Eight reviews this week:

Fiction

Animal” by Daniel José Older (Nightmare Magazine)

September 2014; 4,800 words. By turns both funny and poignant, “Animal” feels like a classic action/horror monster movie. I love the characters’ voices, the way they feel so real as teenagers; Older does a fantastic job of balancing a wild, speculative element along with tangible moments of reality, like George’s struggle with depression. Great story.

Ishq” by Usman T. Malik (Nightmare Magazine)

April 2015 (originally 2014); 7,300 words. Oh my god, this was incredible. The magic realism that floats through the portions of the story set in Old Lahore, the bleak reality of the parts of the story set in the present… The details throughout the story are so vivid that I can practically see everything in my mind; each character feels full and real, and the story gripped me to its haunting end. Beautiful, deep work.

Lacrimosa” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Nightmare Magazine)

November 2015; 2,500 words. A ghost story in more ways than one—while the Llorona forms the bulk of the horror for the viewpoint character Ramon, Ramon himself also becomes a metaphorical ghost. A great story that works in parallel: on the surface, Ramon struggles with his fear of homeless people and the Llorona in Vancouver; underneath, he struggles with his guilt over leaving his family and becomes a ghost in their narrative. Short but powerful.

Please, Momma” by Chesya Burke (Nightmare Magazine)

March 2015; 4,200 words. An unexpected ghost story. The terror and dread in “Please, Momma” is so palpable; the fact that the story is told through a child’s perspective makes the sense of the unknown feel even larger. There’s so much emotion and struggle packed into the last scene, and while I don’t usually go for cliffhanger endings, I’m not sure I know which way I would’ve wanted this story to end. The commentary on love and the potential for self-destruction through love is powerful.

The Sill and the Dike” by Vajra Chandrasekera (Nightmare Magazine)

September 2015; 2,900 words. Oh wow, what a chilling story—there’s so much to unpack here; on the surface level, “The Sill and the Dike” deals with war and history in such a raw way; on a deeper level, I read it as commenting too on colonization and the trauma of forced assimilation, too. The ending is so powerful, and I had unexpected diaspora feelings over the line “The true knowledge of events, like peace, was a story for children.” The frayed end, the acceptance of war as a facet of life; “The Sill and the Dike” feels so much bigger than it is. Brilliant work.

Vulcanization” by Nisi Shawl (Nightmare Magazine)

January 2016; 4,700 words. What a gut-punch of an opening paragraph—we learn so much about Leopold in such a tiny space, and it only gets worse from there. Shawl does a brilliant job of balancing the terrible racism in Leopold’s voice with the broader narrative that condemns Leopold; his ignorance of his own position is the creeping horror that pervades through the story. Vivid and horrific, Leopold gets absolutely no redemption in the story, which makes the ending all the more satisfying in spite of the viewpoint character’s perceived lack of resolution. A story that deals with racism and colonization viscerally.

Nonfiction

The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk edited by Sean Wallace, reviewed by Alasdair Czyrnyj (Strange Horizons)

January 2016; 2,600 words. I desperately wanted to like The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk precisely because, as Czyrnyj mentions, there’s so little media that tries to consolidate what dieselpunk is. I ended up disappointed in the volume and wrote my own review of it; Czyrnyj’s review goes even deeper into why the volume as a whole falls flat. Even with my own enthusiasm for dieselpunk, I still find it hard to define it myself, so seeing where other people echo that there was a missed opportunity helps me to pinpoint what doesn’t quite work, or doesn’t quite get there.

Writing Climate Change: A Round Table Discussion” by Julie Bertagna, Tobias Buckell, Maggie Gee, Glenda Larke, Kim Stanley Robinson, Vandana Singh, and Joan Slonczewski (Strange Horizons)

February 2012; 7,100 words. Really great round table that covers a lot of aspects of writing climate change. I have a story I’m drafting myself that involves climate change, but I’ve struggled through drafts with how to write it and how to define the stakes. Reading through this discussion provided me with a lot of ideas for where the story might go; a lot of the works mentioned in the panel sound fascinating. Really insightful read.