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Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, late October


I don’t normally review horror publications, but at this time of year the darkness comes seeping out all over. It seems fitting to have a Halloween anthology as well as the usual periodicals.

Publications Reviewed



Strange Horizons, October 2013

A theme of courtship in different tones of story.

“The Witches of Athens” by Lara Elena Donnelly

Athens, Ohio, a town with two established witches who carry on a not-quite-rivalry; the narrator tells us they’re sisters, but it’s not clear if this just means the sisterhood of the craft or a blood relationship. Two young men in town have fallen in love with each other but can’t manage to broach the subject; each one goes to one of the witches for help. It’s not working.

Another one of those stories where solving the professional problem results in insight into the personal problem. Everyone is good and happy, and tension nonexistent, even between the witches who are supposedly at odds.

“Three on a Match” by Steve Berman

A couple of young men, not in love but looking for a hook-up, generate smokescreens. Anthony, the older of the pair, claims that the ghost of a young man will materialize in his dorm room out of a sufficient volume of cigarette smoke, making a sort of third lover, without whom he can’t make love with a physical man.

Another deep inhalation, release, and he watched as the smoke drifted down, layering onto the floating mass. Features developed but the whole remained a crude sculpture of redolent fumes with a suggestion of youth despite the square jaw. No fingers, no lines of clothing, no shoes or toes.

Truth remains elusive here; it doesn’t seem to much matter to the characters, whose immediate concern is sexual contact. I like the delicacy of the author’s more explicit erotic moments.

“Event Horizon” by Sunny Moraine

Not physics except as metaphor. Horror. Tom is an outcast who finds a companion in another outcast, Zhan – the two of them still no match for the school full of bullies and thugs. But Zhan is in the thrall of the house, and he pulls Tom with him into its orbit. The house is evil; Zhan traps small animals to feed to it. Zhan isn’t much less evil himself, although exactly what relationship this has to the house isn’t clear. Did the house corrupt Zahn, or did Zahn awake the evil in the house? Tom begins to have romantic feelings for Zhan, but now Zhan is going to move away, leaving Tom alone to face the bullies and the demands of the house, not sure which is worse.

“I can’t, I can’t, I don’t want you to.” Jesus Christ, I sound like a two-year-old, and he’s just looking at me and he’s like the goddamn house, I have no idea what the hell he’s thinking.

No good ending here, no happy resolution, no fulfilled relationship. This is a story of darkest evil, and the fact that Tom could think of finding fulfillment with Zhan is a mark of his loneliness and desperation, because Zhan is really a fallen character, already marked as the property of this story’s hell, and he’s already fed Tom to the house just as surely as he has the neighbor’s cat. Of all the horror stories I’ve read this season, this one evokes the strongest sense of malevolence.

–RECOMMENDED



Beneath Ceaseless Skies #132-133, October 2013

The rest of the three-issue month, after the double anniversary issue reviewed earlier. #132 presents a couple of very weird quests. #133, dated 10/31, is billed as “grim monstrous ghostly special” for the holiday. Which, not really. The best grim and ghostly tale here is the Files story in #132.

#132

“A Feast for Dust” by Gemma Files

Western horror. In a drought-wasted land, two evildoers once made a pact and then one of them broke it, Bartram Haugh shooting Sartain Stannard Reese dead in the heart. Reese didn’t take this well, rising from his grave to seek revenge and currently leaving a rain of blood wherever he goes in search of his betrayer. Lawmen and citizens who attempt to halt his progress have met with bad ends, but Jenkins, taking up a dead Sheriff’s badge, still feels that he has to do something.

Someone had to warn them Reese was coming, giving them at least that slightest of chances in the face of impartial and awful justice, this sanguine Second Deluge. To protect the guilty from their guilt, the sinners from their sins, the weak from the consequence of their own weaknesses…

The citizens don’t much appreciate Jenkins’ warning, until one town Marshall suggests that the best way to find Reese would be to go after Haugh. So they do, with consequences.

The strong and eccentric narrative voice and dialogue carry this one through the course of a tale told rather obliquely.

–RECOMMENDED

“The Adventure of the Pyramid of Bacconyus” by Caleb Wilson

Hickshaw and his cousins are motile vegetative beings who subsist on liquid, if blood pudding can be considered liquid, and thrive on wine. Hickshaw, drinking a great deal of wine, is more clever than his cousins, but having stolen all their wine, thirstily recalls a traveler’s take of the golden goblet of Bacconyus that is miraculously always full. They set off to the pyramid where this treasure is reputed to be found, only to discover that Bacconyus has been deposed by another god whose worshippers now fill the place.

