Review of “A Matter of Fax” by Susan Rooke

Plot:

The house is perfect with its acreage, gatehouse, and large conservancy. After all her years of recording and concert work, and all the travel, this is the place for her. Never mind the silly rumors about the place being haunted.

Then the relatives she hadn’t seen for years descend on her. When polite hints to leave her alone don’t work, she takes to more underhanded measures and invites them to stay the night… in a haunted house, even if she has to do the haunting herself.

Thoughts:

On the one hand, the reader sympathizes with the narrator right away. It’s understandable that the poor woman wants a little peace and quiet after a long hard professional life. The relatives who help themselves to her hospitality get in the way of that.

Not all is as it seems, of course. Unfortunately, the ending is visible from a mile away. Other than that, this is a fun little piece I enjoyed it.

Bio:

According to her blurb, author Susan Rooke is a Pushcart-nominated poet and author of the Space Between fantasy series. Her work has appeared in such publications as inkscrawl, Eye to the Telescope, The Twilight Zone Magazine and The Christian Science Monitor, among many others. She lives in Texas.

The piece can be read here.

Title: “A Matter of Fax”
Author: Susan Rooke
First published: Theme of Absence, January 10, 2020

Review of “Inertia” by Wendy Nikel

Plot:

The unnamed narrator and her unnamed mate meet at the launch pad.

“Is it love at first sight?” he asks her.

“Does it matter?” she responds.

They are one of a one hundred assigned couples about to be sent off to replenish the human race on a distant world. They will sleep in suspended animation until they reach the new world. What could go wrong?

Thoughts:

It crossed my mind that this might be a rerun of the tired Adam and Eve story. It is not. The narrator volunteered for this project after the man she loved told her that he would be marrying another woman, a pregnant girlfriend. She has, understandably, soured on the male of the species.

The author intersperses the recitation of various principles of physics throughout the story, beginning with the statement of (what else?) inertia: “A body in motion will remain in motion, and one at rest, at rest.” Generally, this device annoys me as a reader. However, in this story, author Wendy Nikel uses it to enhance rather than to decorate the story. It works.

I liked this story.

Bio:

According to her author blurb, Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Nature: Futures, Podcastle, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. Her website notes she is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), currently serving as the Publisher Liaison for the 2020 World Fantasy Convention.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Inertia”
Author: Wendy Nikel
First published: Daily Science Fiction, January 6, 2020

Review of “A Plague of Santas” by Emily Dorffer

This is not really a story, as there is no plot. It is a portrait, a satire of the frenzy surrounding Christmas time. And it is cute.

“It starts innocently enough in November,” the reader is told. “A shortage of cookies and milk at the grocery store, a faint jingling at night, the lingering scent of peppermint.”

The imagery is evocative, poking fun, and sparing some pity for harried parents who exchange tips and discuss strategy “over mugs of eggnog.” There is advice for wise children and wise families.

There is also mention of the often unwise practice of buying puppies and kittens for the holidays, which then sometimes end up abandoned.

Thoughts:

When I began reading this, I thought, Oh. Christmas—yeah, it’s a wonderful life, yeah, yeah, yeah. But it does achieve some nice satiric moments. Having worked retail for more than twenty-five years, I have come to dislike Christmas. Almost everything I detest about Christmas is portrayed here—without anger.

Is all the turmoil around Christmas worth the effort, for those who celebrate it? It’s a question only each person can answer.

Bio:

According to the author’s blurb, author Emily Dorffer is a technical writer who has cerebral palsy. She loves Christmas.

The story can be read here.

Title: “A Plague of Santas”
Author: Emily Dorffer
First published: Daily Science Fiction, December 23, 2019

Review of “Tenure” by Andy Tubbesing

Plot:

The Philosopher is out walking up the slate steps up Academy Hill, as she frequently does when puzzling out problems. The path circles the school so she can pace it for hours if need be.

A call to wait up comes from the Artisan.

“Well, keep up,” the Philosopher grumbles. The Philosopher despises the Artisan as a “flipper of rocks” who has no respect for deep thought.

The Artisan holds a metal cylinder, which he refers to as a precision instrument, a real time machine. He wants to make sure he’s dialed it in right. “Yeah, it’s ugly, a shakedown cruise. But it works. It’s a genuine time machine.”

He continues, explaining how it works, telling the skeptical Philosopher, “You’re great at dismembering the universe, but you couldn’t assemble a tricycle.”

Thoughts:

Author Andy Tubbesing gives the reader a cute and lively depiction of tension between the practical and theoretical sciences. The Philosopher and the Artisan get carried away in their own little worlds to notice a bigger picture of what’s going on. They discuss paradoxes of time travel: what would happen if a time traveler accidentally killed his own grandfather?

This is a cute little tale, told with some humor. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is a pleasant read. The only drawback is the ending, which is predictable from a mile away. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading this.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Andy Tubbesing writes and paints in rural Ohio. Among his visual inspiration are “Bruegel (the elder), Wyeth (the eldest), and Wood (both Grant and Wally).”His literary influences include “Bradbury, Dunsany, and the guy who wrote Beowulf.”

