With a dual-saber-wielding tough-talking rabbit-woman named Hai Hai, I wish this would have been last week’s story. But, alas, I drew the nine of clubs this week instead. Such is the fickle nature of Deal Me In.
This is mostly a straight-up fantasy tale that feels like it could easily be the upshot of a good table-top gaming session. Zok Iron Eyes is our main character. He’s a tough warrior with an enchanted broadsword. His wife was killed a decade ago by a toad-headed demon and he’s vowed vengeance. He carries one of his wife’s earrings as a token of remembrance. Joining him on his adventures are Hai Hai and Mylovic, a cleric with un-clericly penchants for money and poppy derivatives.
The story is set in motion when the earring is stolen from Zok’s money purse by a young man that seems to be a part of the weak, soft generation that surrounds Zok and his compatriots. There is a little twist to this story which isn’t hard to guess at, but the tale is nicely told, all in all.
He had apparently been a very evil man, but not actually a bad one. Althea had spent the last few months trying to get her mind around how such a thing was possible.
What if Bluebeard’s wife hadn’t looked into the forbidden room? What if, with two boundary-defying sisters in her past, she has no problem letting her husband have a room of his own? It’s not like she’s giving him the key to her diary. A room full of dead bodies isn’t something that can be kept a secret forever, but what if remains truly a secret for twenty-seven years of fairly happy marriage?
The classic story of Bluebeard is a weighty tale. T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) handles it with her signature light touch and knowing nods to the original.
For many years, I confused the tales of Bluebeard and Blackbeard. I found it very strange that a pirate would keep a room full of dead wives on his ship. The only other things I have a similar problem with are kingfishers and the Fisher King. So, it seems inordinately appropriate that “Bluebeard’s Wife” is written by T. Kingfisher.
Card picked: 5♠ From:The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz
Tracy travels to Paris to live and study for a year with her sister Liz, who already lives there. But, when Tracy arrives, her sister has left for Nice and Liz’s apartment isn’t hers at all, but her boyfriend Marcelo’s. Tracy is sent to stay with Isobel, but Isobel is leaving for Lisbon (where she’ll meet up with Liz) to tend to Isobel’s brother’s remains. But Tracy can stay in Isobel’s apartment as long as she needs. Ownership of the place simply passes from friends to friend. As Isobel explains:
The rule is, you can use anything here but you can’t keep it, and you have to leave something of your own when you go. And you can’t leave the apartment empty, or else we’ll lose it. If you move out you have to find someone to take your place.
The apartment is a wedge shape, a slice of the top floor of a round building, and full of things left behind by the sixteen others who have lived there. Initially, Tracy is afraid to be alone. She never has spent much time alone, but after Isobel leaves, the apartment becomes cozier to Tracy. She luxuriates in long hot baths and over-sleeps the curious loft cubby-hole the serves as her bedroom. And though originally afraid of the wasps that build their nest just outside her window, she develops a kinship with them…in more ways than one.
Tracy’s being away from home for the first time reminded me of when I first moved away (but not too far away) for college. It was scary, but it was also exciting to have so much freedom. The uneasy aspect of this story for me is how easily Tracy’s sense of freedom is twisted into being its own sort of prison. If this were a Joyce Carol Oates story, it would be stiflingly claustrophobic and deeply unsettling. Luckily(?), it’s not. Instead, Scott Baker only makes it a normal amount of unsettling and therefore readable without frequent breaks for air.
Young Angus wants Laura to marry him. His is not Laura’s first proposal. Before she moved to London, two other men asked for her hand in marriage. The first, Smythe, is an imp of a man, short as a jockey and swarthy. The second, Welkin, is tall and almost handsome aside from an alarming squint. Since she is attracted to neither and neither seems to have good prospects, Laura lies and says she can’t marry a man who hasn’t made his own fortune. Both men vow to come back for her after they’ve earned her hand. Unfortunately for Angus, that day has come, at least in the form of Smythe. Always the inventor, he has become an appliance mogul. His business, Smythe’s Silent Service, provides automaton butlers and maids.
Until Laura mentions Smythe’s Silent Service, I couldn’t remember why Chesterton’s “The Invisible Man” had ended up on my Deal Me In list. Not that it’s a sub-standard story or that I don’t care of a mystery, but it didn’t strike me as a story that I would have added to my list after coming across a review of it from someone else’s Deal Me In roster. But automatons? Of course, it made my list! The automatons are a minor detail, really, but one doesn’t expect to find the odd science fiction element in a mystery story. But maybe one does in a 1911 mystery. At the turn of the 20th century the Western world seemed enamored enough with science and technology to regularly include it in fiction.
But back to the story: What has really been scaring Laura isn’t Smythe’s inevitable return to claim her, but the fact that she hasn’t heard anything from the creepier Welkin. That is until Smythe’s last letter was delivered. As she read it, standing where it was delivered, she clearly heard Welkin laugh and say “he shan’t have you” though no one was around. Welkin also leaves a large message tacked up on the display window of the bakery where Laura works:
“If you marry Smythe, he will die.”
No one saw anyone deface the bakery.
