Monday, February 20, 2012

Magazine Review: Arcane 2

*edit* The PDF file I'd received said "Arcane 2" but turns out, this is the first anthology.
I received a free copy of Arcane 2 from Editor Nathan Shumate, and in return, I would do a review. If you’re not familiar with Arcane, you can check out the first issue here, and their blog here.

Because I like my reviews thorough, and those “I really liked this!” reviews are absolutely worthless, I went through and rated each story on its own merit. Which I think is most fair since every anthology has its hits and misses.  

We Belong to Her by Joe Mirabello – Set during the Cuban revolution when Castro took power, a couple attempts to escape, not only the country but also their adopted daughter.

I know the creepy little girl theme has been done many times, but the author manages to give this tale a bloody fresh take. The parallel between the girl and the revolution, everything they own belongs to the revolution – a tragic enough realization. But like the Devil, their adopted daughter (ironically named “Little Angel”) manages to have a hold on their very life. Eeep!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A Capella by Jonathan S. Pembroke – Set in an alternate world built on music, the Maestro risks his career for the perfect performance – not just any performance, but one that uses sentient instruments.

This was a story that wanted to be more, I think. The world was fascinating, but the story itself fell flat, depending on *gasp* shock-value. But that didn’t feel like the originally intended direction. I thought something would go wrong during the Maestro’s performance, since that what was the so-called risk with using so many sentient instruments at once. But instead, it switched gears it went for shock-value.

Another issue is that it had a veiled info-dump conveyed through dialogue between the Maestro and the High Soprano.  It’s called “As you know Bob…” And that really dragged the pace of the story.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Truth About Mother by Van Aaron Hughes – Now this was a wacky PI story about a detective named Buster discovering who really runs Washington D.C. I adored the voice in this; Buster is wittily sarcastic, seeing as he’s from Seattle. For me, conversational tone is my preference for stories written in 1st-person (otherwise, you wind up with the dreaded “I-ing”).

The pacing is swift, the story moving along as Buster gets (bug) guts-deep into the investigation of a congressman. Fun stuff. Maybe Buster should look into a career change.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 The Web of Legends by Damien Walters Grintalis – A great-grandmother tells the tale of how their people came to be allied with the arachnids of the forest. For a price, of course.

This story is actually a veiled infodump; why we do X. I don’t care so much about the why so much as I want to see something happening. And adding a death to the end doesn’t count.  It’s well-written, but nothing new.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Reyes Rides the Deville by Dan Cavallari – Reyes is stuck driving a crappy car as he runs away from an unknown thing that’s consuming the world.

I have to say I like the title; it’s clever. This story pulled me in as I wanted to know what the heck was going on. The narrative was a bit distant, but that’s okay, the character’s voice worked just as well. The ending, although it made sense, I wasn’t too keen on it. I suppose part of me didn’t want to know what it was, to leave me wondering what had happened, and what was continuing to happen. It also dragged a bit toward the end when Reye stopped running.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars  

The Heart of the Matter by Paul L. Bates – I suppose a horror anthology wouldn’t be complete without a Lovecraftian horror tale.

The author did an excellent job emulating Lovecraft’s style, and I enjoyed the rich language and images of the jungle and the peculiar tribe inhabiting it. The intro starts off slow, but that’s to be expected of this style. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

El Diablo De Paseo Grande by Milo James Fowler – a western tale most weird, involving the goat-sucker, chupacabra.

It was a little jarring in the beginning because narrative is too modern to fit the old west style, but I let it slide since this is a mock parody of the hero story. Instead of the hero saving the damsel from the shady guy with a moustache, it’s the side-kick that saves everyone from the downright disturbing.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Delivery by A.A. Garrison – This story reminded me too much of David Wong’s John Dies at the End – the main character is even named John! You got a guy who smokes some freaky drug which allows him to see his ghostly girlfriend, and to hear other dead people in his head. Then there are portals and demons.

Overall, this story didn’t have much impact on me. It felt more like a dream, or some crazy delusion of the character’s. But I never really cared about what was going on.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Corporautolysis by Christopher Slatsky – another oddball tale about office life with a fungal twist.

It has a purgatory feel to it, reality is warped and hazy, and I’m pretty sure that’s where the main character is. I did feel that the ending sort of fizzled out with no real conclusion, and the tangent about the MC’s daughter at the end came out of nowhere. If that was supposed to symbolize the MC’s regret over his daughter, like he should’ve been a better father, then it should have been hinted at sooner.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Mallecho by Stephen Willcott –  First off, this wasn’t a story. Just meandering thoughts and boring descriptions that add no atmosphere to the piece. It’s not until the VERY end that we get to something somewhat interesting. You can barely call this horror.