Hickshaw was looking around for any loose swords that might be lying in a place where he could grab them. It would be nice to have a sword in case things got tricky. If there was just one sword, he’d keep it for himself, but if there were three, he’d give one to Fawcett and one to Chawkins. If there happened to be just two… he thought for a moment. Definitely he would give it to Chawkins.

Interesting characters in the tree-people, who are rather dim, even the wine-obsessed Hickshaw, the sharpest of the lot. Entertaining and humorous adventure.

#133

“Pheth’s Aviary” by Matthew Kressel

Regime change in Sheol hasn’t been good for Pheth.

For the former king—Mighty Ashmedai—Pheth had painted a thousand colorful frescos across the palace walls. But Mashit had turned Pheth into a slaughterer. And so for the past fifty dreadful days, he had been tasked with the worst possible job in all the myriad dimensions. Worst for him, at least.

For Pheth, undemonically, is repulsed by the sight of flesh. Undemonically also, he saves a gosling from a pen of geese to be slaughtered. Which is only the beginning.

This is essentially humor, and humor is supposed to get a pass on matters like plausibility. But it raises the issue: just what is a demon, and why? Because Pheth can in no reasonable way be considered demonic. He’s kindly, benevolent, squeamish. It’s a broken-backed premise that collapses the moment a reader gives it a hard look.

“Not the Worst of Sins” by Alan Baxter

Another Western. The narrator and the ghost of his father’s former business partner are searching for his old man, to put things to rights. Graham Masters is an irascible but useful companion, warning the narrator of lurking evildoers in the night and fighting off the swarms of more malevolent ghosts.

“Fuck ‘em. You’re haunted, boy, you know that. It’s how I found you, after all. You let me in and gave me strength. Don’t you let them in too, and they’ll stay weak.”

More to the point, Masters is the only one who can identify the father that the narrator has never seen, as the man abandoned his mother before he was born. But it’s been a long, hard and fruitless quest, and the narrator is getting tired.

Definitely horror, with a pretty devastating conclusion, even if some readers might suspect the direction this one has been heading.



Tor.com, October 2013

I’ve been noticing a trend of more novellas here, which I applaud; there is always need of more venues for longer works. For October we have the longest work ever to appear at the site, and I’m almost inclined to regard the splitting-up of this length into separate screens as justifiable. Almost.

There were also a lot of prequels and fragments of other things posted this month, so it was good to have one piece of real substance.

“Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages

This is a work about place and time, about segregation, and also a family saga. The place, a real one, is the eponymous spring resort in the Florida panhandle, a site of natural wonder now fallen victim to rapacious commercial exploitation. This development could have made the story a tragedy, but it’s balanced by the concomitant growth of social justice that eroded the segregationist regime prevailing at the story’s opening in the pre-WWII years.

Wakulla Springs is notably the location where filming took place on two movies significant to the story: Tarzan’s Secret Treasure and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There are four main sections. As the Tarzan movie is beginning production [1941], teenaged Mayola takes a job as a maid at the Wakulla Lodge, hoping to save enough money for college. Her plans are derailed by a midnight aquatic encounter with Johnny Weissmuller*. In the next and central section in terms of the storyline, Mayola’s twelve-year-old son Levi becomes involved with the production of the Creature movie, where his inherited swimming ability earns him the attention of aqua-stuntman Ricou Browning. In two subsequent, cursory, sections, the succeeding generations continually renew their ties to the Springs, its history and folkways.

Mayola is the central figure in the story, a woman of strong character [despite one lapse] who has earned universal respect. It’s perhaps because she’s not a loose woman, as her cousin Vergie gives signs of becoming, that she falls as she does. Mayola is a lover of books but surprisingly naive about many things in the world; she is given to superstitions, luck charms, and folk remedies as well as belief in legendary creatures rumored to haunt the waters, beliefs she defends as part of her heritage, as taught to her by people she honors. Mayola isn’t one to challenge the way things are, even if she can see the pernicious effects all around her.

At least as important as the character is the setting, both the physical and the social. The sense of place is strong.

The path was so narrow they had to go single file, brushing away the creeper vines and scrub branches that threatened to choke off what trail there was. Insects droned and buzzed and clicked all around them, like a thousand tiny New Year’s noisemakers. The sun was only a memory above the impenetrable canopy, but the air felt thick and close, like it was considering changing its name to steam.

