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2010 Stories 105 - 115

Continuing my pre-publication review of Dark Faith, edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon.  The book is available for pre-order on the Apex Book Company website, although I'm not sure if the "free chapbook" offer is still available.

105. The Last Words of Dutch Schultz Jesus Christ by Nick Mamatas  I was enjoying the feel of this story until the final section.  The author sets up an interesting mystery: why are a group of otherwise unconnected college students coming close to killing themselves? What feeling is it that they are trying to replicate, and where and how did they first experience that feeling?  I think unfortunately the sense of mystery and the character work in the first half of the story were far more intriguing than the answers -- always a potential problem in stories like this.  The final portion of the story reveals everything, but also feels almost incomprehensible.  Thinking about it, it almost feels like the author welded two different stories together.  I think the story he started out telling would have been better on its own.  I'd like to read some other work by Mamatas, because I really liked his style on the main body of the story.

106. To The Jerusalem Crater by Lavie Tidhar  I read an anthology of post-apocalyptic a while back (two years, maybe?) and this story would have fit as well into that collection as it does in this one.  There is no doubt the world Tidhar has created is a post-apocalyptic one.  We don't really know what the apocalypse was (although the implication is heavily on a religious / supernatural event).  With a focus on one man wandering the wasteland on a mission, it reminded me of A Canticle for Lebowitz.  There's a lot of intriguing detail in this world, things happening that would not happen in the real world but which are interestingly extrapolated from that world.  And the story sort of begs the question -- did it all happen, or was it all in the main character's mind?

107. Chimeras & Grotesqueries
by Matt Cardin I love the type of story that starts with a preface declaring that what follows was found in a drawer someplace by the "author," and said author hopes his own introduction does not skew the reader's response to what follows. Honestly, without that introduction, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed this story anywhere near as much.  I have no idea if Cardin has used the fictional author Philip Lasine in other works. The un-named preface-writer discusses his devotion / faith in Lasine's work, and then we get a previously undiscovered Lasine work which deals with the topic of belief in its own way.  Without the preface, the story by Lasine would have felt a little too crafty or arty; with the preface, it feels like a commentary on the type of crafty-arty writing that brings some literature and philosophy majors to the edges of bliss.

108.  You Dream by Ekaterina Sedia  The connection this story has to the anthology's theme of faith seems tenuous at best -- I suppose it could simply be that the main character has a certain amount of faith that what she remembers of the past is what really happened.  The author also chose what I consider, as I've said before, to be one of the more difficult ways to tell a story, the tactic of addressing the reader as the main character.  There were a few points where I was thrown out of the story by realizing that I was, in fact, not this woman.  Still, the story itself develops at a nice pace that makes you think at first it really isn't about anything -- and then reveals to you just what it's been about all along.

109. Mother Urban's Booke of Dayes by Jay Lake Another Jay Lake story that stands very well as an individual story but also feels like part of something bigger.  The mysterious girl that pops in and out of the story, inspiring the main character to do the things he does, comes in in such a way to strongly imply we should know who she is even before she says her name.  It's not a distraction from the story itself, of course, but it feels like there's a layer of the story that's missing for me.  I could be wrong -- in fact the reverse could be true and this could be Lake's way of introducing us to a character he intends to use more in future works.  The story itself deals nicely with faith at two levels -- faith in the creative force(s) of the world, and faith in your own abilities.  The main character is a bit of a stunted individual, and one has to wonder how he'd have turned out raised in a different environment.  One also has to wonder just how much of what happens around him is due to his choices / actions, and how much is just "good timing" and coincidence ... a question I think Lake layers into the story without actually answering it (thankfully).

110.  The Mad Eyes of the Heron King
by Richard Dansky I had started reading the Terri Windling / ellen_datlow anthology The Beastly Bride right before I was asked to review Dark Faith.  That anthology is about "animal people" of all shapes and stripes (gods masquerading as people; shape-shifters; totemic beings, etc), and I can easily see this story being at home in either anthology.  The story starts out in the most mundane of settings -- a corporate office drone ends his days by visiting a nearby small lake and watching the various herons and egrets and so on go about their business -- and then veers into the unusual -- the Heron King talks to the corporate drone and changes his life.  The issue of real vs. imagined conversations seems to be settled pretty quickly, but the ending leaves some room for lingering questions on that front.  I especially liked the stilted, slightly odd royal "We" dialogue Dansky gives to the Heron King, instead of having It speak like a normal contemporary person.

111. Paint Box, Puzzle Box by D.T. Friedman  This one is pretty much an update on the classic short story An Appointment in Samarra. Death comes to claim an Artist, and the Artist bargains for a year in which to complete his masterpiece.  Death agrees, but finds it difficult to collect once the year is up.  I liked the story, but I didn't love it.  My mind wandered during the story as much as Death does -- Death in search of the Artist, and my mind in search of ... well, I don't know what.  There are some beautifully worded sequences in the story, but also a certain feel of predictability as it progresses. Not that every story needs to have a shock or a twist (my god, how difficult would that be to live up to?) but I didn't feel particularly engaged by the main characters and so perhaps the predictability was more noticeable.  The story deals with the art of creation, the Art of Creation, and the art of Creation ... and also touches on universe vs. multiverse ideas.  I feel like ultimately, the story wanted to be more than it is.

112. A Loss for Words by J.T. Hay Around this point, the anthology seems to have migrated from stories about religious faith to stories about faith in oneself / ones abilities.  There had to be at least one story in the book about a writer who will go to any lengths to find inspiration and, through inspiration, success.  I think this story is a soul-cousin to Neil Gaiman's excellent Sandman story "Calliope," and not only because the main character of this story is almost certainly that most august and giving Muse of Greek myth.  (It is possible that the main character is not the actual Muse, but a woman with amazing abilities who is named after the Muse; the author does not confirm or deny either way.)  This story shares a certain "taking advantage of those who inspire us" theme with the Gaiman story, but ultimately goes it's own way and shows us a very different view of what happens when we betray our Muse and/or our Muse abandons us.  One moment in particular, near the end, starts out as something we've seen before but with a few words becomes a nice twist on that cliche. Very well done.

113. Scrawl
by Tim Piccirilli And the award for "most disturbing story so far in the anthology" goes to Mr. Piccirilli.  This story is definitely about belief in oneself, but compared to every story preceding it it definitely felt out of place.  I remember writing a one-act play in college that started with a normal situation and then devolved into something as close as I could get to sex  without actually having sex.  I was proud of it, and then let people read it ... and the reaction was largely of the "uhm, okay, interesting, but where did the story go and uhm, do you really think you can get this staged" type.  Of course, in a short story there is none of that concern -- I am sure this story is in the anthology because it strikes a certain chord, that chord being discomfort at the very least.  I found myself, at the end of the story, thinking, "okay, interesting character piece, but the sex definitely overpowered any point the story might have made."

114. C{her}ry Carvings by Jennifer Baumgartner  Critiquing poems is not my strong point. I'm afraid I just didn't "get" this one, even viewed through the lens of the anthology's stated theme.

115. Good Enough by Kelli Dunlap  Okay, I admit it, Dunlap got me.  Thanks to the primary character names, I fell right into her trap of assuming I knew the gender of the main character -- just as the police mentioned in the story assume they know the gender of the serial killer they are trying to track down.  This story could have been fairly average in several ways -- average serial killer story, average jilted-lover story, average "faith that you can win someone over" story -- but manages, by combining all of those facets, to rise slightly above the average.  Like the main character, the story is not Perfect, but it still gives some icky moments and something to think on, without going over-the-top like the story that precedes it.


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