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Showing posts from November, 2023

The Smell of Waiting

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Kaaron Warren, "The Smell of Waiting" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This story has a different take on returning the dead to life. Life isn't something to be restored, but rather, death is a thing or a presence that can be taken away. Of course, once you've taken it away, you've got to store it somewhere! What did you think about the role that Andrea played in the process as opposed to the role that the dog played in the process?

Children of the Night

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Stephen Graham Jones, "Children of the Night" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This is a story involving the literal collision of subculturesㅡbigfoot hunters, truckers, and monsters.  Tol's theories and speculations about monsters are wonderfully absurd, but the truth is stranger and even more ridiculous. When monster kinds cooperate with one another, we don't have a chance against them.

Crick Crack Rattle Tap

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A. C. Wise, "Crick Crack Rattle Tap" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Rattle Tap is a wonderfully frightening monster! And if we discover that this monster isn’t hiding behind the curtains, that might actually be scarier than the alternative, for we might be Rattle Tap. I love the thoroughgoing ambiguity of this story. It is not uncommon for horror stories to play up ambiguity, inviting the reader to provide an interpretation of the story’s events. But here, something deeper is going on. The ambiguity itself is used to reflect the protagonist's own state of mind or point of view. Kiersten is in the same epistemic state regarding what is really happening (and what happened in the past) as we, the reader.

Devil

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Glen Hirshbert, "Devil" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Sometimes, we go looking for monsters; we seek adventure and ". . . that delicious before-we-had-brains dread of being stalked." The story is about creating such an adventure, the nature of memory, and storytelling itself. We shade our experiences through the context of our surroundings and create monsters from things that are bigger, hidden, and not fully understood. This feels like memories! 

The Special One

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Chikodili Emelumadu, "The Special One" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). You don't have to be a Victor Frankenstein to create a monster. Parents (helped by oppressive institutions) can do it without the need for all of that science. With that said, the responsibility for Joy's actions doesn't fall only at the feet of her parents. After all, when it came to Joy's upbringing, ". . . in billions of households around the world, other parents were telling their offspring the exact same thing." And, she did realize greatness; however, it came in the form of the ill-famed and notorious. 

Strandling

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Caitlin R. Kiernan, "Strandling" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). We are beings that are in the process of dying. For a brief time, we are strandlingsㅡfish out of water that have breached for one awe-filled glimpse of the sun, a brief momentary peek, and then we will return to the dark loneliness of non-existence.  "I was alone before we met. I'll get the hang of it again."  

Flaming Teeth

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Garry Kilworth, "Flaming Teeth" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). I always appreciate subtly strange stories; it is why I like Aickman and Murakami so much. In "Flaming Teeth," Kilworth gives us a few small signals that the world in which the story is set is not quite the one you and I are familiar with, but it is close enough that you might not notice at first glance.  The manner in which giants are acknowledged to exist by the world at large is one of the details that makes this world different. The light touch with which this departure is handled works well. This sets up an additional element that makes the story strange; readers come to expect that when characters encounter a monster, part of their shock and horror is them coming to grips with the fact that the thing can exist at all. But a setup that avows the presence of giants subverts that expectation.  Another strange touch to this particular story is just how noncha

The Island

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  Norman Partridge, "The Island" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This story impressively wrings effective horror from iconic monsters that you might have thought so familiar as to have lost their potential as vehicles of engaging fiction. The personification of the island is brilliantly handled, and the unfolding of the island's story within the story of imprisoned monsters, shipwrecked vampires, crustaceans from space, and many other creatures works to pace revelations that fuel the reader's imagination. The story is fun, violent, and full of action while maintaining a severe sense of deep weirdness delivered through wonderfully expressive prose. 

What is Love but the Quiet Moments After Dinner?

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  Richard Kadrey, "What is Love but the Quiet Moments After Dinner" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Being a monster can be lonely─struggling with feelings of isolation, rejection by others, and trying to navigate a world not made with you in mind. Monsters may make bad dates, but this is a monster love story; this is a story of two (very different) kinds of monsters discovering something in one another that they can connect with.  Kadrey does cool stuff in this story, and he does more than just turn expectations on head by playing with the dichotomy between monster and human. The moral valence of Caleb's actions, contrasted with Patti's, pervades the story. The reader's moral sensibilities tend toward uncomfortable identification with Caleb. But his lack of outrage at what Patti is up to is quite bothersome, but on the other hand, understandable. Questions about how one's nature paints the moral status of one's ac

Siolaigh

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Siobhan Carroll, "Siolaigh" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). The folk atmosphere of the island community sets the stage for this ecological sea monster story. The moral compass just spins as the interconnected ecologies are such that "[e]ven our mercy brings death." The pessimism implied by the claim can only be rejected at the cost of ushering in futility. This is a horror story! Oudemans, A. C. / Wikimedia Commons

Here Comes Your Man

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Indrapramit Das, "Here Comes Your Man" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Even the nice monsters are still monstrous! And in a monster's world, the nice guys still worship the god of masculinity and fundamentally misunderstand even their own emotions, not to mention others. See, I even made the story about him .  There are plenty of other paradoxes and tensions that feed the horror of being human on full display in this story. Two that stand out: Aditya's weakness is that he doesn't want to be weak. And in the end, we see that Megha fears that the man she fears isn't there.  

