a-wastin’!