Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction: Black Static and Uncanny

Black Static 5-6/19
Uncanny 5-6/19

The usual five original stories in Black Static #69 begin with Where It Ends, Where It Begins” by Erinn L. Kemper. Old Mac salvages the sea on the west coast of Vancouver Island. For ten years, along with the usual fare, he’s also salvaged decaying body parts that he keeps in a freezer. Now he has collected an entire body’s worth of parts. After some strange things happen, Mac learns an important life lesson. Gruesome and, ultimately, somewhat sentimental, the story is well rendered, as is Mac, but both his “hobby” and its results are portrayed too mundanely to make the story completely effective.

Joanna Parypinski tells an oft-told tale with “Beach People“, but she does it well. Sixteen-year-old Camilla and her parents are, naturally, still grief-stricken six months after the death of brother/son Jordan. A family trip to a cabin on the Lake Superior shoreline – a familiar place, yet not the everyday home – is a therapeutic attempt at normalcy. But things are not normal and only Camilla gradually sees just how abnormal – a mysterious girl with long black hair, the gradual disappearance of other beach people, strange nests – it is. Nicely creepy.

Daniel Carpenter captivates with “Hunting by the River” by combining the unexpected with the unexplained and throwing in a dash of the surreal. Lee comes home to visit for his sister’s eighteenth birthday: “So much of the city had changed since his last visit. It felt alien to him….” True enough for any of us, but Carpenter twists that feeling into something much stranger. Kirsty, the sister, has disappeared and he goes in search. Things remain normal enough for the reader until Kirsty comes to chat in someone else’s body. Nothing much is normal thereafter. “Places change, people change, sometimes at the same time. Doesn’t mean anything bad. Doesn’t mean anything. Just means stuff evolves.” Right? Right?

Jenna is trying to survive in a world dying from the wordplague in “Pomegranate Pome­granate” by Jack Westlake. Searching for a cure, she finds a few answers, only one of which is not worse than the deadly disease. Death by words, somehow – or maybe vocabulary is only a symptom – is a fascinating idea. There’s not a lot of story here, but Jenna and her situation are well portrayed.

Daniel Bennett‘s “When You Decided to Call” is all mood and mystery. It involves a stranger coming to visit when the narrator is out and leaving messages with a neighbor. When he finally gets an answer, it is open to interpretation.

The Edward Gorey-inspired “Messages from Weirdland” by Simon Avery is accompanied by a noteworthy Gorey-esque illustration by Vince Haig. Elspeth has accepted her terminal diagnosis. After her demise, routine provides Franklyn with the structure to keep living. Then he begins to receive messages – in sea-delivered bottles – from Weirdland, an imaginary place he once invented in a “series of surrealistic and macabre, claustrophobic, poetic and poisoned little fictions” for children and adults. He has not written of Weirdland for years, but begins to illustrate the new tales that are, incredibly, written in his dead wife’s hand. It turns out he has one more, very important story he needs to write. A truly enchanting, wonderfully weird novelette.

My favorite of the five new stories in Uncanny #28 is Ellen Klages‘s “Nice Things.” Phoebe is caught between grief and relief after her over­bearing mother’s death. As she sorts through the contents of her mother’s house, she also sorts through a lifetime of relationship issues while dealing with what may (or may not) be super­natural happenings – a quietly exquisite story that ends with a “rather pleasant” shock for both reader and character.

Short and not at all sweet, Elizabeth Bear‘s “Lest We Forget” is a story that will – at the very least – provoke thought. A soldier commits war crimes while just following orders. They’ll never be brought to justice or go to jail, but makes the choice to not only be accountable but to help teach the world just how terrible war is with the aid of some horrific, but no doubt ef­fective, science.

The heyday of whaling out of Nantucket is the setting for “Canst Thou Draw Out the Le­viathan” by Christopher Caldwell. Carpenter John Wood, a manumitted slave, serves aboard the schooner Gracie-Ella, as does his white lover William. Through enslaved cabin boy Pip, Wood is warned that destruction follows the ship’s course by Agwe, an African sea god. The cap­tain, however, takes no heed. Mostly a romance, Caldwell’s craft and historicity are exceptional, but the supernatural warning and consequent calamity seem somewhat contrived.

In John Chu‘s pedagogical “Probabilitea“, Katie is training to properly manipulate order and chaos. Her father’s instruction makes sure she never affects probabilities by accident. She learns quite a bit when she helps Jackson, a physi­cal manifestation of life and death, deal with a dangerous white supremacist.

Victory is not so great in Emma Osborne‘s “A Salt and Sterling Tongue“. Although they have defeated him, the denizens of the village still suf­fer from the dying screams of the Merling King, killed by Queen Fortune. Sera has lost two sons. The village and Sera begin to recover when the queen’s bard visits them with her healing songs.

Brit E.B. Hvide‘s “A Catalog of Love at First Sight” lists the narrator’s loves (or events in their lives), each of which marks a further encroach­ment of ecological disaster. A poetic look at the end of the world happening in less than a single lifetime – a concept I can accept more readily than the invention of a spaceship to take many (most?) Earthlings elsewhere in the same time span. A more believable alternative is, however, also offered.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron, Ohio, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the August 2019 issue of Locus.

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyWhile you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *