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Human for a Day

Edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Jennifer Brozek

The title of this anthology pretty much says it all: the stories all surround what might or could happen if something non-human had the chance, or was given the curse, of being human for a day. It’s a great idea for an anthology theme (wish I’d thought of it), and those included here used that theme to its greatest extent. There’s a wide variety of interpretations on the theme, as well as a wide variety of tones for the stories. Some are humorous, other are sad, and still others have a mixture of both. My favorite “serious” stories were from Ian Tregillis and Jim C. Hines, while David D. Levine used the theme in the most surprising way. I had a blast with Laura Resnick’s humorous story--she captured the POV of her main character perfectly, I thought--while Jean Rabe’s was also a riot. The rest of the stories were good as well. Overall, a well-balanced anthology with enough variety that everyone should find at least a few stories to love.





Table of Contents:

The Mainspring of His Heart, the Shackles of His Soul by Ian Tregillis: The anthology starts off with a steampunk story and tick tock automaton who, in cohoots with his human best friend, hopes to find the key that would free him from servitude and give him a soul. All he has to do is escape the ship he works on while in New Amsterdam and find the Underground Railroad. A cool, touching story to start of the anthology.

The Blade of His Plow by Jay Lake: In this story, we get to see Longinus, cursed to live forever as punishment for his role in what happened that “one hot morning in Judaea.” He’s drawn to battle and sees many horrific sights as penance before someone arrives and makes him mortal for a day, his punishment over. An interesting take on Longinus and the many stories surrounding his name.

Cinderella City by Seanan McGuire: We return to San Francisco in 1901 and the character Mina, an alchemist and bartender first introduced in a story in the anthology After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar for this story. Here, the city of San Francisco itself is given human form as the Summer King continues his battle to keep his position. Lighter fare than the first two stories, but fun. Just remember not to piss off your own city, just in case.

Tumulus by Anton Strout: Every hundred years, Mongfhionn, a banshee, rises from the dead for a day and the main character Jeanine is there to take advantage of it this time, with wards to protect herself. All she wants is a boon, but things don’t go as she planned. Mongfhionn is suitably terrifying here. A good use of her legend as well.

The Sentry by Fiona Patton: In this case, a statue of a lost soldier comes to life for a day as his remains are finally found. He uses his time to help a few fellow soldiers find their way home . . . or find a new purpose in life. A touching story of war and youth and loyalty.

Ten Thousand Cold Nights by Erik Scott de Bie: This is the story of the rivalry between two swords, the Bloodsword and a Soulsword. The Bloodsword doesn’t understand why the Soulsword continues to defeat him when he is stronger. He may find his answer on the day he learns to manifest himself in human form. This story read more like a legend and was perhaps a little rambling.

Mortality by Dylan Birtolo: Deniel is an angel and for one day he is given human form in order to test his faith. And the circumstances Denial runs into while in human form certainly challenge his beliefs.

The Dog-Catcher’s Song by Tanith Lee: Here, the family dog, loved by all, is given human form and he uses it to its fullest advantage. But not everyone in the family is willing to accept magic in their lives, and this one day of freedom changes everything.

Mortal Mix-Up by Laura Resnick: A young teenager casts a spell in order to switch bodies with her “vampiric” best friend, so she can steal her life and boyfriend, but the spell goes horribly wrong when it targets a real vampire in the vicinity. The story is from the vampire’s perspective, waking in a human form, and the author uses this POV to hilarious effect. I enjoyed this story a lot. Perhaps the best in the anthology in terms of sheer fun.

Band of Bronze by Jean Rabe: Although this one comes in as a close second for fun. The statues of Central Park--including the Mad Hatter, William Shakespeare, a marine, and a duck--in order to defend their park from pickpockets, drug dealers, and gangs. A great take on the individual characters, with some decidedly touching moments as well.

Zombie Interrupted by Tim Waggoner: We return to P.I. Matthew Richter, currently a zombie, in the city of Nekropolis. In this case, he’s after a wand that turns things into silver, but before he can get far in his search he’s forced to use a coin to turn himself into a human. He’s got one shot now to back home to his significant other for their only chance at having a kid . . . but of course all of Nekropolis is out to get him (or so it seems).

Beneath the Silent Bell, the Autumn Sky Turns to Spring by Eudie Foster: A story in a non-traditional setting here, about two lovers. One thought she was rejected and sought vengeance, but as the story unfolds--all surrounding a particular bell--the real story is unraveled. I liked the mysticism here, and the use of the “day as a human” theme, with a few twists.

