Thursday, December 23, 2010

G U D Issue Six

Issue 6 of G U D (Greatest Uncommon Denominator) is packed with fiction and poetry. I received a free PDF of the magazine.

The issue opens with a story from Aliette de Bodard. Set against the backdrop of ancient China ‘As the Wheel Turns’ follows Dai-Yu on a journey through several lifetimes. In each incarnation she is tormented by the Founders who urge her to choose between them. It is a choice Dai-Yu knows she cannot make whatever the consequences to her own existence.

Lavie Tidhar delivers a poignant tale about a girl, a butterfly and a painter in the ghettos of WWII in ‘The Last Butterfly.’ Almost as poignant, but deeply contrasting, is Caroline M Yoachim’s ‘What Happens in Vegas’ about drugs, sex and forgetting. While, Lydia Ondrusek offers us a sad tale about losing someone you love in ‘Hateful’. ‘Salad Days’ by E.H. Lupton deals with genetic illness and whether it is preferably to know whether or not you have inherited faulty genes.

‘Who are you talking to, Zone?’ by Bob Tippee with its brevity of language and unusual narrative is an engaging tale about a vagrant who hears voices. At times, I wasn’t certain if the other characters in the tale where figments of his imagination or not. I prefer not knowing.

There are a handful of micro tales in Gud, and my favourite was ‘How to Recover from a Hundred-Year Sleep ‘ by Sue Williams. A delightful fairy tale.

For me, the best story this issue was Ferrett Steinmetz’ ‘In the Garden of Rust and Salt.’ Nine-year-old Evelyn, Queen of the Junkyard, discovers unsavoury truths about her guardian and makes an unusual friend. Lovely.

Favourite poems were ‘Fire at the Time Factory’ by Jennifer Jerome and ‘Doll’ by Marine Richards. The latter is beautiful and evocative.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Fallen Angel", a novella by Amy Grech & Michael McCarty

It was a little over a year ago when I had the chance to read and review Amy Grech's short story collection, Blanket of White (click here to read that review),so I considered it a treat when I got the chance this year to check out her collaboration with author Michael McCarty for a horror novella called Fallen Angel.

The story tells of a young woman named Angel McCallister coming to grips with the death of her father, a sexually abusive drunk. She's already scarred by him, undergoing therapy, but It's when she moves into her old home months after the funeral that she has a resurgence in her nightmares and starts to experience paranormal phenomena around the house, particularly at night in the bedroom.

The despicable nature of her father is wrenching at times, especially early in the story when her mother commits suicide the same night Angel is sexually assaulted. And the desperation and isolation she feels when her father's ghost seems to haunt her is palpable. But there are little things that sucked me out of the story, primarily the copious amount of angel references. The lead character's name is Angel, she lives in Angel Falls, and during a dream sequence she sees a fallen statue of an angel outside a mausoleum.

Aside from an ending that I felt too abrupt, it was a compelling read and packed a serious punch. It was published earlier this year by Delirium Darkside. And if you're interested in checking out other short fiction from either authors, you can find Amy's Blanket of White and Michael's collection, A Hell of a Job, through Damnation Books.

Find out more about Amy at her blog And you can find Michael McCarty on MySpace at

Fallen Angel can be found in e-format at Darkside Digital.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stories for the End of the World by Eric Shapiro

In his collection, Eric Shapiro ends the world three times (more, if you want to be abstract of philosophical). His methods include a giant asteroid ("It's Only Temporary") and radioactive crab monsters ("The Hill"). Reading it, I kept thinking of the book as being called Stories from the End of the World, but that's wrong. The title is Stories for End of the World (Permuted Press: 2010). The distinction is significant. These aren't transmissions from our future selves, warning us of our impending dooms. Rather, Shapiro is sending these stories forward. They are stories about apocalypse for people dying in one, from those of us careening happily and boneheadedly towards our own.

Stories for the End of the World contains ten stories, three of which are long enough to qualify as novellas. Although the collection is, to overuse the term, apocalyptic in theme, not every story takes place at the world's end. These are apocalypses of love, of self, of good behavior. All are suffused with a sense of morbid glee, not dissimilar to the final montage of Doctor Strangelove.

Well, not all. "Fizz," the collection's grimmest inclusion, relates the circumstances leading up to and away from a calculated date rape. It's sad and infuriating. In a noteworthy twist, it subverts the usual goal of fiction of finding the universal in the specific, and instead tells a specific story through generalities, and in so doing, makes the subject matter loom all the larger.

A blurb on the cover anoints Shapiro the next Philip K. Dick, and I suppose I can see some similarities. In "Days of Allison," one of the book's longer (and best) pieces, we do have that most-Dickian of tropes, robots that think they're people. The writer I find myself going back to over and over again while reading Shapiro, however, is Nabokov. These Stories for the End of the World show that same precise balance of language that one finds in Lolita or Pnin, between playfulness and anguish, civility and grotesquery, funny ha-ha and funny kill-yourself.