Title: “Tenure”
Author: Andy Tubbesing
First published: Daily Science Fiction, December 2, 2019

The story can be read here.

Review of “Rainbows” by William R.D. Wood

Note: the story comes with an editorial warning from Daily Science Fiction that it is a dark, adult tale. In short, you won’t see any rainbows.

Plot:

Jacob holds his four-year-old daughter Becca up to the basement window so she can look out to the outside world. There, the reader is told, “[a] cloud of cancer fibers drifted across the yard outside like spider silk.” Many of the fibers appear to be about several inches long, but most are dust. They squeak when they hit the window and leave scratches.

Becca asks her father if he saw the cancer that got Mommy.

“No, honey, these are a different kind. Mommy… was already sick before [we] got here.”

Jacob carries a bottle of pills in his pocket. He vows today is the day.

Thoughts:

The author offers no explanation for the cancer fibers, but their origin is unimportant. They’re getting worse. Jacob can do nothing to stop them.

The story centers on Jacob trying to protect Becca as much as he can, even to the point of eventually killing both of them. He lies to her, he shelters her, and he rations food.

In her cocoon, Becca is incapable of seeing evil, adding to the poignancy of the story. The reader can understand a parent’s love and a well-crafted tale, but this is not a story to enjoy.

I do have to add a few remarks about a handful of editing oopsies. These do not reflect on the quality of the work of the author, however. One typo involved the author’s name in his byline. Sh!t happens, of course, but in this poor guy’s story, more than a few boo-boos seem to have slipped by, through no fault of his own.

Bio:

According to the author’s blurb, author William R.D. Wood lives with his wife and children in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in an old farmhouse. His work has appeared in Nature, Tales to Terrify, and Alien Invasion Short Stories. His site is here. Not that I would ever criticize anyone after my neglecting my site so regularly, but Wood’s really needs to be updated.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Rainbows”
Author: William R.D. Wood
First published: Daily Science Fiction, October 21, 2019

Review of “Living Image” by James Rumpel

Plot:

Twenty-four-year-old Joseph Marshal has just lost his mother. He had never left home and had rarely ventured out in public. He misses his mother but is not lonely. He worries about how he will survive without her to provide a buffer between himself and the rest of the world.

At her funeral, a tall, thin man in a gray suit approaches Joseph. He offers his condolences. He also offers a way the young man could continue to see and interact with his mother daily.

The man works for a company called Living Image that uses all known social media posts, diaries, and other public information to create artificial intelligence to simulate the dearly departed. He hands Joseph his business card.

As it happens, Joseph’s mother was a primary designer and primary stockholder in smart home technology. She left him a sizeable inheritance, so money is not an issue.

Thoughts:

From the moment the tall, thin man in the gray suit appears, the reader knows this won’t end well. Though called an introvert, Joseph is depicted as a lazy, overgrown child.

The idea of the Living Image is just creepy.

When the bad stuff hits the fan, he has been so incapacitated by his own infantalization there is nothing left for him to do.

Author Rumpel has created an effective if unsurprising horror story dealing with technology, grief, and humanity.

Bio:

According to the blurb, author James Rumpel is a retired high school math teacher. In an author interview with Theme of Absence, Rumpel says that he’s been writing for about a year since he retired. He’s been thinking up stories and ideas for his entire life but didn’t start writing them down until recently.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Living Image”
Author: James Rumpel
First published: Theme of Absence, October 20, 2019

Review of “The Last Rider of the Apocalypse” by Floris M. Kleijne

Plot:

The Four Horsemen of lore—Pestilence, Famine, War, and Death, have destroyed humanity in an Apocalypse, leaving only Porcaleo alive. Porcaleo pursues them with vengeance across the vast expanse of space through Andromeda and the Horsehead Nebula.

With the final quarry, a problem arises: how does one kill Death?

Thoughts:

This was a fun little tale to read. Porcaleo assaults Famine with a “cornucopia rifle.” Famine “collapses under the abundance.”
Death, though, offers an entirely different problem. Author Kleijne presents him suitably ominous, with a whisper that rattles Porcaleo’s ship.

If the resolution is not a surprise, it is enjoyable. I liked this story.

Bio:

According to his author’s blurb, Floris M. Kleijne, “writes stories in the interstices between his family, his career in finance, and his insatiable craving for Netflix binges.” His work has appeared in Writers of the Future anthologies, Galaxy’s Edge, Factor Four, Little Blue Marble, and many other publications. According to the bio on his site, he was born in Amsterdam and currently lives in an ancient farmhouse in the Dutch river district. He is the first Dutchman to qualify for membership in the SFWA. Good for him.

The story can be read here.

Title: “The Last Rider of the Apocalypse”
Author: Floris M. Kleijne
First published: Daily Science Fiction, October 14, 2019

Review of “The Raleigh Temple of Artemis” by Caroline Diorio

Plot:

The reader is told that the Temple of Artemis closes at midnight, and it’s now 11:52.