The Very Next Day by Jody Lynn Nye: In this story, Santa gets a day of actual true life, a magic made possible by the intense belief in his existence that came the day after Virginia’s letter was printed in the newspaper. Finding himself on the streets of New York City, Santa goes to see the man who wrote the editorial in answer to Virginia’s letter. I liked the story quite a bit, but still felt that something MORE should have happened here. I’m not sure what myself, but still . . .

The Destroyer by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The main character here is a wild male cat who simply wants to defend his territory. But when it’s invaded by the Destroyer, he finds he must use the cats’ pact with the faery to help him. Cat lovers will love this one, of course.

Into the Nth Dimension by David D. Levine: This was a totally unexpected take on the theme, fitting it perfectly, but not something I would have thought of myself. I find I don’t want to ruin the reveal, so suffice it to say that the story was well-written, interesting, and even had a little social commentary woven into it as well. More serious than it would at first appear anyway. Perhaps my favorite in the anthology simply for the surprise of the idea.

Epilogue by Jim C. Hines: This is a darker story from Jim, which should no longer require comment since he’s been doing it--and doing it well--for a while. Here, Clair is caught in a coal mine collapse and uses her cell phone and her father’s old stories to connect with her dead father once again. A subtle use of the theme of the anthology and a somber end, but an excellent story as usual.
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River

Edited by Alma Alexander

I was invited to submit a story for this anthology based around the idea that all rivers are the same river, that they all exude power and are transformative in nature, ever changing yet with hidden strengths. I immediately thought of the River in my “Throne of Amenkor” series and ended up writing a story based around that. I wasn’t certain the story would make the cut, but it did, and now I’ve had a chance to read all of the other stories that made it as well.

I was surprised at how varied the stories were, from those in fantasy settings (like mine) to modern day settings, to post-apocalyptic and even SF settings. There’s even what I’d call a paranormal romance in here. None of the stories are quite like the others, although there are some common themes such as water spirits or elementals who are deeply connected to the river, or the river itself as its own spirit. One story even has the river as the main character. I think every reader will be able to find a couple of stories in here that they will love, and they’ll enjoy the rest of the stories as well.

One of the coolest things about the anthology is the table of contents, which isn't really a table but a map. I've put the graphic for that at the end of the review.





Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:

The Well-Keeper and the Wolf by Tiffany Trent: The opening story in the anthology fittingly surrounds the Well, the source of all of the rivers in all of the worlds across the universe. It’s guarded by a woman who once loved the Wolf who is dying of thirst. This is their story. An interesting start, with a cool emotional quandary between the Well-Keeper and the Wolf.

Rites by Mary Victoria: Set in Cyprus, this story involved a young girl and an old Englishman who has recently come to her village to paint. But the artist sees right through the girl’s outer skin to her inner soul, even if he doesn’t realize exactly what it is he sees. A slow, atmospheric story.

The Fall by Irene Radford: This one’s written from the perspective of a waterfall. I was initially wary because where is the story going to come from? But Irene weaves the local tribe that uses the waterfall to survive into a nice little tale.

They Are Forgotten Until They Come Again by Jay Lake: Here, the story appears to be post-apocalyptic, but far enough in the future after the event that humanity has descended back to a tribal level. The warriors in the tribe are attempting to sacrifice a malformed child to the river god, but they weren’t expecting the mother’s wrath.

Scatological by Deb Taber: This little tale was somewhat bizarre in a good way. The main character moves to a new town where it appears that frogs are rising from the river and overrunning everything at night. Except that they aren’t exactly frogs. And perhaps what’s happening isn’t really the disaster everyone seems to think it is. An interesting positive take or twist on a scientific fact about what gave rise to life way back when. I liked this story.

Floodlust by Jacey Bedford: I liked the title of this one instantly. The story itself has romance elements to it, with a young woman meeting a water elemental type of creature and falling in love. But she can’t get over her fear of drowning after her father drowned in the river when she was younger. How can they be together? I thought the story needed more space; it felt rushed, especially in the middle. But still a good story.

Five Bullets on the Banks of the Sadji by Keffy R.M. Kehrli: Sort of a blend of fantasy with touches of science and a little flare of steampunk here. The main character is part of the oppressed minority where two rivers meet and his brothers have already died either fighting against their oppressors, or embracing them. He sticks to the middle road, until one of the dying rebels comes to his house for help and he learns to fight them in his own way. I liked the feel of this setting and this story.

My Grandfather’s River by Brenda Cooper: A very short SF story in which a daughter attempts to recreate through virtual reality a river for her grandfather on his birthday, one that he attempted to save from destruction when younger.