An easy criticism to level at this collection would be that it is repetitive. Certainly, Shapiro's narrators tend to share a few personality traits, the most noticeable being their proclivity towards spiraling inner monologues of misanthropy and self-loathing. I caution against such a point of view. It's reductive, and misses the real accomplishment of these stories. Shapiro shares a worldview that is specific, unique, and complex. For readers, there are few greater treats than that, even if in his world, we all die at the end.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ideomancer, Vol. 9, Issue 4

Per publisher Leah Bobet’s editorial note, the December 2010 issue of Ideomancer is a celebration of the solstice. As she explains, this issue contains “stories about, and for, the end of the year, and the end – and beginning – of the world.” Good stuff.


“When the Light Left” by Becca de la Rosa – At one point the narration states: “All this dark would confuse anyone.” And this is truth. Very little light is shed onto the reality of this story. It is a jumble of well-written images and scenes hinting at a larger story. Mythic references add universal themes and work as understated signposts to point the way towards meaning. And there is a story here – I read it as a sad and universal story – but it is almost too obscure to feel.

“Lucky You” by Nadia Bulkin – An imaginative and poetic vision of a slow apocalypse. Or maybe it’s just a gradual evolution? Immortality becomes a curse once your world and your time no longer exist. My favorite story of this issue.

“What I Wrote for Andronicus” by Stephen Case – A nice story concerning death and rebirth in the afterlife. A significant tree ((Yggdrasil?) dies in a world populated by the gods and the dead. A scientific mind writes out the story of the tree as he knew it, relates the extinction of this tree to the extinction of various cottonwood species in the world of the living, and expresses how little he understands about this strange afterlife. The narrator – whose job it is to write out the story of the tree and serves as an unreliable narrator in that he only writes what he understands which leaves lots of room open for interpretation – explains how the tree died, but does he fully understand why? Author Stephen Case has this to say about his story: “Trees have for me a significance I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on. They know something we don’t.” I wonder how a tree might interpret this story? There’s a nice subtle revelation at the end that ties all the threads together and hammers home the meaning.

Poetry – The poetry selection this month is absolutely amazing. Poetry editor Jaime Lee Moyer deserves recognition for having a great eye and a great ear.

“My Bones’ Cracked Abacus” by Kelly Rose Pflug-Back – I really enjoy the format and language of this mysterious piece. An absolutely beautiful representation of how powerful speculative poetry can be when done right. My favorite poem of this issue, but only by a hair. An excerpt: "this is where they cut me, i told you./ this is where the flesh-tone doll’s parts were grafted;/ blank ugly sutures, a torturer’s braille./ this is the cartography of the blind."

“No Child of Daedalus” by W.C. Roberts – Contrasts the myths surrounding the ancient Greek artisan of the title and his son Icarus with the reality of Leonardo Da Vinci. A celebration of inspiration and engineering.

“Pinion” by Liz Bourke – In keeping with the theme of this issue, this is a poem about the end of the world. At least, it is a reflection on how the world ends for all of us. A poetic examination of the endless “dust to dust” cycle we all must endure.

Innsmouth Free Press #5

Innsmouth Free Press not only publishes original short stories that fall into that weird fiction style that fits so well with a Lovecraftian vibe, but you'll find on their site classic tales from H.P. Lovecraft and fictionalized news articles set in the Lovecraftian town of Innsmouth, labeled Monster Bytes. IFP #5 is their third and final issue for 2010.

I'm not a hip cat when it comes to Lovecraft's work, but I like weird fiction so I wanted to give this periodical a go. The look of the free PDF magazine has a clean, crisp style that makes it very appealing for a reader like me who isn't keen on visual bombardments from some periodicals. And the cover art by M.S. Corley evokes that dark, strange atmosphere that's to be expected from the stories stored within.

The table of contents looks like this: "The Concierto of Senor Lorenzo" by Kenneth Yu, "The Night We Burned Our Hearts Out" by Paul Jessup, "The Changeling" by Tom Hamilton, "Beneath the Cold Black Sea" by Martin Hayes, "Borgan's Deli" by Jarrid Deaton, "The Green World" by Julio Toro San Martin, "The Song of Tussagaroth" by James Lecky, "Nibbling" by Cheryl McCreary.

I found just about every story very enjoyable, and definitely were well-suited for the Lovecraft vibe without borrowing directly from the acclaimed author. If I had to pick three personal favorites, I'd likely go with: Kenneth Yu's story about a musician's brief stay in a nearly empty hotel and the fascination the proprietor has with him; Martin Hayes' story of a fishing village and the tormented souls who are lost at sea and those left behind on shore; and Cheryl McCreary's story involving an army of worms. Ew, worms.

If you're a fan of the weird tale, then I think you'd be doing yourself a favor by checking out the Innsmouth Free Press. You might be impressed and pleasantly surprised.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Darkened Corner by Tom Hamilton

The Darkened Corner by Tom Hamilton represents the importance and value provided by the modern small press. Without innovative independent publishers like Philistine Press, it is possible that Hamilton’s novella may not have ever seen the light of day. Not necessarily because of quality but because of marketability. Novellas, especially literary novellas, are a tough sell, even for some well-known authors. Had this book not been published, it would have been a real shame. This is quite frankly an excellent story.

