Fifteen story reviews/recommendations for Week 38:
Fishfly Season by Halli Villegas (Nightmare Magazine reprint)
September 2013; 4,100 words. Recommended by Kat. For all the in-your-face horror of Scarecrow (below), Fishfly Season is the opposite—quiet, domestic, eerie and unsettling; the reader is never quite sure if the horror is real or imagined. But the sense of alienation and being the Other permeates throughout, and that in itself is its own horror. Neil reassures Marisol that the fishflies are harmless, yet Marisol and the reader feel a rising sense of unease around the insects. I can’t help but think of the parallels to racism and other oppressions—while those in power may reassure marginalized people that everything is fine, that they’re all nice people, marginalized people still know that something is amiss. Yet that reality gets gaslit again and again, just as Marisol doubts herself throughout. The ending is perfect and chilling.
If Ramgoth the Unyielding Were Your Boyfriend by Nicasio Andres Reed, credited as Gabby Reed (WordPress)
September 2015; 1,600 words. Funny, emotional, brilliant. I love the effortless worldbuilding, the way this world is similar enough to ours that the domestic atmosphere feels so, so cozy, but different enough to transport us to somewhere new nonetheless. The transition from idyllic romance to conflict is sudden, but not jarring, and serves to set up the last line, which is wonderful and perfect. I don’t even want a boyfriend, but Reed makes me wish Ramgoth the Unyielding were my boyfriend. I found myself smiling throughout and giggling at a few points, especially at If Ramgoth the Unyielding were your boyfriend, let’s be real, you’d be having the kind of sex that required twice-weekly chiropractor appointments. Lovely and wonderful.
Iron: Or, the War After by S.M. Vidaurri (Archaia Entertainment)
December 2012; 152 pages. Gorgeous, gorgeous graphic novel. I picked this up at Small Press Expo and couldn’t put it down after flipping through the first few pages. The illustrations are beautiful, and their softness combined with the limited color palette make for a melancholy atmosphere that transported me to the world of Iron. I could almost feel the cold and the chill as I read through the book. There were some portions where I was unclear about some of the characters’ motives, but I feel that the strength of Iron is the world it creates and the themes of how war, violence, and well-intentioned ideals can corrupt. Patricia and Konstantin’s relationship in particular drew me in, and the artwork combined with the starkness of the environment made the outcome of that relationship hold heavy in me. Amazing work.
Jews vs Zombies edited by Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene (Jurassic London)
March 2015; about 36,000 words. Word counts estimated with Kindle’s approximate page count and Fiona Raven’s page count guide. A great little anthology. I’m not usually a fan of the zombie subgenre, but I love what the authors did with the tropes.
Rise by Rena Rossner
About 3,200 words. A retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, except with yeshiva students and zombie brides. “Rise” has a wonderful fairytale feel and is a delight to read. It can be a little difficult to keep track of all twelve boys, but the details are less important than the rhythm of the story and its ethereal mood.
The Scapegoat Factory by Ofir Touche Gafla
About 4,300 words. After ten years of his “renewed existence,” Solvi craves a change and decides to get a job at the scapegoat factory. Whereas “Rise” has a wholesome and innocent atmosphere, “The Scapegoat Factory” has an air of debauchery. The irreverent and tongue-in-cheek tone amplifies Solvi’s character well. Many stories default to “destroy the zombie’s brain” as the only way to kill a zombie, but Gafla takes a different approach. I love the way the ending unfolded.
Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith by Shimon Adaf
About 8,600 words. One of my two favorites out of this anthology. At times magical and at other times mundane, “Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith” blends multiple storylines into a fascinating narrative that explores three interpretations of zombies. The Sultana sections in particular are beautiful and evocative. Not only are there interwoven stories, but “Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith” also uses multiple formats to tell its tale, including poetry, emails, and play scripts. As a reader, I echoed some of Tiberia’s frustration with Doron’s meandering narration, but at the end I still felt an emotional heaviness. “Like a Coin Enstrusted in Faith” is the most inventive zombie story I’ve ever read, if not one of the most inventive stories I’ve read, period.
Ten for Sodom by Daniel Polansky
About 2,000 words. Faced with an oncoming zombie horde, a not-particularly-religious Benjamin thinks of God as he plans his suicide. Although I typically don’t go for solo stories that focus on a character’s thoughts, Polansky does a great job mixing Benjamin’s internal monologue with his actions in a way that doesn’t feel bogged down.
The Friday People by Sarah Lotz
About 2,200 words. While “Ten for Sodom” is a classic zombie story, “The Friday People” is something else entirely. The zombies here are not an unthinking mass with only a drive to feed; they are much more individual and domestic. Out of all the stories in Jews vs Zombies, “The Friday People” felt the most like a horror story—the mundaneness makes the ending that much more sinister.
