#DealMeIn2019, Week 2 ~ “A Dog’s Story”

“A Dog’s Story” by Gardner Dozois

Card Picked: 3♥
From: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July-August 2017

He was old, and his hip hurt him these days, and he had long ago quit bothering to bark at cars, but his still-restless spirit wouldn’t let him go to sleep without tasting the night…

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a tale titled “A Dog’s Story” in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. There are some fantastical elements to it, but also a dollop of horror.

During the course of his night wanderings, Blackie finds the body of a murdered young woman in an alley. She reminds him of his special human Emily, who has been gone for several years. It’s implied that Emily has died; Blackie’s current human has been listless since Emily has been gone, but as a dog, Blackie only know that there is no more Emily. He decides that some justice should be done for this woman. His nose isn’t good enough to track the killer, nor would he be able to attack the man once he’s found, but Blackie is old enough to know other animals, like Talking Pete, a geriatric cat who knows many languages and can talk to the city’s rats. Through favors and deals, justice will be served.

This is a slip of a story, only just over 1500 words. (I love that F&SF includes word counts.) I can imagine that other writers would do more with the other animals, but indeed, this is a dog’s story and Blackie gets all the screen time.

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Review ~ Harmony in Light

This book was provided to me for review consideration by WordFire Press & the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America via NetGalley.

Harmony in Light

Harmony in Light by Walter H. Hunt

In 1880s Paris, a doctor encounters a statuette that can drive men mad, secret societies, and a bridge between worlds that threatens disastrous consequences. Throughout, he is assisted and opposed by historical figures such as Charlie Dickens, the son living in his late father’s shadow, a young Sigmund Freud and the ghost of the Marquis de Sade.

Why was I interested in this book?

On NetGalley, I’ve been auto-approved by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This means I can read any of the titles they are currently promoting via NetGalley without going through any approval process. It’s a bit of perk. I hadn’t reviewed anything for them in a while and Harmony in Light sounded like it might be interesting, despite my general avoidance of fiction with historical celebrities.

What did I think?

I was a little dubious going into Harmony in Light. Using historical personages in fiction is hard to get right. Often, a reader has a notion of the personage’s character and that can clash with the author’s version of that character. In this case though, I have very little opinion of Charles Dickens, Jr., Sigmund Freud, the Marquis de Sade, or Guy de Maupassant (who is also there). I didn’t even know if Dickens had children. He did, in fact, have 10 children.

Actually, Hunt errs on the other end of using historical celebrities: I’m not sure that the names and reputations they brought to the story were necessary. But perhaps I’m missing some connections. There are a lot of characters and names to keep track of.

I did enjoy the central mystery of the plot. Dr. Sauvier is a good investigator and the skeptical foil to the statuette’s weirdness and the societies of mesmerists looking to control it. Occasionally, the narrative felt a little padded out, but Hunt’s occult Paris is a diverting enough setting. I also rather liked the ending. Hunt has written some alternate history in the past, but he side-steps messing with future history here.

Other Info

Published: Nov. 26, 2018 by WordFire Press
My copy: PDF/Kindle ARC

Deal Me In, Week 39 ~ “The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery” by Catherynne M. Valente

Card picked: 4
Found at: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

And thus was I left, Perpetua alone and loudly complaining, in the quiet dark of my father’s glassworks, with no one willing to buy from my delicate and feminine hand, no matter how fine the goblet on the end of that long iron punty.

The solution seemed to me obvious. Henceforward, quite simply, I should never be a girl again.

I went into this story thinking that Perpetua hiding her gender would be the linchpin secret of this story. Not so. Perpetua, left with her father’s glassblowing tools after her two older brother’s snatch up the riches and land that their father left them, becomes a very successful businessman in London. But it isn’t until after her brother sends a young woman in need of glass eyes to her that Perpetua’s, or rather Cornelius Peek’s, true abilities flourish. Her glass eyes become world-known. When she keeps the match to an jeweled eye she creates for a Dogaressa, she finds that she can see what the Dogaressa sees. Thus, Master Peek becomes a libertine and spy, among other things.

I’ve never read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but for some reason I can’t shake thinking of  Catherynne M. Valente as a YA writer. Therefore, I’m taken aback every time I read one of her stories which is very solidly “adult.” Actually, this story reminded me somewhat of E. E. Kellett’s anthology A Corner in Sleep (1900), which is very concerned with the business possibilities of fantasy situations.

Deal Me In, Week 32 ~ “A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting” by Charles Payseur

Card picked: 6
Found at: Flash Fiction Online

I’m always on the lookout for stories with fantasy critters that aren’t very common. Dryads fit that bill.

This story is structured with a back and forth, by paragraph, between the burgeoning relationship of a lumberjack and his tent-mate and the instructions for recognizing dryads, the sometime dangerous tree spirits. As the romance advances, we also learn that parts of a dryad can be sold for good money. And money can buy a lot freedom.

“Come away with me,” you say, and you whisper your dream, of a small home ringed by tall shadows. Not safe but safer. Not perfect but beautiful.

This is a fairy tale and it might even have a happy ending. (As long as you’re not a dryad…)

Review ~ The Hermit

Cover via Goodreads

The Hermit by Monica Friedman

The Sonoran Desert is full of life, but that doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.