But on reaching the Springs and the Lodge, what should strike readers is the pervasive segregation.

She had been turned away at the front door, then at a side door, and though she saw none of the usual WHITES ONLY signs, she had figured it out by the time one of the dishwashers let her into the kitchen. He told her to talk to a Mrs. Yancey, pointed through the grease and smoke and clatter of pots a-stirring, through the god-awful heat, to stairs leading to a lower level, where at least it was cooler.

There is no villain in this piece, but we do have Edward Ball, owner of the Springs, a man who not only accepts segregation but actively promotes it. Colored employees who transgress the rules, black boys who dare swim in the Spring’s waters, are liable to be fired on the spot. As Mayola remarks, Ball didn’t make the clear water, he only had the money to buy and control it, and keep out people like herself. But it’s notable that the colored employees themselves act as enforcers of the Jim Crow rules, who are the first to chide any black boy who dares take a drink from the white drinking fountain. The corrupting nature of the system is clear.

Levi’s story is essentially his coming of age. In many ways his mother’s son, he also deeply believes, boy-like, in the local monsters, both real [Old Joe the gator] and legendary, such as the Swamp Ape. He seems to be born for the water, given his parentage, which leads him to regularly transgress Ball’s prohibitions. It leads him also to earn the respect of the stuntman playing the Creature in the underwater scenes. Levi is an intelligent and resourceful young man, and readers know that in 1954 it’s not likely that he’ll get a chance to make the most of his abilities. The system of segregation is not much altered here from 1941, and black swimmers aren’t in great demand anywhere.

There is a definite gap between these sections and those of the next generations, who are given much shorter shrift, the characters less fully developed. They serve mainly to illustrate the ebb of segregation. One strange scene, however, stands out. Isbel, who later marries Levi, is doing a thesis on the Tarzan films and attempts to interview the old man who claims to be Cheeta’s handler. Instead, Cheeta himself speaks up, quite eloquently.

“I’ll never get the back pay I’m due, but at least you can help me set the record straight. I want my legacy. I want everyone in Hollywood—in the whole world—to remember this: I stood upright among the best of them. Cheeta was a star.”

At which point, readers may exclaim to themselves: Finally! At last a fantastic element! Which have been, up to that moment, conspicuously absent. But the fantastic is ambiguous. Isbel, immediately after the encounter, is overtaken by vertigo. She believes she has hallucinated the entire experience. Which perhaps she has. Yet the incident leads nowhere in the story; nothing comes of it; the scene sticks out because it doesn’t seem to belong, and this increases the sense that it was all Isbel’s hallucination.

With one exception – one line, really – there is no unambiguous fantastic element present here. There are several fantastic figures at one remove, at least, from reality. Levi thinks he might encounter the Swamp Ape on his way home through the woods; he never really sees it. Hollywood makes a movie about an imaginary monster; no one believes for a moment that it’s real. The story is, in many ways, about the belief in fantastic creatures and the role of such beliefs in the lives of the characters, but the creatures themselves don’t appear in the fictional reality.

The editor has called the story American magic realism, but I think not. American, of course, it certainly is. But in magic realism, the magic is portrayed as actually present in the fictional world. Except for the one concluding line, we don’t have that here. If the story were magic realism, that line would exert a powerful leverage that would shift our understanding of all that has gone before, overturn it, shine a light on previously shadowed truths. That doesn’t happen. The line is a neat, aha! moment, but it’s anomalous. It rises momentarily from the darkness and sinks back, with no consequences.

I conclude that the story is essentially nonfantastic, and, more important, the elements that are the most nonfantastic are the best things about it. The real wonder here is the natural world, and the most magical moment the midnight swim with Mayola and Weissmuller. I also have to wonder, this being a collaboration, whether some of the problems I have with the work result from an imperfect fit between the authors’ individual visions.

*Something that bothers me is this sort of use of a real figure, a person with living relatives who might not want to see their family member alleged to have fathered a child out of wedlock.

“Come Back to the Sea” by Jason Vanhee

Yukio is one of several children being raised in the House by the Sea for a purpose they don’t quite understand. The proctors say she will one day be able to control the wind and the waves. But for some time now, she has been hearing the Sea call to her, and the compulsion to answer him is strong. Her friend Ami wants her to keep this call a secret, not to tell the proctors, and Yukio complies, even when her visions clearly reveal that there is great danger in the call.