Another pet peeve: chop-chop-choppy present tense, which made it even more unbearable to read. I suggest skipping this one.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

God of the Kiln by Eric Francis – Have to admit, I have a soft spot for tales of the Far East, and this one was brilliantly done. The cautionary tale of humility taken too far, told in alternating storyteller/conversational tones. It feels like you’re there being told the demise of the Blossom People.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tied by D.T. Kastn – Another weird west tale. I enjoyed the dead-pan humor in the beginning, the bounty bunter Lidy dragging a magician alongside her mule. Good use of omni narration and felt like a western tale. My qualm was that the ending was disappointing. One thing I can’t stand is a character coming down with a sudden case of “too dumb to live” syndrome.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Lady of the Crossroads by Christine Lucas – more of a dark fantasy than horror, a tale set in the Mediterranean. Love the Greek mythos, and how the author weaved the clash of the sexes without it coming off as man-hating. And an excellent ending to wrap things up.

 Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Beneath the Arch of Knives by James Lecky – Another dark fantasy. The beginning is rather info-dumpy, and it took a minute for the story to actually start. The worldbuilding is fascinating though, this odd little culture that exists only in the twilight, based solely around fashion and words.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

All Coated in Bonemeal by Bartholomew Klick – This one had an amusing start: The necromancer Marlene’s pinky was stolen by a Chihuahua. Then story goes into a flashback of how Marlene made friends with her neighbor. The End. No hilarious dog-hunt for her pinky. No conflict. It’s a cute, but not much of a story.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Possessed of Talent by Thomas Allein – A tale of a man who losses himself – all of himself – to a painting who never knew he could paint. I really like the concept and the Lovecraft vibe the author was going for. However, the writing itself is just dull; the same flat tone and sentence rhythm throughout. There were points where I felt a need to break monotony and check my email.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Sweet Heaven in My View by Frank Stascik – This was an odd sort of zombie tale. I like that a lot of the worldbuilding, the town’s people, the zombie children, the priest, and so on, were conveyed through the actual story and not info-dumped. However, this is rather gory for my taste; my preference is psychological horror.  A lot of mysteriousness, too. I’m wondering where this story would go if expanded. I think it has that potential.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s Not Like the Boys in this Family Have to Worry by Brady Golden – Ah, a horror with heart. It’s not often you find the characters personable in a horror story, and I enjoyed the brother-sister relationship in this. At first you think the family is a bunch of misogynists, but like everything, there’s another, darker layer. The irony of the title is great – perhaps there is something to worry about.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Kiss of Death by Jeremy Zimmerman – A high dark fantasy tale, about the necromancer Armand’s hesitations over moving in with his lich girlfriend – but a siege against his girlfriend threatens that. This was a fun story, love the dry humor, Armand’s retorts to the Templar and conversation with the grave robber, Jean. Also enjoyed the “fail hero” archetype, which I don’t see often enough.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

Legacy by S.M. Williams – This story has a disclaimer up top saying it’s a continuation of another story, and it does feel like something is missing. I have no problem continuing a story, but it needs to stand on its own. Instead, this was propped up by character exposition.

The story plays around in the Lovecraft sandbox, using his mythos of the Old Ones – this was also heavily explained. There were even points during the action sequences when the MC stopped to explain what the Old One was doing – as though showing us the action wasn’t clear enough – which not only slows down the action to a snail’s crawl, but makes the reader feel like an idiot. I know I’m semi-ranting here, but I was very annoyed with this story. Which is unfortunate since the characters are well-drawn and interesting.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An Unquiet Slumber by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein – A love-horror story, the immortal necromancer Greyson’s undying love for his ghost wife. Well-written and I like the doubt and obsession that the character struggles with; makes him feel real. But it ended on a soft, lay-down-and-die note. Need some character reaction, some of the passion he had previously.  