Kaija Mathews doesn’t want to talk to anyone, ever, so she’s hiding in a cave in the desert all alone. Or, she would be all alone if fifteen years of deep meditation beside a magic spring hadn’t cursed her with the ability to converse with animals. The other creatures always respected her privacy, until the massacres began. Suddenly, she can’t get rid of the local fauna and their stories of an insatiable monster that kills without ceasing, leaving an unearthly stench in its wake. Only a holy woman, they say, can defeat it. Kaija’s no saint, but if she’s ever to enjoy her solitude again, she’ll have to play along.

Worse, she’ll need to face the challenges of the world she abandoned, obstacles like her nightmare of an ex-husband, and a drifter half her age who feels like a sweet dream. To do battle with a bulletproof monster straight out of North American mythology, Kaija must learn what it means to stare down fear, when to fight, and most of all, how to answer hatred with love. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
K. J. Kabza recommended this book. Dang it, he’s a good writer and he has good taste…

What Worked
First off, content warning: there are spiders in this book. Yes, there are also coyotes, packrats, javelina, and even a creosote bush with personality, but there are also spiders. Many, many spiders. Friedman works many Native American myths and lores into this story and one of them is Spider Grandmother. Despite my problems with spiders, I got through it. In fact, there are a few times when Brown (a brown recluse) adds some deeply funny dark humor to the proceedings.

The pace of this story is rather slow, and that’s okay. It fits. Even in the cities, the desert isn’t a fast place. The stories, Kaija’s, Little Brother’s, the monster’s, all unspool gradually. And stories are very important to this narrative. Kaija, a librarian before she was a hermit, gains knowledge when she learns to listen to stories again. Kaija’s character arch is also long. She resists change for most of the book, believing that she’s living her best life rather than just hiding. Oh, and kudos for the pairing of a middle-aged woman with a younger man. I do love Peter S. Beagle, but his older-men/younger-women plots are getting old.

I love books with a strong sense of setting and, while being transported to somewhere else is often nice, I also enjoy reading about the places I am more familiar with. This book is set in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. I’m not a camper or a hiker, but we’ve driven through the desert many times and I find that I do love its beauty and its harshness in my own city-girl kind of way.

What Didn’t Work
There was a level of wrap-up at the end of the book that felt weird to me. The resolution involves magical elements overlapping with dead-serious real elements. I kept expecting the mythological to sort of fade out of the story or not be seen by the “real.” End of the day, the monster, Eagirl, killed people. While her mystery is solved, there are still…dead people. And that gets sort of ignored by the police who are involved at the end. Would I be happier if I was given some “all a dream” type explanation? No, probably not. I don’t know a way around it.

Overall
I enjoyed this book. Often, my continued reading (or even watching, in the case of TV and movies) comes down to the answers to two questions: Is this setting somewhere I want to be? Are these characters people I want to spend time with? When the answer is yes to both, I’m a happy (city-girl) camper.

Random trivia: I didn’t realize until after I finished The Hermit, but Monica Friedman and I have stories in the same issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly!

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Brother Wolf Press, 2016
Acquired: Amazon, 12/16/16
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale, magical realism

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Deal Me In, Week 21 ~ “Freedom is Space for the Spirit”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Freedom is Space for the Spirit” by Glen Hirshberg

Card picked: 10
Found at: Tor

Sometimes, I come across works by my favorite authors and, instead of reading them immediately, I squirrel them away for some later date. This explains a goodly portion of my unread library. I’ve had this story in reserve since 2016 and a good thing too. Glen Hirshberg’s writing pace is lagging behind my ability to consume his works.

From Tor’s website:

“Freedom is Space for the Spirit” by Glen Hirshberg is a fantasy about a middle-aged German, drawn back to Russia by a mysterious invitation from a friend he knew during the wild, exuberant period in the midst of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Upon his arrival in St. Petersburg, he begins to see bears, wandering and seemingly lost.

I’m most appreciative of Hirshberg’s horror stories and I was concerned that this would be very different than the usual. It’s set in Russia, in St. Petersburg. It’s also on the fantasy end of things. Or maybe it’s what’s considered magical realism. But, then, isn’t magical realism just a dark hop-skip away from supernatural horror?

There is always desolation in Hirshberg’s stories and a felling about the past that isn’t quite nostalgia. In these respects, “Freedom” is still so much a Hirshberg story, but one that is a double mystery too.  There is a lot to unpack on an allegorical level too, especially the concept of the resurrected past never quite working out. That’s not even taking into account Russia’s political past and present. But for me, this is a good unsettling fantasy and that’s how I enjoyed it this time I read it. Next time (and there will be a next time), who knows?

Deal Me In, Week 16 ~ “Riddle”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Riddle” by Ogbewe Amadin

Card picked: 2 – a WILD card
Found at: Fireside Magazine

The Story

I think Aunty Adesuwa is a witch. Mama says so sometimes.

To Idara, Mama never lies, and when Mama says that witches are evil, it must be so. But witchcraft also see,s like it could be a wonderful thing, full of possibilities. Idara sets out to prove whether Aunty Adesuwa is really a witch and really evil. It’s a riddle that isn’t easily solved.

Fireside Magazine showcases some really nice flash fiction. This one has been bookmarked since January and I decided to choose it for my wild card this week, even though it doesn’t fit with the sci fi tales I’ve chosen for hearts. Glad I did. It’s a lovely story with a nice touch of ambiguity.

The Author
I think this might be Nigerian author Ogbewe Amadin’s first publication. I’m pretty sure it won’t be his last.