The River by Joshua Palmatier: Well, what can I say. I liked this story. *grin* Set in my fictional city of Amenkor, this one features my assassin Erick, set to punish those who’ve committed crimes by the Mistress. Here, he’s after a woman who’s killing her children by drowning them in the River. Fans of my “Throne” novels get to meet Varis and the Mistress again, since it’s set at the same time as The Skewed Throne.

Lady of the Waters by Seanan McGuire: Here, a boat with a centaur captain and a crew with varied backgrounds and various useful talents stop off in a new town only to immediately stumble into the middle of trouble. It appears that numerous local young women have disappeared, supposedly taken by the Lady of the Waters. The crew sets out to investigate. Again, I felt like this story needed more space and room to develop. A good story, but it feels like there’s so much more left to discover.

Vodnik Laughter by Ada Milenkovic Brown: This story was interesting because it used folklore I wasn’t familiar with. A young girl unwittingly makes a deal with a vodnik in the local river—a water spirit that keeps the souls of its victims in teacups—when she nearly drowns. She runs into the same vodnik when she’s older . . . and he has another deal for her.

River-Kissed by Joyce Reynolds-Ward: In a post-apocalyptic setting, Marthe sets out to travel down from her mountain stream to the river below, since she’s river-kissed and her gills are about to show. She thinks being river-kissed will protect her, but she finds out otherwise. Now she simply hopes to survive . . . and arrive before her change is complete.

Beyond the Lighthouse by Nisi Shawl: And the final story in the anthology takes us to a woman who seeks a relationship in real life, but can only seem to deal with it in a sort of dream state where she’s transformed into a bird but can see the past and present. So uses this ability to find out about this man she’s noticed and spoken to on the bus, but would like to know better. But can she release her fears enough to actually have a true conversation with him?



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Beauty Has Her Way

First off, I have a short story in this anthology, so of course you should go out and buy it. It’s even an Amenkor story, if you’ve read and enjoyed my “Throne of Amenkor” series. (It isn’t set at the same time as the Throne books though.)

The main premise is that each story should involve a strong-willed woman who’s willing to do anything—and we mean anything, including what some might consider evil acts—in order to get her way. Most of the stories have strong-willed women, although the stories themselves have different takes on what that actually means. Most of them actually do something extreme in order to get their way, or to escape their circumstances, etc. I enjoyed most of the stories in here, although a few didn’t quite reach me or captivate my interest. Some of the strongest stories included Pete Kempshall’s “Someone Else to Play With” and Erik Scott de Bie’s “Witch Fire.” A few others had great worlds that piqued my interested, even if the story didn’t work as well as I would have liked as a reader. And of course my story rocked. *grin*

The main complaint I’ve seen from some other reviewers of this anthology—a complaint voiced about my story as well as others—is that the main character didn’t really HAVE to be a woman. Regarding my story, I agree. The point of my story didn’t rely on my main character being a woman. However, in my WORLD in the story, the ruler HAD to be a woman, just because of the way the world was set up. And I find that the same is true for most of the other stories: the main character didn’t have to be a woman in general, BUT the world set up in the story required the main character to be a woman—and to overcome adversity because of that. So I don’t believe this critique is valid. EVERY story could be turned and rewritten so that the main character could be a man or woman, just by changing the rules of the world. So it’s all a matter of perspective, I think.

In any case, some interesting reading in this one, even if I personally didn’t enjoy every story. I’m sure we’d disagree on the best and worst if we compared notes. But here were some of my thoughts on the stories as I read:





Yesterday

Sacrifices to the Moon by Paul D. Batteiger: This story had a heavy Conan-esque feel to it, with the battle-savvy woman trekking across an apocalyptic-feeling world. She runs across a society who sacrifices their royalty to the strange creatures in a dark, murky lake at the edge of colossal ruins. An OK story, if you’re into this type of sword and sorcery story.

Dunkle Froline by Ramsey Lundock: A very strange world/society is at the heart of this story, where humans are servants/slaves. Some have come to accept their enslavement, but others are fighting back. This story is about one woman who desperately wants to fight and learns that sometimes fighting doesn’t involve blades as weapons. Some good character realizations as the story progresses.

Tears of Blood by Joshua Palmatier: I wrote this one, so of course it rocks. *grin* This is set in my Amenkor universe and is about a time when plague has struck the city. One of the Servants to the Mistress learns that sometimes the Mistress MUST have her way for the good of the city, even if her actions may seem cruel and evil by others. A harsh look at some of the realities and responsibilities of having true power and being a ruler here.