The narrator apologizes to the snake-headed girl in the UNC Chapel Hill sweatshirt who’s cleaning the statue of Artemis. She’s waiting for someone. Not that she has an appointment. She tells the reader she just knows the other person will come.

When the other woman shows up, it’s clear she’s another version of herself. The narrator’s husband—or maybe former husband—entreated a god to bring her to life after he sculpted her from marble. But something went wrong, and the other woman is here, in the temple of Artemis.

Thoughts:

This is an intriguing retelling of the Pygmalion myth from Galatea’s point of view. I enjoyed the classical allusions, though I have to admit, a Gorgon cleaning a temple is pointless even if it is cute. While it’s never worked out, there is the assumption that temples to classical deities dot the North Carolina landscape. Is this an alternative universe, did the old gods never go away, or has there been a latter-day revival? It doesn’t matter. The reader accepts things as they are and happily goes along for the ride. It’s not important.

What is important is what’s happening between the two non-snake-headed women. This is a touching and thoughtful piece. I liked it.

Bio:

According to the author’s blurb, author Caroline Diorio is a student at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her short fiction has appeared on The NoSleep Podcast. Her Meredith College Athletics Profile notes that she ran a personal best in 2018. An “interesting bit” note is that she “loves to write.”

The story can be read here.

Title: “The Raleigh Temple of Artemis”
Author: Caroline Diorio
First published: Daily Science Fiction, September 30, 2019

Review of “How to Get to Heaven” by Trina Jacobs

Janet has died during what was supposed to be a routine appendectomy. Something went wrong. Now she sees a ghost in the corner telling her not to go into the light.

“You wouldn’t like it there.”

The ghost is a young man wearing a black leather jacket and blue jeans, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Fonzie from the television show Happy Days. He’s not Fonzie. For one, he’s transparent. He tells her he’s not Henry Winkler, but her guardian angel. She wouldn’t be able to pronounce he real name.

“How about if you call me ‘Bob.’”

He’s not quite what she expected.

But she’s dead. Understandably, she doesn’t want to be dead. Who’s going to take care of Mr. Fluffyfkins?

Thoughts:

This is lighthearted and, frankly, a bit silly. There is some slapstick at the expense of a couple of ghost hunters in an operating room—not the operating room where Janet died, but some other operating room Bob and Janet enter after Janet picks a numbered door.

Bob’s speech is laden with catchphrases. When Janet persists in wanting to go toward the light, Bob says, “Eeeeeehhh!” in imitation of a game show “wrong” buzzer. When she gets the situation right, he says, “Bingo!”

While I felt some sympathy for poor Janet, who has just died and is worried about her cat (even if she gave the poor critter revolting name!), the arcade atmosphere of her reception into the afterlife quickly wore thin for me. Not that there isn’t room for humor or slapstick in such stories. I didn’t find Bob believable or sympathetic. Is he a ghost? A guardian angel? I wondered at first why the choice of the Fonzie character, but then I found it fitting—all style, short on substance.

The story is not bad. It could have been much better.

Bio:

According to her blurb, author Trina Jacobs living in Oklahoma with her husband, three dogs, a cat, and a horse. She is a member of Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers. According to her smashwords profile, she was born on Halloween and her writing has appeared in about a dozen magzines and anthologies.

The story can be read here.

Title: “How to Get to Heaven”
Author: Trina Jacobs
First published: Theme of Absence, May 24, 2019

Review of “The Colossus Stops” by Dafydd McKimm

The Colossus that has circled the waters outside the island three times a day as long as anyone can remember has stopped. From birth, the people know the sound of its great gears, forever turning, as it protected the island from pirate ships. On the day before yesterday, the Colossus slowed, making only two rounds. Now it no longer moves.

After waiting to see if it were resting, some men take boats out to the Colossus. They return with bad news. The gears of its heart no longer turn.

How will the people protect themselves? With the Colossus the guarding their shores, they never developed much in the way of weapons.

Different groups on the island come to different ways of addressing that problem, both using unique properties of the Colossus. The solutions they arrive at tells the reader what type of people they are.

 
Thoughts:

In part, this story is about growing up. How do people face the world without the protection of home and parents? It also reflects a loss: parents and protectors die. Adults have to face the cruel world by themselves. Even if we are in groups, the individual has to make choices.

The narrator gives no reason for the Colossus’s demise, nor do the islanders try to repair it. They take what they see as needful and forge on.

This was not one of my favorite stories. The bad guys were foolish, and the wise people were good. The author leaves some room for ambiguity, but not much. The reader knows before the end of the story who is on Santa’s naughty and nice lists.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Dafydd McKimm was born in South Wales but now lives in Taipei, Taiwan. His short stories have appeared in publications such as Deep Magic, Daily Science Fiction, Syntax & Salt, and Flash Fiction Online.

The story can be read here.