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A Friend, The Spider by Caitlin Hoffman – more of a literary piece, and not much horror; however, I adored it. The poor little girl trapped in an asylum all because she believes spiders talk to her – and maybe they do. Excellent voice, both sweet and sad. The ending is bit of a tear-jerker.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Destination Unknown by Anthony J. Rapino – A tale revolving around Jackson playing his girlfriend’s “games” to prove his love. It was “okay”.  A “been there, read that” kind of story. But there was a good ‘eep!’ moment when Jackson opens the Challenger’s door.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In One There is Many by Max Vile – A literary horror about a zombie seeking redemption for killing his wife and unborn child. It’s an interesting angle, one that I haven’t read even though there are lots of tales from the zombie’s PoV. This has a nice sincere tone.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Incident at the Geometric Church by David McGillveray – Rock ‘n roll, drugs, and Lovecraft! Weird combination, I know, but worked well this story which is told through eyewitness accounts, forum comments, and even Wikipedia. Well composed, building up the tension and mystery at the end.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Black Bush by Gemma Files – Allfair “Alleycat” Chatwin, a recently escaped convict and witch out for revenge. Great southern voice. Both setting and characters have a lot of history behind them, making it feel like a fully fleshed out world where witches exist. Unfortunately, due to this being a rather lengthy short story, it seems the author ran the limit of their wordcount and had to rush the ending, the climax being anti-climatic. Too easy, is the phrase. Also, the sub-plot didn’t have much to do with the actual plot. And after re-reading it twice, I’m still unsure how Allfair managed to get her mother’s bone – supposedly they were in the possession of another witch.

I have no doubt this would make a great novella or novel, where the story can fully unfurl itself.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Best and Bitt’rest Kiss by S.K. Gilman – A cute, if not creepy, tale of a mortician and his infatuation with the dead – so long as they remain dead. The living being alive is troublesome enough. I like the Mortician (as he prefers to be called), an oddball of a character, and the romance that develops between him Miss Alkemya. The ending is amusing and fits the character.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Visiting Hours by Josh Strnad – Another “been there, read that” story. I saw the twist within a few paragraphs (kind of obvious when the character is having a one-sided conversation). I can’t even give this any kudo points for creepy moments.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Sweet Dreams by Fran Walker – This should’ve been called “Wet Dreams,” because I couldn’t stop thinking: Every time someone dies, Billy gets boner.  Seriously, that is the underlying concept of this story, and no, it’s not comedy – though it should be. There’s no real conflict about Billy’s special “gift”. Oh sure, he’ll hate that the death-woman had to use his eyes to find her victims, but he doesn’t seem to mind the stiffer she gives him. This is soft porn, plain and simple. 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The Business of Herman Laczko by Mark Beech – An amusing tale of the MC getting mixed up with his shady boss’s antics over a recently deceased horror actor. And if you guessed there’s some Lovecraft in this too, you’d be right – though very subtly. The MC has a good dry wit, especially the “misguided logic of a drunk” bit. Poor MC, he’ll never realize the “authenticity” of the horror actor’s films.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

For a sum total: 3.883, but we’ll round it up to 4 out of 5 stars overall.

I am disappointed that there was no SF horror in this anthology. There are stories from all across the globe and different time periods, but not a single tale of horror from the future or involving technology or wacky aliens. 

Now let's hope Amazon will allow me to post this massive review. If you'd like to buy a copy, here's the Amazon link.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Only The Lonely

Yes, defcon made a reference to Roy Orbison's song. Happy Singles Awareness Day! For these of you who don't have a Valentine -- who needs one anyway? -- but are quite content being with yourself.

And I have some treats!

Firstly, Key of Awesome's history of V-day as told by KStew.

Nextly, a little Tales of Mere Existence on most memorable (though not necessarily great) Valentine's Days.

Enjoy being single this day!

Friday, February 10, 2012


The fight against government/entertainment industry intrusion on the internet never ends. This time, our friends across the pond and other parts of the world are at risk. To the right I have nifty little gadget that let's you send an email to representatives. There's going to be protests, too. So if you're free Saturday, February 11th, and feel like yelling at your government, there's a map here to find a local protest.

And coming soon...the police state. (Clone army? Try drone army.) 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: Goliath

*Warning: There may be spoilers*

Before I forget, because I know I will, going to do this review while it’s fresh in my head. Goliath is the third book in the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, so this is going to be a bit of an overview of the entire series, because there’s nothing suckier than investing in a book series that turns out badly.

This YA series is an alternate history steampunk of WWI. There are two main: Deryn Sharp who disguises herself as a boy named Dylan so she can serve on an airship (fabricated using genetic engineering) in the British Air Service – because girls weren’t allowed to serve in the military at this time --  and Prince Aleksander of Hohenberg, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. The unlikely pair meet – and fall in love – while helping to shape the course of the war.