I, Theodora by Maurice Broaddus: This one is set in Roman times, during Caligula’s reign. The main character is a prostitute and this details some of what she must do and endure in order to remain safe in these harsh times and in her chosen field. The story didn’t have enough direction for me, enough of a solid thread letting me know where it was going or what its purpose was. Afterwards, I realized it was detailing some of what she had to endure, a “day in the life” kind of thing.

Vengeance is Mine by Kenneth Mark Hoover: And this last “Yesterday” story is set in a version of the Old West. The main character, Magra, seeks vengeance against the man and woman who have tried to kill her lover, although the relationships between all of them are more complicated than that. I thought this story a little odd for the anthology, since Magra doesn’t appear to obtain her goal in the end. But Magra had some interesting powers, and there were hints of an interesting world outside of what we see here.

Today

The Moko-Jumbie Girl by Chuck Wendig: In this first story set during “today,” we see a young girl with a ton of grit who is simply trying to save her family from ridicule and misunderstanding. Her brother, admittedly a loser, is in jail and she needs to get him out. She doesn’t have a gun, or much of any physical weapon really, but she does have her roots and she calls on those roots to save her brother.

Someone Else to Play With by Pete Kempshall: This story starts with a guy who certainly feels he’s in control of his own little piece of the world. He talks tough, plays rough, and generally doesn’t take anything from anyone, including his supposed girl. But then another woman enters the picture . . . and from there the story turns completely around. I liked the subtlety of this one, and so far it’s my favorite story in the anthology. Well written, even though the dialect of the main character is hard to follow at the beginning.

Daggers in Her Garters by Ed Greenwood: Here, a woman goes after an ex who has managed to seduce and kill numerous women over the years. But he’s finally pushed this woman beyond her limits. The story certainly fits the anthology theme, although there’s no real SF element to it. But then, the anthology’s theme didn’t require one, did it?

Men Do Nothing by Filamena Hill: No real SF element to this one either, although there are hints of it. A mobster’s daughter takes matters into her own hands when one of the other wives—someone she is close to—is beaten to death and it appears that none of the men in the family are going to do anything about it. A little rough in the writing department, but the character is strong and comes through loud and clear.

Becoming by David A. Hill, Jr.: The main character here is a police detective who gets fed up with the bureaucracy of the department blocking her attempts to bring a diplomatically immune criminal to justice. Again, no SF element. This brought out the vigilante in me, with a twist at the end.

Witch Fire by Erik Scott de Bie: Very cool SF concept here, with our main character a “gun witch” out to police her own kind. An interesting alternate world that I’d like to explore more. In fact, this story felt like it was a continuation of something else, with the ending giving the impression that there’s certainly more to come—sort of like part of an episode of a TV series—but a good solid story in and of itself.

Tomorrow

Ride the Rebel Wind by Amanda Gannon: The first story in the section titled “tomorrow” is definitely set in the future, with great airships (that reminded me of dirigibles, but they aren’t) plying the skies, including one wreaking havoc on the small towns that still survive in what’s left of America. The world was great . . . but it didn’t feel like the story ended for me. I just wanted . . . more. The buildup in the earlier parts of the story demanded it, I felt.

A Well-Embroidered Heart by Keffy R. M. Kehrli: A creepy little story here, with an interesting take on necromancy. Necromancers have taken over, and the dispossessed “son” of the ruler with an identity crisis of his own wants it all to end. This one tends more toward horror. Well written with a good balance between the creepy and the emotions of the main character.

The Runner by K.V. Taylor: This one could have been in the “yesterday” section as easily as “tomorrow,” in my opinion. A clan is defending their swampy territory from outsiders, in order to keep control of the prized blackwood plants that grow there. One woman is asked to do the unspeakable in order to save the clan, but she takes matters into her own hands. I liked the world, and the main character.

Trapped Star by Ann Wilkes: Set in the far future, here the main character is a thief out to steal a jewel which could change everything, because the jewel is more than it seems. She’s, of course, willing to use and abuse anything and everyone to get it. While the writing was good, I was expecting the story to do something more than it did at the end. It was good and held my interest up until a certain point . . . and then the last page or so just felt flat to me, as if it should have ended sooner or should have gone on to something else.