Queue Smythe’s return. Despite his interest in Laura, Angus decides to take an interest in events and even tries to protect Smythe while he goes off to find his detective friend Flambeau. Visiting Flambeau is Father Brown, a Catholic priest who is actually the one to solve the mystery of the invisible man. I had previously not read any of Chesterton or his Father Brown mysteries. I’m kind of surprised that Father Brown has almost as much “screen time” as Smythe’s futuristic residence and robot butler and maid.
Card picked: 7♣. Last week I picked the 8♣. I shuffled, I swear! From:Engraved on the Eye, also available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies
The toughest man I ever met? That’s an easy answer to give, but a tricky tale to tell.
Mister Hadj was from the same place as my rattlesnake of a Pa. Araby, or someplace like, though I don’t rightly know…
Our narrator, a young man of half-Arabian decent but American West upbringing, tells of his mentor, a man he calls Mister Hadj. This is weird west story and, within the telling, Mister Hadj’s Muslim observances have as much mystical weight as the other supernatural elements. Or, rather, they are treated with the same lightness. In a world that includes hexes and zombies, what does it matter if our hero prays to the east on his “little heathen rug”?
I never learned Mister Hadj’s Christian name, but tell the truth I don’t think he was a Christian. Not to say he wasn’t living Christianly, you hear—
Weird west is a subgenre that I often enjoy more in concept than in execution. I think it easily gets bogged down by an overage of tropes, as horror (and often steampunk) gets heaped upon a western. “Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride” is short enough to avoid that. Our villain, Parson Lucifer, is a very bad man. Our heroes are out to bring justice. With silver bullets and Mister Hadj’s stone singing. Simple as that.
I have a confession to make. I don’t go out of my way to read diversely. My reading choices are pretty much dictated by curiosity. This goes for fiction as well as nonfiction. When I encountered a free anthology by someone named Saladin Ahmed, I presumed that the author was possibly Middle Eastern and possibly Muslim. The thought of speculative fiction written by someone of that background intrigued me. What would that author bring to his stories? So, here I am. Thankfully, Mr. Ahmed is a great teller of tales.
Card picked: Eight of Clubs From:Engraved on the Eye, also found online
God willing, Faithful Soldier, you will go to the charity-yard of the Western Mosque in Old Cairo. She will live.
Ali is a veteran of the Global Credit Crusade. Although it’s been years since he’s been a soldier his embedded OS still sends him random reminder messages. Things like “God willing, Faithful Soldier, you will pick up your new field ablution kit after your debriefing today” and “God willing, Faithful Soldier, you will spend your leave-time dinars wisely–at Honest Majoudi’s!” But poor and with a dying wife, one message that repeats nightly seems prescient.
In an effort to do something for his ailing wife, Ali walks from Free Beirut to Old Cairo, facing tigers, toxighuls, and sandstorms along the way. When he reaches the charity-yard of the Western Mosque he receives a new message, one that helps a crime occur. Are the messages just a glitch? A hack? Or something more?
I’m not sure I buy into the Global Credit Crusade as a WWIII situation, but there is a lot of world-building bits in seven pages of story. I’ve had Engraved on the Eye in my collection for ages. (I believe you can find it perma-free at most of your favorite ebook retailers.) I had read the first story in the collection sometime last year. So far, it’s 2 for 2 on great stories.
Saladin Ahmed was born in Detroit and raised in a working-class, Arab American enclave in Dearborn, Michigan. His first novel, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Crawford, Gemmell, and British Fantasy Awards, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal. He was nominated twice for the Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction/Fantasy Writer for his short stories, which have appeared in YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION and have been translated into a half-dozen languages. He has also written nonfiction for NPR Books, Salon, and The Escapist. He holds an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, an MA in English from Rutgers. (via Amazon.com)
Card picked: Eight of Hearts From:The Lottery, and Other Stories
Mrs. Winnings lives in Winning house at the top of the hill with her husband and two children and her in-laws. She always dreamed of living in the little cottage on the way down the hill, but she is, after all, a Winnings. When Mrs. MacLean moves in to the cottage, Mrs. Winnings thinks that it will be the next best thing: she can be friends with the new resident and often visit the cozy little cottage. Mrs. MacLean, from New York City, is a widower with a son the same age as Mrs. Winnings’ oldest boy. She paints the little cottage in bright colors (so much different than dark, drafty Winnings house) and plants a large, elaborate flower garden.
All is well until the middle of the summer when the garden becomes too much work for Mrs. MacLean. She hires Mr. Jones to help her. Mrs. Winnings tries to tell Mrs. MacLean: Mr. Jones, a black man, was involved with a white woman and they had three children before the woman left. But Mrs. MacLean just doesn’t pick up on the subtleties of the situation. Mrs. Winnings severs her friendship with Mrs. MacLean, almost too late to protect her own reputation.
As the summer grows hotter and longer, Mrs. MacLean’s garden withers and no one is friendly to her anymore. She wonder’s out-loud to Mrs. Winnings about what might have changed.
“Are you sure it isn’t because of Mr. Jones working here?”
…and Mrs. Winnings went down the hill thinking, The nerve of her, trying to blame the colored folks.
So, there you go: story about race relations with old New England Shirley Jackson flair.