Paula Guran Reviews, The Dark, The Sunday Morning Transport, and Nightmare 12/1/22, 12/24/22, 1/11/23, 1/18/23, 1/25/23
The Dark 11/22, 12/22
Nightmare 11/22, 12/22
The Sunday Morning Transport

I’ll start 2023 off by looking at three January stories from as well as a couple from December 2022. Chances are, you still haven’t caught up with all of end-of-the-year fiction, so we’ll then look at more from last year.

‘‘Time: Marked and Mended’’ by Carrie Vaughn ( 1/11/22) is a crackerjack science fiction novelette about Graff, a mysterious spacefaring humanoid AI with an unthinkable problem: a gap in its infal­lible memory. The story unspools in some unexpected ways (including religious) as the mystery is solved. Sunyi Dean’s ‘‘How to Cook and Eat the Rich’’ ( 1/18/22) is a hilarious tale about a subject not often seen as amusing: cannibalism. Set in a ruth­less imperial universe, ‘‘Puppetmaster’’ by Kemi Ashing-Giwa ( 1/25/23) relates some bloody machinations for the throne. Although there are some gaps, it’s amazing worldbuilding for a short story. Seanan McGuire crafts a beautiful, moving tale in ‘‘Skeleton Song’’ ( 12/26/22). In Mariposa dwell ‘‘skeleton young who had never known the weight of flesh, who could dance and dream and sing the world’s songs without any ties to elsewhere.’’ Christopher, a boy of flesh and blood, loves its skeleton princess. Can love find a way? A bookbinder is forced to translate a book that turns out to be too dangerous to deal with in ‘‘Burn­ing Books for Pleasure and Profit’’ by K.J. Parker ( 12/14/22). After considering various possibilities, he decides to produce an even more dangerous tome. Parker, as ever, is clever and entertaining.

The Sunday Morning Transport was my big­gest and most delightful discovery of 2022. A mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror all high-quality. You will prefer some over others, of course, but all are worth reading. No chronological grouping can encompass TSMT’s variety, but these were the most re­cently published at the time of this writing. ‘‘Every Her That Ever Was’’ by Joanne Anderton (11/13/22): Taye falls in love with an Archive, Olivia3679, a machine in a bust that preserves the personality of Olivia Mann at age 25. She obsessively acquires other Olivias, each recorded at a different age: 45, 68, 101, etc. Taye learns much about life and love. ‘‘The Lightning Seller Visits Greenvale’’ by A.C. Wise (11/20/22) is a Brad­buryesque tale about the power of memory, the pain of loss, and the importance of truly living. Christopher Rowe’s ‘‘The Mourn­ing Quilt’’ (11/27/22) combines some his­tory – the harassment of German Americans and immigrants during WWI – and some Biblical story, the Noahic Covenant, into a story of the meaning of humanity. In fantasy ‘‘Curses and Cake’’ by Sarah Beth Durst (12/4/22), we learn that curses may not be what you think they are and that those who seek to break them have a great deal to learn. Michelle Munzler’s ‘‘What the Stones Want’’ (12/11/22) is very dark. The stones demand and if you don’t obey, they demand even more. Disobey and terrible things hap­pen. It is not a matter a faith; it is simply the way to survive. Then Jude resists. Mur Laf­ferty’s ‘‘Escape! Auditions: Transcript for Contestant 35’’ (12/18/22) is far from dark. Snapdragon Smith is auditioning for a reality show that would place her on a space station. The 22-year-old is the owner of the famous book-writing dog Benedict Smith, whom she’d really like to… escape. Short and quite funny.

A.C. Wise also appears in The Dark #90. She offers a skillfully written story centered around how certain locations reject human intrusion with ‘‘Wind Come Down the Mountain’’. After 73 days of solo filming his wilderness journey for a reality show, Lane Harper has disappeared, leaving only some eerie footage. Carter goes in search of answers and, unfortunately, finds them. Seán Padraic Birnie packs more of a feeling of dread into a segment about a boy retrieving a ball from a neighbor’s yard in ‘‘How the Cat Woman Became the Giant Lady, Circa 1995’’ than most can into a novel full of monsters. He then continues to twist the mundane into a chilling tale. And, considering the mundane, Lavie Tidhar turns a vending machine into something monstrous in ‘‘Sirena’’. Ever had a teensy stab of terror just before reaching into that machine for a chocolate bar? Tidhar justifies that fear as we learn more of the Ferae Machinae. Angela Liu takes us far from our world, however, in ‘‘Olympus is a Body’’. The setting is place where a strange goddess saves lives, but at the cost of a vanished body part: ‘‘an eye, an ear, sometimes a kidney or liver that the person didn’t even realize was gone until years later.’’ When Mina goes to the temple to Pledge on her 18th birthday both we and she learn just what the goddess truly is.

The Dark #91 also offers four originals. In ‘‘Sulta’’ by James Bennett, Tate Miller thinks his photos of Mørkfjord, a Nordic Bronze Age shrine where no one – including the locals – has set foot for thousands of years, will make him the new Ansel Adams. As Tate and those who soon view his images discover, there is a good and horrific reason for this: Sulta, a goddess known as ‘‘The Hungerer.’’ Another legend comes to life in H. Pueyo’s ‘‘Belly-Slitter’’. It’s interesting, but not completely convincing. A second-person narrative, ‘‘Y is for Yesterday’’ by Steve Rasnic Tem is a story about inhumanity and abandoning the past. Both a trans woman real estate agent exploring a house not lived in since 1945 and the Polish immigrant who deserted it have forsaken their respective pasts. Although it doesn’t quite feel finished, it is still moving. ‘‘The Cat’’ by Morana Violeta (translated by Clara Madrigano) is a well-worn cliché: what happens when a cat is left alone with a dead owner. Its only twist is that it is told from the deceased’s point of view.

For me, the stories of Nightmare #122 were unsatisfying. Gordon B. White’s brutal ‘‘Devil Take Me’’ concerns a family beyond dysfunctional. There are more bad family relations in ‘‘Only When You Laugh’’ by Amanda Song, this time mixed with some very weird comedy. Sean Noah Noah’s 325-word ‘‘Ant Twin’’ takes off from the fact that by ‘‘weight, there are as many ants on Earth as people’’ and doesn’t go very far.

I felt the same bout issue Nightmare #123’s lead-off story ‘‘Break the Skin if You Have To,’’ by writing trio Emma Osborne, Jess Essey & Cadwell Turnbull. Basically, Con­stance, a zombie, lives in a house that some­how possesses her to compulsively clean and cook food that is not consumed. She falls in love with Annalee, a grocery clerk. Constance’s desire to remain with Annalee breaks the house’s hold on her but not until after she hacks into a plaster wall in the pantry and drinks the blood found there. Finally, Mari Ness’s ‘‘Wallers’’ provided me with some satisfaction. When her mother brings yet another man home, Martha literally fades into the wallpaper. (Evidently, ‘‘wallers’’ are a known phenomenon.) It’s a metaphorical tale full of much sad truth.

Recommended Stories
‘‘Skeleton Song’’, Seanan McGuire ( 12/26/22)
‘‘Wallers’’, Mari Ness (Nightmare 12/22)
‘‘Time: Marked and Mended’’, Carrie Vaughn ( 1/11/22)

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 OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the February 2023 issue of Locus.

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