Her Eyes On by Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib: The last story in the anthology is about a woman trapped on a colony where the men rule everything and the only safety offered women is through marriage. But Leda builds herself her own spaceship in order to escape. Her no-good husband sells it . . . and forces her to take matters into her own hands. A very solid final story for the anthology, definitely fitting the theme.
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Zombiesque

Edited by Stephen L. Antczak, James C. Bassett, and Martin H. Greenberg

The main theme of this anthology is to have stories written from the zombie point of view, what it’s like to actually be a zombie and how the zombies fit into society . . . or perhaps change society into something completely different. There’s a wide range of stories here, from the straight forward “I’m in the mindless zombie’s head as it attacks” story, to ones in which the zombies have taken over the world and reformed it in their own image. What was also interesting was the diverse way in which some of the authors explained where the zombies came from—a disease, rage, nanos, allergic reactions, etc. Overall a solid anthology with some tongue-in-cheek stories . . . and also some stories that pushed my disgusting button perhaps a little too hard. I’ve bolded the titles of the two stories I enjoyed the most, but which ones you like will probably depend a lot on your own taste.





At First Only Darkness by Nancy A. Collins: A fairly short introduction to the anthology that’s good at getting you into the mindset of the stories to come, putting you inside the head of someone who has been turned, from the moment the new zombie consciousness takes over and beyond. No information on how the zombies came about here.

The Immortal Part by Charles Pinion: The zombie in this one has most of his cognitive powers left, and uses them to hunt his prey . . . and to escape the notice of those hunting the zombies. I liked the backstory of the main character here, and liked the character overall, even if he does eat flesh. The zombie apocalypse came about as a disease here.

Do No Harm by Tim Waggoner: Here’s an interesting take on the way zombies interact with each other after they’ve been turned, with groups forming around a king or queen like a hive. The group takes on the traits of their king or queen, which presents a problem when the queen is a doctor who has vowed to do no harm to other humans or her fellow zombies. The zombie plague here comes from nanos, essentially.

Zombie Camp by Richard Lee Byers: Another interesting take on zombies here, with people going on vacations where they can take a pill that makes them zombies temporarily, allowing them to relax and experience what it would be like, while changing back to normal later. A clever twist on the anthology theme, with a good character story as well.

Into That Good Night by Robert Sommers: Once again we begin with the zombie awakening. Here, he appears to be halfway between human and zombie, with hints that the zombies could be more than mindless creatures bent on hunger. How the apocalypse comes about isn’t really explained (just some flashing lights), but the focus is on the main character and his drive to get home to his family.

Gimme a “Z”! by Seanan McGuire: This was a fun little tongue-in-cheek look at a cheerleader who unexpectedly rises from the dead and tries to get back onto the squad. But it turns out her rising wasn’t an accident . . . nor the rising of some others. This is the first story to use ritual and human intent on raising the dead, rather than some form of accidental zombie apocalypse. And quite a bit of attention was paid to the little details, such as how embalming would help with the whole “flesh falling off the body” thing.

You Always Hurt the One You Love by G.K. Hayes: Here, the main character is desperately trying to control the onset of his zombie urges, now that he’s caught the disease and turned, and live as normal in the real world. But he discovers that he’s more connected to the world than he originally thought—what with work and girlfriends—and that the zombie urges are more powerful than perhaps even he can handle.

In the Line of Duty by Jim C. Hines: In this story, an attempt has been made to integrate the zombies into society. They’re pitied, and attempts are being made to cure them, but they’ve come up with nutrient bars they can use in place of human brains and so our main character is part of a specialized enforcement team that handles touchy situations that non-zombies would find too dangerous or impossible. It was a unique take on the theme, with a good character story as well as an interesting set-up and plot.

Posthumous by Sean Taylor: Here, the main character Lucy is a writer who died and is now back and continues to write posthumously, with her husband publishing the books as if they were “found” trunk novels. But Lucy wants more from her living husband than just a career, so when she discovers there’s “another woman” . . . well, the zombie in Lucy lets loose. This was a personal story, not really about the zombification itself, so no real explanation for why Lucy became a zombie and (as far as I can tell) no zombie apocalypse here. Good story though.

The Warlock’s Run by Jean Rabe: Chris died in a drag race when he was seventeen . . . but that hasn’t stopped him. His parents paid to zombify him and since then he’s been racing his entire “life” on the NASCAR circuit. Now he’s made it to the Daytona 500, and he intends to win no matter what. A good story, but a little heavy on the NASCAR details—facts and such about the races, etc. I’m not into NASCAR though, so they didn’t mean much to me. I’m guessing NASCAR fans would be all over it though.

But None Shall Sing For Me by Gregory Nicoll: This one is set in the Caribbean, with an emphasis on voodoo zombies. Carrefour was created ages ago but doesn’t remember much about his life before. But when he sees some of the drama being played out between a plantation owner, his zombified wife, and his brother, some things begin seeping back into his consciousness and in the end he helps resolve the current strife and finds a way to help himself in the process. A little rough in spots and I thought the parallels between Carrefour’s life and what was happening now could have been expanded.

