Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: Not One of Us, Bourbon Penn, and Speculative Los Angeles

Not One of Us 1/21, 4/21
Bourbon Penn 3/21
Speculative Los Angeles, Denise Hamilton, ed. (Akashic) February 2021.

The always intriguing Not One of Us has gone to slimmer issues. I have two at hand. January opens, appropriately enough, with “January House“, an absolutely lovely story by Alexandra Seidel. Isla Glas returns to her childhood home perforce, as her mother has died and she’s now the last of her family. The house is weird in enchanting ways – the seven bells (which sound like running water, or raging fire, or spoiling life, or past, present, and future, or silence) and the horns, such as the drinking horn, which tries to get Isla drunk. And the hunting horn, which summons, it seems, a Fae. Isla, of course, knows not to invite a Fae in, or to flirt with him, or give him her name… and of course, therein lies, eventually, the story.

The April issue has nothing quite as good as “January House”, but I did enjoy two stories that, in very different ways, concern mushrooms. In Sarah McGill‘s “A Cabaret of Rosy Rot” the protagonist lives(?) it seems, in an abandoned world, among mushrooms and ghosts, and tries make the ghosts into lovers…. It never quite co­hered for me, but it’s well written and evocative. And Seidel is back with “I Feel the Absence of Her Shape“, which tells of a mushroom creature on another planet, where it encountered a human explorer, now gone – fairly weird stuff, again! But intriguing.

Bourbon Penn‘s March issue is likewise pretty weird, and not wholly successful. Best is prob­ably Rich Larson‘s very dark and nastily funny (sort of) “Tommy Wexler and the Case of the Absconding Arsonist“, in which Tommy and his friends try to help his dad, the sheriff, solve crimes (sort-of Encyclopedia Brown fashion), such as the burning of the local liquor store. But pretty quickly we realize that this isn’t an Encyclopedia Brown story, and that Tommy’s crime solving method is pretty awful – and that there are pretty awful reasons for that.

Speculative Los Angeles is a new venture from Akashic Books, which has published an impressive series of original anthologies of noir fiction centered on various cities. This is the first in a series doing the same thing for speculative fiction, beginning with LA. Charles Yu contributes “West Torrance 2BR 2BA w/Pool and Black Hole“, which effectively uses SFnal tropes to portray a man’s pain as he watches his children play on one of “his” days as he’s going through a divorce – and he seems to hope that their perception of reality can alter his reality.

More overtly SF/F are two of the best stories here, both featuring the same character, Jack Parsons, a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a certifiably whacky individual, a devotee of Alastair Crowley, and for a time friends with L. Ron Hub­bard. Lisa Morton‘s “Antonia and the Stranger Who Came to Los Feliz” is set in an alternate Alta California, a peaceful and bucolic near Utopia. One day Antonia, who runs her family’s ranch, encounters a strange man, in a strange suit, with a strange weapon and strange injuries. Despite some misgivings, she takes him to her home to try to care for him – and then finds a sort of rip in the air near where he had appeared and a horrible landscape beyond it. The man, of course, is Jack Parsons, and the place he came from is a ravaged parallel world – and what will happen if she allows Parsons, and his weapon, to stay in her world? Stephen Blackmoore‘s “Love, Rocket Science, and the Mother of Abominations” is quite a different take. Diane, still mourning her murdered husband, finally gets a lead on his killer. Her bait for the killer is a set of tablets created by Jack Parsons long in the past, which supposedly hold a spell in “Enochian” to summon a Goddess – and Diane’s dead husband, maybe, had figured out how to decode that spell. But what if the killer knows a bit more than Diane realizes? Not a great story, but a pretty fun one.

Recommended Stories
“Antonia and the Stranger Who Came to Los Feliz”, Lisa Morton (Speculative Los Angeles)
“January House”, Alexandra Seidel (Not One of Us 1/21)
“West Torrance 2BR 2BA w/Pool and Black Hole”, Charles Yu (Speculative Los Angeles)

Rich Horton works for a major aerospace company in St. Louis MO. He has published over a dozen anthologies, including the yearly series The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy from Prime Books, and he is the Reprint Editor for Lightspeed Magazine. He contributes articles and reviews on SF and SF history to numerous publications.

This review and more like it in the June 2021 issue of Locus.

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