Tactrate Metim 28A by Benjamin Rosenbaum
About 3,400 words. My other favorite story in this anthology. I didn’t quite understand “Tactrate Metim 28A” the first time I read it, but I already knew that I enjoyed it. I love works like House of Leaves that play around with intertextual commentary and mimicking nonfiction forms such as the academic article. My friend Rachel was kind enough to explain the Talmud and show me illustrative pages so that I could understand the tradition that “Tactrate Metim 28A” works in. I went for a second reading and followed every footnote—I was delighted to find that none of them were fictitious and that magic cucumbers are indeed in the Talmud. “Tactrate Metim 28A” is a fun little story, and the way Rosenbaum takes existing quotes and passages to construct an entirely new zombie story is brilliant.
Wiseman’s Terror Tales by Anna Tambour
About 3,200 words. A tale about Irving Wiseman’s work in brassiere design, his stint in the Air Corps, and his work in rocket design. The initial hyperfocus on bras and breasts threw me off, but as Irving’s occupation became clear, the details became a wonderful way to convey Irving’s attention to detail and familiarity with brassiere design. I like that Tambour mixed a speculative zombie element with a more literary slice-of-life story structure.
Zayinim by Adam Roberts
About 8,300 words. Benjamin remarks in “Ten for Sodom” that “there was no point even making the attempt [to survive]. G-d had decided to overturn the board, and you were not going to escape his wrath by holing up in some rural compound with an assault rifle and a few thousand cans of spam, no sir you were not.” “Zayinim,” meanwhile, is exactly that survival story, set in an alternate reality in which Hitler won World War II. Roberts is fantastic at letting this alternate reality unfold naturally through the eyes of 13-year-old Jodie. The prose is vivid; the characters’ worries and emotions spring from the page. The characters’ acceptance of the gaps in their knowledge juxtaposed with the reader’s own knowledge makes “Zayinim” unsettling. The ending is not a standard conclusion, but I still felt satisfied and can’t imagine the story ending in any other way.
The Lighthouse Painting by Simogo
April 2015; 32 minutes. Recommended by Kat. A haunting podcast mystery. The music and sound effects sometimes create an eerie atmosphere, but there isn’t so much horror as there is suspense that leashes the listener to the narrator’s own curiosity. There’s only a touch of the speculative, but it’s enough to give the story a feeling that it’s larger than it seems. The beautiful soundscapes augment the well-paced story. Definitely worth a listen.
Scarecrow by Alyssa Wong (Tor reprint)
August 2014; 4,000 words. Such a vicious and vivid story. Wong’s pacing is perfect, and I felt swept up in a flurry of wings myself as I read through the story at breakneck pace. I love how the details of the story unfold naturally, how Wong tosses the reader into the middle of the story with no explanation and lets us put the pieces together. And the imagery—every word, every choice primes us for revulsion and horror. Even toward the middle as crows break into a church, “shitting wildly,” disgust and panic bloomed in me even as part of me wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the image. Wong takes the classic teenager/young adult revenge horror story and turns it into something real that’s terrifying and emotional. I found myself welling up at the ending, which I didn’t expect at all. I’ve now read all of Alyssa Wong’s fiction work to date, and I can’t wait to read more.
Sisters of the Blessed Diving Order of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew by A.C. Wise (Strange Horizons)
January 2009; 3,900 words. Via Strange Horizons. Beautiful, magical, otherworldly. I’m a total sucker for ocean-themed work, and this story hits all of what I love about the sea. Sisters of the Blessed Diving Order of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew has so much delicious water and light imagery (my favorite!)—fleeting glimpses here and there that Wise incorporates as natural parts of Lucy’s everyday experience, but that in their naturalness become fantastic to the reader. There’s a humorous undercurrent that makes the story sparkle, and the final transformation is so clever. The last scene of the story bobs in my mind, all golden and glittering, a beginning as much as an ending. Lovely; I’m so glad I stumbled on this story.
From, To by Saudamini Deo (Interfictions)
June 2015; 200 words. The first word that came to mind when I sat down to review this piece was “punctuation”—Deo uses and abandons it to create wonderfully vivid scenes. The only punctuation in the first three sections is commas and photos. Together, they create a tumbling, stream-of-conscious series of image that invokes train rides and car rides with its rhythm. The sudden switch to sentences with periods creates a jolt that mirrors the contents of the narrative itself. There’s so much embedded in such clear language, and I found myself rereading the last few lines just so I could let the thoughts and emotions wash over me. Compact and powerful.