Zero by Del Stone Jr.: Zero is the name given to those who become zombies in this story, and they are hunted and killed or studied here. So when Jenn becomes a Zero, she flees and finds a new life on the streets. But she craves something more, that sense of feeling that she had when she was alive, and she finds she can get it by eating certain people’s flesh and blood. Her search for this burn brings her to some realizations about her life and her new existence. Oh, and the Zeros are created by an allergic reaction to genetically engineered foods in this story.

A Distant Sound of Hammers by S. Boyd Taylor: This story pushed my boundary for disgusting a little bit. In the new zombie world, zombie control everything and normal humans are simply cattle. Jody is one of those zombies, but discovers he wants to be human again. He runs into his still human sister in one of the cattle pens, freshly caught but part of the human resistance. She offers him a chance to become human, but in return wants to become a zombie. I liked this interplay between the two characters and viewpoints, but I have to wonder if the story ended in the right place.

The Confession by Laszlo Xalieri: Here we have a zombie confessing is crimes to the man who has been investigating and trying to find him. There’s an interesting take on what the zombie actually is here, and what the zombies really crave and why, but this story again pushed my disgusting button. This one was more discomforting in that area than the previous story though. The twist of the confession in the end was great though.

Zombie Zero by Nancy Holder: Another zombie story with a zero, but in this case the zero represents the first zombie, the zero vector of the infection. It happens to be the wife of a famous actor who killed herself out of anger and rage over her life. And rage is what creates the zombies in this story. It has a slew of religious overtones, the zombie apocalypse essentially becoming its own religion with the human survivors embracing it or controlling their own emotions to escape it. Zombie Zero becomes the focal point, the zombie “savior” so to speak, for this religion. Certainly an interesting take on the apocalypse.

In the Quiet of Spring by Wendy Webb: The final story in the anthology is a quiet story about a woman who retreats from society and the world, embracing nature and herbs and the environment in an attempt to completely remove herself from any reliance on anything from our world. But she can’t work her farm and such alone. She needs help, just a few extra pairs of hands around the house. She uses her knowledge of nature to concoct a potion to get that help . . . very compliant, uncomplaining help. A good way to end the anthology, I thought, with a quiet story full of lots of atmosphere.
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Boondocks Fantasy

This is obviously a take on the “urban” fantasy trend in the market right now, taking us back to the sticks instead of into the city streets. I enjoyed most of the stories in this anthology and it was good overall. One story stood out above the others--Brian A Hopkins’ Black Rider--but there were plenty of good stories in here. A nice range of lighthearted all the way up to rather dark. My favorite “light” story was Raymond Benson’s The Devil is a Gentleman. Here are my thoughts on each individual story:





The Giant by Gene Wolfe: The opening story takes us on a walk into the woods with a man trying to understand what changed his wife so drastically when she journeyed into the woods alone as a child. He’s warned away from the right-hand path, but of course he takes it. I thought the idea behind this story was cool, but felt it needed a little bit more work on the ending.

Protection by Timothy Zahn: This story takes a shepherd who’s a werewolf and mixes in the mob, who find they’re WAY out of their depth when they hit the sticks. This was a great story, well-rounded and satisfying.

Lake People by Chris Pierson: Here we have an “eccentric” elderly woman living on a lake who surrounds herself with handmade elves, dragons, and other creatures in an attempt to protect herself from the Lake People. Of course, no one believes there are really Lake People, and when the number of handmade creatures verges on insanity . . . well, it doesn’t end well. *grin* A good story, with an ending I wasn’t expecting.

Cat People by Mickey Zucker Reichert: When the barn catches fire on this farm, the only animals the owner manages to save is a cat and her litter of kittens. Thinking their dreams of a quiet, rural life have ended, the couple is surprised by the way the cat thanks them. A cute story with just enough alien-ness to make you shiver and wonder what you’d do if it happened to you.

The Horned Man by Steven Savile: The setting here is the hinterlands near Stockholm, where a couple runs into trouble when their car hits a “moose” and breaks down in the middle of a vicious storm. I was expecting what happens after that . . . except that the connotations of the ending left me uncomfortable. I thought more attention should have been paid to the woman, her plight and her emotional state after what happens. It wasn’t addressed at all, and it should have been.

The Feud by Patrick McGilligan: We get an interesting set of characters here, stereotypical backwoods hicks . . . except they’re all dead. The feud between the two families is fairly standard . . . until we hit the end, where they find some common ground to stand on. Can’t say much more without giving away the twist at the end.