"The Father of Modern Gynecology": J. Marion Syms, M.D. (1813--1883)

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Joyce Carol Oates, "'The Father of Modern Gynecology'": J. Marion Syms, M.D. (1813–1883)" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). The delusion, cruelty, madness, and sick, twisted self-righteousness that the monsters of this story use against human beings is horrifying. The story is told from the perspective of one of the creatures, and we realize that these monsters falsely believe they are doing nothing wrong. They justify their actions to themselves with the most absurd theories and carry on in cruel and self-serving ways. The narrator, too, is beyond redemption; he is discovered to be all the more monstrous when we realize that there are parts of him that could overcome his detestable delusions, but he, nonetheless, gives into his cowardice and wallows in the praise of his superiors.

The Atrocity Exhibitionists

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  Brian Hodge, "The Atrocity Exhibitionists" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This story is packed with monsters! With that said, there aren't any fangs, shaggy fur, or shambling gaits here. In fact, some aren't even individuals but are constituted by large groups of people that come together in specific patterns. This activity creates social monsters and monstrous movements that aren't reducible to the individuals that comprise them. Regarding this kind of monster, it isn't necessarily the case that any person who is part of the social creature is a monster in and of themselves or at an individual level. But the behemoth comes alive (often online) due to the spontaneous activity of individuals fueled by passion. This all ends up making the monster nearly impossible to bring down. Many of the monsters in Hodge's story can create other monsters in reaction. One example of this is the atrocity exhibitionist, who is v

The Ghost of a Flea

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Priya Sharma, "The Ghost of a Flea" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). Not only set in the early 19th century, the story reads like gothic fiction of the period, which very much adds to the story’s atmosphere of dread and horror. Chock full of historical characters (and even offers up a Jack the Ripper theory by way of his origin story), the protagonist is the Romanticist William Blake, who, along with his wife Catherine and the painter/astrologer John Varley, face down a terrible monster. Arguably, the monster they must face is the original monster—original on two different levels. And given the end, you cannot help but wonder if Blake must now suffer the curse sevenfold. Given that one recurring theme of these murmurs is the horrifying nature of paradox, it is interesting to note that the characters become entangled in something similar to the contradiction in which Oedipus finds himself. John, Kate, and Varley believe in the prophet

The Virgin Jimmy Peck

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Daryl Gregory, "The Virgin Jimmy Peck" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). When you suddenly have something to care for in the world, when that thing depends upon you for its very existence, aspects of your personality and character are revealed that are surprising. This is true even if that which you are caring for is a tentacled murderous spawn of an interdimensional elder god ripping itself free from your abdomen or you are caring for the young man who is undoubtedly ushering in the end of the world as we know it. We learn something important and endearing about both Jimmy and Mrs. Yogovich when they are put in such a circumstance, and we have a lot of laughs along the way. 

Wet Red Grin

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Gemma Files, "Wet Red Grin" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). This pandemic story gives us a different model for interpreting the spread of infection. A nice wet, bloody red one that smells like vinegar! It is odd to think about the bloody red skeleton that lives inside each of us and horrifying to think that someday it will get out. Luckily, most of us won't die from it trying to get out; we'll die from something else before our skeleton does make its external debut appearance.

The Midway

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Fran Wilde, "The Midway" in  Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). The horror theme of "human beings are the real monsters" may be an old one, but here we get something more一we get what it is that makes human beings WORSE than monsters. Oma’s insight into monsters:   They are different from us.  We don’t communicate in the same ways.  Monsters don’t know anything beyond their own wants, nor that what they want may keep you from being alive.  They may all be gone now, like everything else good. Neither Alan, Mr. Lloyd, Pops Staley, nor Mora are monsters; they are much, much worse. For they do know things beyond their own wants—they know yours. And unlike monsters, they interact through manipulation. The horror is, these characters aren't different from us. The good ones of us step into the sea and become monsters.  "Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nep

You Have What I Need

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  Ian Rogers, "You Have What I Need" in Screams From the Dark , ed. Ellen Datlow (Tor Publishing Group: 2022). The hospital is a strange place. Apart from a war zone, you are unlikely to be physically closer to horror than when sitting in the ER waiting room of a hospital. There is nasty shit going on all around you—from blood, viscera, and death to injustice, psychological trauma, and financial ruin. It is a place where strange things happen, a place where both lives are saved and tragedies occur.  But people (and monsters, disease, and contagion) show up at the hospital thinking they are going there because it has what they need . It can feel like the last hope; the hospital can fix it. Most of the time, what you think will happen differs from what really happens. It is a place that often frustrates expectations and sometimes delivers pleasant surprises.  “You Have What I Need” takes up this weirdness of the hospital from the perspective of those who work there, those who v