The Darkened Corner tells the life story of an Irish Traveller in short, frenetic bursts of prose in a narrative spanning several decades and covering a large chunk of The United States. Tom Hamilton, an Irish Traveller himself, understands the subculture well, and it shows in the authenticity and honesty of his story. For those who do not know, Irish Travellers are a kind of hidden people interspersed throughout the United States and Europe. I guess they could be explained to the uninitiated as a kind of gypsy people of Irish descent. They often live together in shared communities and survive by taking on short term labor jobs and/or (allegedly) committing the occasional con. The Irish Traveller of this story, our central character, comes from a line of conmen. He is initiated into the trade and trained by his father.

The protagonist is a poet, a dreamer, but his dreams go unrealized. Late in the narrative, he says about poetry: “I'd gotten to the point where I knew just enough about poetry to realize that the poems that I was writing were real bad, and that poetry was really only something that fools used to pass the time.” His idealism fades while beer cans and empty bottles clatter down cold streets. He is a lonely drunk, a modern-day Bukowski. The protagonist is the ultimate outsider: an outsider among his own people who themselves are outsiders.

There are moments hinting at dark fantasy in the story that verge towards magic realism, yet this is a story of stark, concrete reality. In fact, in many ways, the ultimate tragedy of The Darkened Corner is that there is nothing in the darkened corner of the title. The ghosts and phantasms are in the mind, the product of an imagination fighting off the futility and meaningless of his own wasted life. Without magic, without fantasy, the less frequently the ghosts appear to our protagonist, the more our protagonist falls deeper into his own despair. The fantasies are there because, as the narrator points out: “Fantasies were unchallenged. A dream could be controlled. No one could fuck up a dream.” But you can really fuck up a life if you aren’t careful.

Anyway, finding this novella was a nice surprise, and you can’t beat the price: FREE! (But it would be courteous to provide a small donation to the publisher’s virtual tip jar.) My six-pack rating: An enthusiastic 5 out of 6 Four Locos!* Here is the link to this book:

*NOTE: Shortly after ingesting the Four Locos, the reviewer promptly began twitching and talking about himself in third person before passing out. How he managed to upload this review is a mystery…*

The Red Penny Papers

The second issue of The Red Penny Papers doesn't disappoint. I should start this review by stating that the editor, KV Taylor, and one of the contributors, Barry Napier, are good friends. I've tried not to let the fact colour my review. I hope.

William Vitka opens the issue with science-fiction tinged horror 'Jack the Ripper, Savior of Humanity', an intriguing take on the Jack the Ripper legend. Next up is Barry Napier's poignant 'Firmament', a sweet story about a wife and son's grief with a sense of unease running throughout. I can't decide if the ending is creepy. I suppose it must be, but I like to think not. Read it and judge for yourself.

Amanda Pillar brings a delightful Regency story to the issue with 'The Vampire Duke'. Robin suspects the Duke of Grafton is a vampire, but that's ridiculous. Isn't it? A fun read with an adorable lead character.

My favourite story this issue was T.J. McIntyre's 'House of Endless Skies'. Grant discovers that living on a private island is not at all glamorous especially when the sand gets in everywhere. The horror creeps in at first building to a satisfying ending. Love the title.

I did not see the end coming in A. Merc Rustad's 'The Teeth'. Eww! When Keith's wife dies in an explosion, Keith finds he's lost his appetite and then there's the problem of the teeth. They appear to be stalking him. We end with Gregor by Edward Morris. A meteor fell from the sky and a scientist is dead. His wife admits to killing him, but perhaps she had her reasons.

You can read all the stories over at The Red Penny Papers website.

Innsmouth Free Press

Readers with a hankering for the strange should seek out the excellent fifth issue of Innsmouth Free Press, edited by Paula R. Stiles and published by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
This free zine offers eight excellent horror stories with a taste of bizarre. A number of the stories are inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos:
Table of Contents
Two brothers watch as a city burns. I particularly enjoyed Paul Jessop’s poetic ‘The Night We Burned Our Hearts Out,’ telling the tale of brothers touched by the unworldly. A story with a powerful emotional punch.   
Tom Hamilton’s story 'The Changeling' is a beautifully written tale of a con artist and the stange tale he hears from one of his marks. A glimpse of a strange creature forces him to acknowledge the ugliness of his own choices. I found the imagery in this story very powerful.   
James Lecky’s ‘The Song of Tussagorath’ is a fantasy that echoes with the language of traditional mythos stories. When an ancient book is obtained, only the  unwise would open its tainted pages. Only the foolhardy would use the book as a doorway into unwholesome realms. A story reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith.   
As well as the fiction section Innsmouth Free Press prints faux news items (monster bytes) set in Innsmouth, a fiction town from a Lovecraft story, and reviews and interviews.
If you're looking for a fix of weird, dark fantasy you would do well to flick through the pages of 'Innsmouth Free Press.'