The Devil Is a Gentleman by Raymond Benson: This story made me smile, with one of the demons acting as a P.I. in a small Texas town. He only goes after the truly evil though, none of this “cheating husband” stuff. An interesting take on the devil working in our own world. Well written as well.

Eternal Vigilance by Dylan Birtolo: Set in a swamp, we have a wizard who’s captured . . . something and is keeping it contained beneath the waters. But the wizard learns he really can’t let his guard down . . . ever. I liked the main character, but thought the ending was rushed.

The Taste of Strawberry Jam by Elizabeth A. Vaughan: Some inner city kids, part of a gang, stumble into trouble when they attempt to steal the wrong person’s purse in this story. I liked this story; the ending made me smile.

The Storyteller by D.L. Stever: Here we have a pair of kids listening to the strange stories told by Old Josie Miller, one of their mother’s friends. The stories are standard, and it’s all a set-up for the twist at the end. I thought it needed a little more development though.

Being Neighborly by Anita Ensal: This is sort of a reverse boondocks story, in that the people from the sticks head into the suburbs . . . and run into a neighborhood being taken over by some nasties. Some good old fashioned backwoods pluck and the use of an iron skillet bring things back under control. One rather disgusting use of the skillet here, but a great story overall. One question though: what happened to the biscuits?

Marfa by Anton Strout: The title refers to the name of the town in Texas where this is set, which has some interesting urban legends. And that’s what this story plays off of—while driving, sleepy, in the dark, the main character hits something in the road . . . we’ve all heard this one before right? Except it’s not what you think at all. A solid story from Anton here.

Aware by C.J. Henderson: This story is much more tongue-in-cheek than the previous one, about alien abduction in the sticks and the tabloid sensationalist news reporter that investigates it. An interesting twist on aliens and what will destroy our world in the long run, unless the aliens and the reporter can stop it.

Sully’s Solution by Kelly Swails: Here, a local small town cop is asked to look into Sully and what he’s doing at his out-of-the-way trailer. Seems the local high school kids have been partying at his place lately. The cop decides to visit and finds that Sully isn’t selling what everyone in the town thinks.

Trophy Wife by Vicki Johnson-Steger: This is REAL back sticks, a lone man living on his own, hunting, fishing, and collecting trophies for his wall. He’s always wanted to catch that massive sturgeon in the local lake, but when he lands it . . . it isn’t quite what it seems. A rather nasty twist at the end of this one.

Fairies Weep Not by Linda P. Baker: A visit to her grandparents has a young woman revisiting her childhood when she discovers the land around the house she remembers has completely changed. Instead of the vibrant forest and green land, it’s now been plowed under and the crops look weak, the creek dammed up, everything sickly and dying. She discovers why, and then has to decide to take action.

Siren Tears by John Lambshead: A rather arrogant man needs a break from his shady dealings at his job (and the threat of getting caught), so heads into the country for a breather . . . only to discover that there are things in the boondocks he should REALLY be worried about catching him. This story was set “across the pond,” which was a nice change of pace and provided an interesting different kind of boondock.

Jefferson’s West by Jay Lake: This story provides an alternate history of what Lewis and Clarke might have found in the west on their epic journey. A short story, but very atmospheric, which is typical of Jay Lake stories.

Black Rider by Brian A. Hopkins: An incredibly good story about a man attempting to escape his own grief and passion after the death of a loved one. Dark, atmospheric, and interesting, set in the desert of the southwest. Definitely one of my favorite stories in this anthology.

Rural Route by Donald J. Bingle: A different take on cattle mutilations, written from the perspective of a farmer and an employee of the CDC who’s looking to track disease vectors and ends up tracking something else instead. Kind of a dark way to end the anthology, but I see why it was placed here. This one starts in the boondocks and then spreads to the cities.
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Love & Rockets

I have to admit that I started reading this anthology with some trepidation, since in general I am not drawn to stories involving the usual romance tropes. I like stories with relationships in them, but there are certain elements that romance readers expect from their reading and I just don’t enjoy those aspects as much. However, it turns out that this anthology is not so much a set of stories that mix the sci-fi and romance genres, as it is stories about sci-fi and relationships. If you are expecting heavy-duty romance with some SF setting, you’ll be disappointed. There are a few stories in here that do that (Anita Ensal’s story, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story), but for the most part these are simply stories that explore different aspects of relationships in space. I was a little disappointed that more of the stories didn’t involve an exploration of alien/human relationships (there’s only two). Most are traditional relationships, with two involving female/female relationships, or at least suggesting that possibility.