She screamed as she saw him, his eyes open, his mouth wide with tongue swollen, dark hair plastered down by the waves. As small as a fingernail, a little blue crab crawled from the hollow of the drowned boy’s ear and started the climb up the slope of his sea-wrinkled cheek.

A real story with plenty of evocative images, but a lot about the storyline doesn’t quite make sense. Of course adolescent girls often don’t make sense, particularly when friendship or love are involved, but it’s odd that Yukio doesn’t wonder why Ami wants this secret to be kept. It’s also strange that the proctors don’t seem at all capable of dealing with the threat they perceive. How can they teach their students if they don’t understand, themselves? And are there no older students, no graduated adepts who would be capable? Or if Yukio is unique in her ability, why? Who is Yukio? She doesn’t seem to know, herself, so neither do we.



Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre, edited by Paula Guran

Here are eighteen traditional stories from traditional authors in the horror genre. There are plenty of cemeteries, ghosts, and witches – the standard fare for this holiday. Despite the promising author lineup, I found a lot of these tales pretty lackluster and shopworn. I’d expected better.

“Thirteen” by Stephen Graham Jones

A kind of urban legend comes to life.

How it works is that, when you’re not looking, or listening, or breathing—it’s like how you’re supposed to hold your breath when your parents are driving by the cemetery. If you don’t, then you can accidentally breathe in a ghost.

But at the Big Chief theater, it’s the movie you breathe in. Especially if it’s a horror movie, but other genres will work, too.

A scary story where Bad Things happen to kids. What’s featured here is the susceptibility of the adolescent mind. The narrator points out that the trick doesn’t work on older kids, in high school; they’re safe at the Big Chief and can watch the horror movies with impunity.

“The Mummy’s Heart” by Norman Partridge

The narrator and his brother, as adolescent boys, were out on Halloween when they encountered a madman with a mummy obsession who was about to sacrifice a young girl by drowning her in a local lake. The boys attempt to save her; the brother is killed, while the narrator is traumatized; the madman is killed by the cops; the girl is never found. Grown up and back from Vietnam, the narrator joins the local sheriff’s department and unwisely moves into the madman’s former house, where the lingering presence haunts him.

I’d walk around the house, listening to the floorboards creak, wondering if they’d creaked that way for Charlie when he was on the road to insanity. That wasn’t a good way to think. Sometimes I’d grab Roger’s old Louisville Slugger and use it to take out some drywall. That made a mess, but at least it worked off some energy, and it felt good. Then I’d clean it up and do some real work. And, eventually, I’d sleep.

But sleep brings dreams.

An old-fashioned, traditional scary horror tale. It’s the sort of story that sometimes rests on a fulcrum of ambiguity – is the ghost real, or is the author only imagining/dreaming/hallucinating it? In this case, it’s clear that the horror is real. Charlie was undoubtedly insane, but he had also laid a potent, blood-powered spell of sacrifice. His victim was more than the boys’ imagination, and his revenant is more than just the narrator’s dream. Of course mundane evils, too, can infiltrate dreams; the narrator is haunted as much by his wartime experiences as this incident of his youth. It’s a haunting story, well-done if not extremely original.

“Unternehmen Werwolf” by Carrie Vaughn

WWII, and the SS werewolf commando program taken literally. Fritz is a young werewolf recruited into the organization.

A wolf could cross enemy lines when a man in a uniform could not. When even a man in disguise could not. A wolf traveling in a forest did not draw suspicions. And a wolf could be trained to follow a certain route, certain procedures. To return to a certain spot on schedule. A wolf was wild, but the man inside the werewolf could learn.

But when he is assigned to assassinate a collaborator, he doesn’t know that she is a witch.

Neat idea, and the date October 31, 1944, was indeed a full moon. But the witch engages in rather a lot of lecturing, making the story didactic.

“Lesser Fires” by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem

The family is having its annual Halloween party for the dead, and Clara, being handicapped in some unspecified way, has fallen down on the path, where she spends a long time boring readers with her self-pity. The story has a YA sensibility, and the self-pity is a large part of it.

“Long Way Home: A Pine Deep Story” by Jonathan Maberry

The editorial blurb tells us that we can enjoy this one without having read the previous material in this series, but this is apparently because it’s so front-loaded with backstory. Donny has come home from the wars, but home isn’t home anymore, home is dead. So is his buddy Jimmy, but he’s still there anyway. This one takes way way too long, dwelling on the backstory, to get to the point.