It’s been a year since I read the last book, and I don’t normally read YA – in fact, I’ve sworn it off after I read The Demon’s Lexicon – which is nothing more than Harry Potter fanfic dressed in the TV show Supernatural’ s clothing. So it was a real gear shift to go from reading books like The Skinner to this. It makes you realize how lazily written YA is. Let’s just say, the little editor in my head wouldn’t shut up once I started reading this.

I did enjoy the first and second book. This one, not so much. Alek spends the first chunk of the book being moody, “boo-hoo, I’m worthless”. Alek’s character has never had much going for him; he’s nice but he’s bland. And after three books, never really develops a personality.

 Deryn is still the most interesting character, but I found she hardly developed, either.  And it’s unfortunate because I know Westerfeld can create amazing characters since I read Evolution’s Darling.

Aside from Alek’s wangst, he has to play catch up on his feelings for Deryn once he figures out she’s not really a boy. This is what leads to the book having a slower, almost crawling, pace than the previous two books, which went by lickity split. Also a lot of derailing the plot so we can pick up or meet historical figures. It’s almost like Westerfeld had a check list of all the historical figures he wanted to include, and instead of working them into the plot (aside from Tesla), he stuffed them in.  Like Adela Rodgers. I don’t know why she was in this, all she did was pop up randomly and be annoying.  And everything with Hearst and Poncho Villa could’ve been cut out. Easily could’ve had the reporter, Eddie Malone, sneak in on Deryn while she was dressing to figure out her secret, considering his lack of decency toward others.

Then Alek was spouting lines about destiny that sounded like they’d been lifted from the Star Wars script.

This one really bugs me: making Nikola Tesla the antagonist. I can understand it since Tesla did go a little loopy, but what genius doesn’t? But making his character a complete arse? I like Tesla! I think he was a good guy and this wasn’t a fair portrayal of him. Yes, I know this is fiction, but why take a beloved historical figure and throw dirt on him? This is an issue I’ve been noticing in fiction, both short and long, where the antagonist is made a jerkoff so we don’t feel badly when he/she dies. I can see what you’re doing Mr. Writer, and I don’t like it.

I will admit, the ending is cute. Of course, who thought our young heroes wouldn’t end up together? There are also some laughs, and I do like the reference to the stone that felled Goliath (Tesla’s invention).

Something that I thought was a missed opportunity was the perspicacious loris. These cute little creatures were a driving force for the first and somewhat second book.  It’s clear that in the third book they’ve gained sentience, a childlike intelligence, but they’re still capable of independent thought and feelings. This is a problem because the Darwinists don’t create sentient creatures; all these fabricated creatures are meant to serve them. Perhaps this will be explored in a later book; it’ a cool universe he’s created, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote more steampunk books. But I’d like to see how the perspicacious loris personhood is dealt with.   

Is this a series worth picking up? If you’re into YA, then this is one of the better YA books out there – but that’s not saying a lot. This is not Westerfeld’s finest – and shame on you Westerfeld, you can do better than this!  

The illustrations by Keith Thompson, gorgeous as ever.

Rating: 3 out of 5 steampunk stars

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Leap Year! (W1S1 update)

Already a month into the new year! Before you know it, it'll be 2013 -- if the end of the world doesn't happen first. I remember a college classmate having a theory that our galaxy is moving at a faster speed, because everything cycles, and our cycle sped. Can't remember the details, but it was interesting, perhaps an idea for a SF story?

Anyway, before time gets away, see how this month turned out...

Stories written: 3 (flash for Shock Totem contest, 3k soft SF, 4k dark fantasy)
Stories submitted:16
Stories accepted: 0
Stories rejected:17

From all the rejections, I take it the editors are waking out of their holiday slumber, huh? Had a 110-day rejection from Title Goes Here, which has a weird policy that once you've received a response, you can't submit to them again till 90 days have passed. So might as well have been a 200-day rejection. 

I tried Shock Totems bi-monthly flash contest for the first time. It was all right. I have to admit, the feedback I received wasn't as useful as I had hoped. Yes, I know people have this aversion to 2nd-person PoV stories, but thought it'd be fun since it's a PoV a rarely get to play with.

Also, Dark Faith 2 anthology. Have my fingers crossed for that.

As tradition, found this music video from The xx (yes, that's the band's name), appropriately dubbed "Purgatory". This has to be one of the coolest music videos I've seen in a long time, right up there with Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer". Watch this video closely, and probably have to watch it a few times, because there's some neat stuff that goes on. Enjoy!