That said, if you go into this thinking it’s more SF with a focus on relationships, then it was a great anthology, one of the better ones actually. I usually only chose two of the stories as those I consider the best, but couldn’t decide between three of them, so you’ve got three this time--Dean Wesley Smith’s, Tim Waggoner’s, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s. And quite a few of the other stories rated highly on my list as well. Here are the individual reviews:

Introduction by Lois McMaster Bujold: An interesting little discourse about science fiction, fantasy, romance, and trying to get the different genres to play nice with one another. Lois McMaster Bujold makes you think about the expectations of the readers for the relationships that are present in each genre. A good way to start such an anthology.

Second Shift by Brenda Cooper: In the first story, we are introduced to a woman who has fallen in love even though she’s never met the one she loves in person. The story then asks whether or not this is true love, or something else. I liked the setup of this love story, but can’t say much else without giving too much away.

Gateway Night by Nina Kiriki Hoffman: Here we meet a woman who heads for a space station where four distinct races mix in order to be a nurse and to experience more of the universe than she’s seen on her home planet. She learns more than expected on Gateway Night, the station’s equivalent of a carnival, a night of shared debauchery and passion. A good story with a subtle and appropriate shift in the main character by the end. One of the only stories to include an alien/human relationship (in some sense).

The Women Who Ate Stone Squid by Jay Lake: In this story, a ship has just discovered evidence of another sentient life form on a planet in the form of ruins and sends out a scout to see what’s what. I’m not certain how much of a love story this ends up being in the end (not much), but it does have a unique twist about society in the future that’s interesting.

Wanted by Anita Ensal: A young woman escapes from a space station and, through bad luck, ends up adrift is space. She’d rescued by an asteroid miner and . . . well, that would be telling. *grin* This is the first story in the anthology that I would say has the heavy romance tropes that the title of the anthology suggests.

An Offer You Couldn’t Refuse by Sylvia Kelso & Lillian Stewart Carl: You know that euphemism about sex and fireworks? Well, here the main character is a hired hand for a fireworks company who ends up with more than he bargained for when his boss creates a new algorithm for launching those rockets. (I’m making this sound more tawdry than the actual story.) A nice story, with love blooming in that awkwardness within work relationships.

In the Night by Steven H Silver: The person behind the voice you hear on the radio is never like the person you imagine them to be when you meet them in real life. That’s the premise behind this story, where a comm officer decides he wants to meet the woman behind the stellar voice that guides him and his ship into dock. This story is all about adjusting for those initial misconceptions (on both sides).

F Isn’t For Freefall by Donald J. Bingle: What was your first time like? That’s what this story answers for a group of guys at a space flight training college. A fun story that makes you grin. I’m finding it hard to say anything without spoiling something in the plot though.

If This Were a Romance by Shannon Page & Jay Lake: Here, a lowly biomechanic on a generational ship dreams of a better life, something with romance like what she sees and reads about for entertainment. So when the Consort drifts into her life, she seizes the opportunity to make her dreams come true. But the Consort has something else in mind. . . . A good story with a nice twist at the end. The story plays on our reader expectations for the types of stories we assume are in this anthology.

The Business of Love by Kelly Swails: Here, a young man feels trapped between the life his mother—the head of a major corporation—expects him to lead, and the life he expects for himself. He finds that perhaps both expectations are wrong. Another good story, where the main character changes during the course of the story.

Music In Time by Dean Wesley Smith: A musician hits rock bottom, selling his own guitar, and is approached with a job offer that is completely unbelievable. And to complicate matters, he finds the woman who approaches him attractive. The beginning of this story was a little rough, but I found myself seriously drawn into the man and his problem . . . and how he was going to resolve it. A great character story.

Dance of Life by Jody Lynn Nye: This is the first story that deals with a true alien/human relationship. The main character is an alien that falls in love with a human dancer at a wedding set on a luxury space cruiser. There were some . . . uncomfortable moments in this one, where I wasn’t certain if the feelings were mutual. I’m not certain the ending was appropriate either; it seemed to happen way too fast.

Old Times’ Sake by Tim Waggoner: This was in interesting story, where one of the pair in the romance confronts the other and asks him why he killed her. The subsequent revelation was very well written and the circumstances and emotions behind the incident totally believable. How would it come about that one person can kill the person he truly loves? One of the best stories in the anthology, IMO.

Drinking Games by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: This last story is also good, about a hired assassin who isn’t particularly good at her job and the man who “accidentally” runs across her trying to dispose of her latest victim. This had much more of the romance tropes in it, so fit the anthology theme rather well. Very well written and good ending to the anthology.

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Joshua Palmatier

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