“Black Dog” by Laird Barron

A nameless man and woman have a date on Halloween. Just before they meet, he sees a black dog with red eyes, which is not a Good Thing. They talk a lot and reveal certain things about themselves that they have in common, like death.

A charge arced from her and into him. His vision doubled. He beheld himself kneeling before her naked form, lips pressed to her sweet hip while the great and deathly blizzard that nearly killed him once raged against the walls of a landlocked cabin. He had the sense of the moon plunging toward the earth, the dissolution of himself within the following shockwave.

A subtle story. Some readers may think the characters do nothing but talk and nothing actually happens, which is true as far as it goes, and it does take a while to get around to it. Something is certainly going to happen, though. Portents keep gathering overhead all the time the couple is talking. The real question is who or what these two people are, and what they’re capable of doing. The best piece in the book.

“Halloween Men” by Maria V Snyder

This one is set in a Venetian-style world where everyone is required to wear a mask, and black-hatted Halloween Men enforce the rules. Antonella works for her father, a strict mask maker, and her innovative designs push the limits. The Halloween Men have noticed.

The novelty of this one, its secondary world, is refreshing. Strictly speaking, there is no real connection with Halloween, aside from the name and the masks, which are used not to take on another identity but to conceal the faces of a people conquered, allegedly, for their sin of vanity. The horror here is that of the police state.

“Pumpkin Head Escapes” by Lawrence C Connolly

Elle’s innovative theatre company debuts a new performance, “all about movement and improv.” She has invited Glenn to take the starring role, which involves “A rather unusual suit.” But there is bad history between them, which should put readers on alert.

“I’ll secure the seal.” She reached for his neck. “You won’t be able to release it yourself . . . not with those prosthetic hands. When you need to take it off—”

Twist at the end works all right, but isn’t unexpected.

“Whilst the Night Rejoices, Profound and Still” by Caitlín R Kiernan

Colonists on Mars have adapted the old traditions of forgotten Earth to suit their new home and their history. The Phantom March may carry old memories of hollowed-out gourds fitted with candles, but as well as a holiday, it’s also a deadly serious reminder of the disasters that once befell the population from the sin of waste, and the need to propitiate the goddesses as well as commemorating the dead.

Phantom Night is more than a celebration of the life that will return beyond the long Martian winter. It’s reverence of the dead, and it’s time to send a few shivers through the soul, as well. Fear is the twin of Determination, that they dance always locked arm in arm, and there will not ever be the one without the other.

Here is a culture where religious demythologization has barely made a foothold in the popular consciousness. Most people take the myths literally, which allows and justifies the extremes to which the annual rites are taken. I do wonder, though, when the gourd-seller throws the last of her merchandise onto the street “as a sacrifice”, why this is not considered waste? This is also another story here with quite a bit too much lecturing on the background.

“For the Removal of Unwanted Guests” by A C Wise

On the day Michael moves into his new house, a midnight knock at the door produces a witch [complete with black cat] who announces, “This house should have a witch”, and moves in, just like that. Michael would rather she hadn’t, but he’s outnumbered – the house sides with the witch.

Nice warmhearted story about the human need for home and companionship. Readers might expect the situation to resolve in romance, but that doesn’t happen. It’s not specifically excluded, but it’s not what the story is about.

“Angelic” by Jay Caselberg

A family reunion. Estella has come back every year, but this time, it’s different. Voices haunt her sleep: They know you.

The author is deliberately obscure, the allusions vague, hinting at the tradition of Halloween, the return of the dead, then denying it.

The dead stayed dead. It was simply what lived beyond them that did not. He knew the truth of that, knew it well, but he chose not to keep it foremost in his mind. It was the living that bore the deepest part of it, whether inherited or not.

The story is all atmosphere, tension and buildup to . . . whatever it is, it’s certainly not angelic.

“Quadruple Whammy” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

The staff in the hospital emergency room anticipate a busy night. Halloween. A full moon. On a Saturday. That’s three, and readers will now have to wonder what number four will turn out to be, suspecting it has something to do with the missing nurses. Which it does, in an unexpected way that’s not directly connected to the holiday at all. The real story is the people in the emergency room, doing their jobs on a night that really isn’t all so different from any other night. Well-done.

