Review of “Bloodybones” by Paul F. Olson

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This novella was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. It was published for the first time in the author’s collection Whispered Echoes.

David’s friend Amy disappears from her property at Vassey Point during a violent storm. David helps her father close up her home in the old lighthouse, but six months later, he’s drawn to return. He meets Amy’s sister Karen wandering on the property, and the two of them strike up an acquaintance. They begin reading through Amy’s journals, finding creepy things. Can they solve the mystery of what happened to her?

Good points: This is a psychological horror, a ghost story that takes shape as the supernatural closes down slowly but surely on the two protagonists. It’s very smooth and offhand, so I gather Olson is very practiced at this. It includes a lot of information from David (as the narrator) that gives us local color and background on Amy, Karen and the history of the point that’s led to its haunting. Also, I can see the film in my head. This is very cinematic.

Not so good points: The narrator’s casual, matter-of-fact tone keeps the events here from becoming really scary. It’s very white bread and traditional. The techniques for generating horror are fairly standard—enclosed spaces, violent storms, ghostly presences, etc. I appreciate Olson’s technique and subtlety, but this just shivered my nerves a little. It didn’t really scare me.

Four stars.

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Still more shameless self-promotion!

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Afromyth

A while back I sold a story to Afromyth, an anthology from Afrocentric Books edited by J.S. Emuakpor. It looks like the e-book became available on December 9, and the paperback will soon follow. You can pick up a copy here. My story is “Death in Nairobi” about a Miami detective on holiday roped into investigating a local crime. Have fun reading!

Review of “Little Widow” by Maria Dahvana Headley

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This short story was a finalist for the 2017 World Fantasy Award. It was originally published by Nightmare.

Natalie is the Littlest Wife of the Preacher, a cult leader in Miracle. She’s at a sleepover when the cult suicides and the compound goes up in flames. Along with her surviving widows Reese and Scarlet, she is adopted by the Stuart family, and starts school. When the carnival comes to town, the girls go to what looks like a strip show, but the woman in the skimpy costume turns out to be Valerie, an angel from heaven who has come to contact them. Valerie has the Preacher in a cage and the girls confront him. She has also brought a shipment of T-Rexs from heaven that she lets loose to take care of some mistakes on the Earth. The four of them escape in a crop duster.

Good points: This story takes on a serious subject, which is how girls and women are often mistreated in patriarchal religious cults. It also takes a jaundiced view of miracles in general that fuel this kind of cult. It’s features good characterization, as we get background on the girls. They’re immigrant children, which suggests the problem with human trafficking.

Not so good points: This has a touch of surrealism, as the story moves from what could be reality to clear unreality when the girls meet Valerie. At this point, it’s actually less interesting. I was hoping it would follow through on the dramatic opening. Instead, this looks like another attack on the patriarchy. There are no male characters that don’t leer, and all the women are avengers. Even the dinosaurs are all female. Also, I’m not sure what the pterodactyl is about.

Three stars.

More Shameless Self-Promotion: Tales of Blood and Squalor Release

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Tales of Blood and Squalor
I recently sold a story called “The Offering” to a Dark Cloud Press anthology titled Tales of Blood and Squalor. My first horror sale, yah!

This will be available for sale at Amazon on November 20. There are 14 stories. From the Dark Cloud website, the description reads: “A novelist a tad too committed to realism in her craft, a tourist thirsting for blood, the king of a trailer park dungeon…” If you’re a horror fan, check it out!

Contributors:
Lee Allen Howard (Editor)‎
Joshua Bartolome
Lee Forsythe‎
Jay Seate
Sarah Gribble
Rob Francis
C. W. Blackwell
Rainie Zenith‎
James Edward O’Brien
Gab Halasz ‎
Bryan Dyke
Rachel Verkade
B. D. Prince
Lela E. Buis

Sales!

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I’ve sold a story called “The Offering” to a Dark Cloud Press anthology called Tales of Blood and Squalor. This is a landmark sale, as both the story and the anthology are horror. I just don’t do horror, but a little while back I got in this mood. So, my first horror sale. Yah, me!

I’ll post an update as publication becomes imminent.

Review of Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

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This book was published in 2017 by Hogarth, and is promoted as interrelated stories. It would most likely be classified as psychological dark fantasy, though a couple of the stories might be considered science fiction. Enriquez is Argentinian and the work is translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell.

I was expecting something like Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, but this work didn’t really produce a timeline or anything like a plot; instead, the stories are only tenuously connected by setting and sometimes character names. The tales are variously described as gothic, macabre and spooky, which is appropriate reading as we move into October. They provide brief glimpses of unreality, psychosis and death as the author takes us into the minds of people with different and terrifying visions.

Almost all Enriquez’ main characters in the stories are women. She’s a very strong writer, and her characterizations and imagery suck you in gradually, as people who first appear normal begin to slide into different perceptions. Her stories include a lot of social criticism, taking place against a backdrop of poverty and addiction, and cover issues like cutting, anorexia, murder, suicide, hikikomori and even more horrifying personal statements. Highly recommended.

I don’t think this will fly as a novel in the 2017 awards cycle, but I’m going to post some of the stories on the Nebula Reading List. I also think some of these stories would be excellent choices for the Stoker Award. I’m not a member of the HWA, but I’d like to recommend this book to people who are.

Four and a half stars.

Review of Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

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This novel is translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell. It was published by Riverhead Press in January 2017 and runs about 189 pages. Schweblin is from Argentina and currently lives in Germany.

Amanda is dying. In her last moments, she reviews the last weeks, speaking to a boy named David. Amanda and her daughter Nina are staying at a rented house for the summer while her husband works in the city. Amanda strikes up a friendship with her neighbor Carla, an elegant, beautiful woman who tells her a strange story about her son David. Carla’s husband raises race horses, and Carla looked out the window one day and missed the stallion. She took her son David to the pasture to search and found the stallion dying of poison. Too late, she realized her son was contaminated, too. He sickened quickly, and Carla took him to the woman in the green house who promised to cure him through transmigration. Amanda is frightened by the story and resolves to leave. She packs and looks for Carla to say good-bye, finds her in the pasture. Amanda and Nina immediately fall ill from sitting in the poisoned dew. Is there a way to save Nina?

I wouldn’t quite classify this story as horror—maybe the right word is “chilling.” It starts off innocently enough, but soon we understand that Amanda is dying. There’s no exposition, but we pick up clues about the death of the local stock, the deformity of children in the area. Inevitably Amanda and Nina blunder into the poison, and Carla makes every effort to save them. “Keep her close,” Amanda says to Carla, about the imminent transmigration of Nina’s soul.

It’s hard to find anything negative to say about this book, just that it probably won’t suit people looking for clear plots and strong action. It’s subtle and dreamlike. The horror is slowly constructed, so it takes a bit of patience, thought and observation to put together what’s really happening. On the other hand, these are its good points, too. It’s short, but it gets extra points for use of environmental pollution as the antagonist.

Four stars.

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