Reviews: New & Noteworthy Short Genre Fiction: Sept-Oct 2016


By Gillian Daniels

“When I Was Dead” by Stephen Case, (Published: August 2016), Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith, ed. Donald S. Crankshaw and Kristin Janz, Enigmatic Mirror Press

Mysterion is an anthology of Christian fantasy stories. It’s not a conversion text, but a collection of stories that are in dialogue with faith and a mystical understanding of the natural world.

Sometimes these are worlds populated by angels who share terra firma with humans, such as in “Too Poor to Sin” by H.L. Fullerton where forgiveness is used as currency in a tilted economic system. Other stories feature unexpected miracles, like the automaton priest discovered in F.R. Michaels’ “Cutio”. Other pieces show the trials of acting in faith itself as in Sarah Ellen Rogers’ “Horologium,” where the main character has agreed to be walled off in an isolated room for the rest of her life in order to serve as “mediatrix twixt the living and the dead.”

The story that has curled its hooks into me, however, is Stephen Case’s “When I Was Dead.” In it, the main character has found a worthy afterlife. He’s content with a house beside scenic orchards and cobbled lanes. The problem is his attempts to visit with friends; they’re not all there with him, just their empty houses filled with their things. The people he meets instead are his memories of them without the soul attached.

I love that this short piece engages with a terrifying question of Heaven. If only people who are faithful — and even then, only people who follow that faith to a certain degree — can enter a paradise afterlife, will all your friends and family you truly loved be there with you when you go? Is it actually a paradise? It’s a disturbing line of thought, one that left me with a deep chill and a great deal of respect for Case’s writing.

It’s a piece that brought to mind a memory from my middle school years. A friend described to me the plot of the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Being raised Jewish and unfamiliar with the Rapture, I probed her for answers about the people of other religions who didn’t go on to the afterlife and asked her if they were good people, as well. I remember her answers as frustrated and hesitant; I had unexpectedly hit a nerve.

“When I Was Dead” left me thoughtful, not least of all because its title implies the narrator’s state of death is transitory. If this is only a moment in eternity, where he passes from one state to another, what comes next and how will he get there? Case offers no easy answers but provokes conversation.

apex-august-2016-300w“Fall to Her” by Alexis A. Hunter, (Published: August 2016) Apex Magazine Issue 87

This is a love story between an alien with telepathy and inviting, silver lips and a human that will certainly die if she decides to leave her mech in the vacuum of space. They want each other very much. The human speaks in a terrified second-person, describing a lust that horrifies her; the alien is more accepting and serene, curious to know what sort of being she has found and what they can be together.

Alexis Hunter spins interstellar imagery into a dark pop song, one that begs to be put on repeat. The ending is perfect and earned.

“The New Ancient of Sophocles High” by Marco Kaye (Published: July 2016) Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet No. 34

In which the high dramatics of high school wrestling and ancient Greek myth are melted into one, seamless thing.

Okay, not perfectly seamless. It’s a self-conscious melding of two disparate things that perfectly describe the stakes of student athlete, A.J. It’s liminal fantasy — an extended metaphor of a young man wrestling both grief and opponents with extra-human powers — but hints at its own universe with internal logic independent of our world. I love Lady Chruchill’s Rosebud Wristlet for these sorts of genre-bending stories.

lcrw-34-300wMarco Kaye has a gift for voice. A.J. describes starving and dehydrating himself to drop weight classes and ancient masks that imbue the wearer with the powers of long lost demigods with the same teenage blase and dry, funny wit. He’s hurting, because of his father’s recent death and the pains he takes to keep up with the sport that’s becomes his refuge. His coach and mother don’t intervene. They’re looking to get him a full ride to college on it and sacrifices have to be made. Wrestling, supposedly his outlet, becomes the thing that drives him into a completely different life.

Like “When I Was Dead,” this story resonated with me in a personal way. It was not my own experiences, though, but the memory of being told what, exactly, wrestlers in high school went through. The understanding that a 15-year old boy forcing himself to vomit was somehow normal and the complacency of parents and peers to it.

In an LCRW issue heavy with poetry, this piece of prose stood out like a furnace. It distills the fires of myth and high school drama beautifully. What a strange, perfect story.

“The King is Dead” by Miranda Geer (Published: June 2016) Luna Station Quarterly No. 26

luna-station-issue-26-300wA vet in Uganda can speak to animals. They have a lot to say. He describes his reading of them, in a unique magic system with smooth, beautiful prose, as “finding their thoughts:

“I once found the thoughts of a crocodile, still intact in a bleached skeleton in a museum. The crocodile’s thoughts were deep and slow, and they echoed. I did not take them.”

There are cues the main character, Francis, is autistic or on spectrum, such as his hesitance to hug or meet people’s eyes. This already sets him adrift from a family that doesn’t really understand. His ability to speak to animals is also an obstacle to forming close ties with people, but it connects him to animals in a way that many would be envious to touch.

Sparkling prose, flowing and confident. An excellent portrait of a character who finds himself in a plot that builds by bits into terror and the unknown like some Lovecraftian beast.

I can’t find much about the author online. Miranda Geer describes herself as a college freshman, a former birthday coordinator at the Peoria Zoo, and lists no other writing credits. I hope this story is the first of many we see from her.

Gillian Daniels is a writer of prose, poetry, and criticism. After attending the Clarion Science Writing Workshop in 2011, her poems and fiction have been published in Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Flash Fiction Online, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine among others. Her reviews are available at The New England Theatre Geek blog and other venues. She is a transplant from Northeast Ohio and is highly suspicious of her home in the New World, i.e. Boston.

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