Things had slowed down a bit by ten-thirty, when Winston Harrison’s mother arrived, pale yet outwardly composed, and went in to see Spink, leaving Samson to put himself at the service of whomever might need an extra nurse, which is how Samson was one of the first to hear that there had been an accident and that Smith and Flanders had been involved.

“We, the Fortunate Bereaved” by Brian Hodge

In the town of Dunhaven, on Halloween, “Everyone had business with the dead today, or believed they did.” It seems that one family gets to see their year’s dead again, the spirit animating the town scarecrow, and there’s a definite competition in the invoking, in the offerings left in front of the scarecrow to draw the dead. Bailey makes her offering for the sake of her young son, who’s full of faith, but for herself, she would rather it weren’t him.

It came down to this, she realized: She had eleven years of memories with Drew, most good, some exquisite. And she didn’t want the final one, that desperate goodbye in the hospital, to be shoved aside by some new one, post-mortem, the man she’d loved now wrapped inside a creepy shell of straw and old clothes and burlap, struggling to communicate whatever he felt he’d left unsaid.

The horror here isn’t in the return of the dead. It’s a story of bereavement and grief. And guilt, and revenge. If the dead can speak, there are things that some people might not want to be heard.

“All Hallows in the High Hills” by Brenda Cooper

Mel has been growing older and more curmudgeonly through the years, eking out a living making glass lawn ornaments to sell at the craft festival. This year, it’s different. The author does a unusual take on the notion of the veil between the worlds. There’s no horror, rather the contrary, and Mel is a sad character who can’t take what he really wants when it’s offered to him.

“Trick or Treat” by Nancy Kilpatrick

Malina, trapped in negativity by her witch mother’s upbringing, is having some benefit from seeing a Gaia-worshipping therapist. Now, on Halloween, she is poised between the two paths.

Darkness had shaped her view of herself and the world’s view of her. No, she reminded herself, catching that negative thought as Guin had been teaching her to do, not the world’s view of me, what I was taught was how people see me.

A bit much therapy-talk here, and black/white dichotomy, though I appreciate the twist in the concluding spell.

“From Dust” by Laura Bickle

Set in the Dust Bowl years, on a farm that remains mysteriously blessed with its annual crop of sunflowers.

Our fields were green, green from the start of spring when the crop would be tall enough to tickle my ankles until harvest when the crop reached over my head. For two weeks in glorious autumn, the sunflowers would open. Hundreds of thousands of sunflowers under the turquoise fall sky. They’d track the morning sun in the east, turning their heads in unison to follow the sun until it set late at night.

Jeannie’s mother is not quite forthcoming about the source of their blessings, but it clearly involves the crows that flock around the property. She is always careful to order the hired man to leave enough sunflowers standing for them; that is the bargain, until the day that she suffers a stroke.

The narrator never says so, but readers will recognize that this is witchcraft of a particular sort; it’s notable that there are never any men in the photos of her ancestors and relatives. I think the crows are showing poor judgment; they’ll never get another bargain as good as they had. Jeannie’s mother, likewise, showed poor judgment in not teaching her enough to meet the situation. Some good images with the sunflowers.

“All Souls Day” by Barbara Roden

When Debra returns to Toronto for a conference, she takes her ghost-loving friend Richard to see the haunted house on the street where her grandparents once lived. It’s the only house on the street without a pumpkin on the porch, even though Halloween was two days ago. When they visit the cemetery, they discover the reason.

I find it odd that Debra seems to know nothing of the local traditions, despite her close ties to the place. This makes the story unconvincing.

“And We You Called Us We Came to You” by John Shirley

Making Halloween masks for the US market in a Chinese labor camp.

Sometimes they reminded Chun a little of the images displayed during the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, to placate the lost ghosts of ancestors. But the American Halloween seemed to Chun to be something else entirely. This mask, intended for export to America,
didn’t have the plaintive, pitiful look of a hungry ghost. This monster’s face was angry, cruel, wild, and absurd all at once.

When the work becomes too much for her, Chun calls on her ancestors for aid. They answer. Or someone does.

The connection between the Chinese and Western spirits promises interest, but this one is too much concerned with its political message – another tale marred by didacticism.

Lois Tilton is reading original short SF and fantasy fiction. Editors can send electronic files of magazines and original anthologies to: loist a*t sff.net

For print materials, please query me by email for the address.

For an index of Magazine Issue reviews posted on Locus Online, including Lois Tilton’s, see Index to Magazine Reviews.


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