Eneasz Brodski’s “What Lies Dreaming” is not a book for an idle or casual read. It’s a book that makes demands of the reader and has faith that reader will meet its demands. It is a book that finds its stride and gains momentum as the pages turn and one that rewards readers for committing to it.
The structure is unorthodox, and that structure may be its most immediately distinguishing feature. It blends points of view (and at time tenses) in an accelerating and tightening web that ties a slave, a soldier, and a senator together as the inexorable hubris of Rome and human nature combine to drive the city further and further into disaster.
Though much of the horror stems from the hearts of the men, this is a cosmic horror story. The writing of the monsters shines as their surreal traits (and more terrifyingly their effects on people) spring into being. They take familiar elements of horror and convey them in new (and satisfyingly disconcerting ways).
Equally impressive (though possibly only to Roman history geeks), the blending of historical reality shines through in details small and large. The way a senator views musicians, for example, is an obscure enough piece of history that the fact it is correctly portrayed suggests that the period setting is thoroughly researched.
Befitting any good cosmic horror, this addresses and, I believe, portrays mental illness. By way of caveat I have no mental healthcare training nor personal experience with what I believe was portrayed (so I suppose it is possible that it was done poorly), but I found it to be believable and compelling. I thought there was a devious ambiguity as to where the mental health issue ended and where the speculative element of the story began.
I was lucky enough to beta read “An Empty Cup” by Jeremy TeGrotenhuis (basically, I read the final version save for a couple questions about capitlization). It’s out in the Summer 2018 issue of Deep Magic and available on Amazon.
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Full disclosure: On twitter, F&SF offered a free copy of the May/June 2018 issue in exchange for a review. I was lucky enough to get in on this action and have a bit about each story after the break.
As expected from one of the flagship markets for short and novelette-length speculative fiction, the volume is great. The pieces span from high fantasy to space opera, and skip through magical realism and surrealism along the way past a fairy tale. The tone varies from the serious contemplation of an aspect of race relations to the more fun-loving romp through a more traditional high fantasy setting.
Picking stories that stood out from the crowd has less to do with quality and more to do with my subjective taste, maybe even my subjective taste at the moment I read each. “The Barrens” was a tense spin on a classic horror archetype that kept me turning the page (maybe I was due for a tense tale). “Argent and Sable” was high fantasy at its most fun (maybe I was due for a taste of childhood nostalgia). “Unstoppable” was a brilliantly rendered fairy tale (maybe I’m envious of being able to perfectly land the “fairy tale voice”… okay I am envious of that, but it’s still a great story).
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I’m late on reading this, and I’m not sharing any revlatory information when I recommend “Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim (it’s a finalist for the 2017 Nebula Awards for Best Short Story and the 2018 Hugo Awards for Best Short Story), but whatever you’re doing, stop and read it. I make no voting recommendation her, but if it wins those awards, it will be incredibly deserving.
Yoachim uses the ostensible story about wind-up toys with a finite amount of “turns” each day to do all the activities of life to reflect on aging, family, responsibilities, and how one measure’s the worth of their life. I’m finding it hard hard to go into too much detail without potentially relieving the impact of the story, which is incredibly poignant and impactful.
I find the short fiction I enjoy the most lingers on the mind long after I’m done reading it. I know that “Carnival Nine” will haunt me with its beauty and its message for a long time.
I’m copying a piece of one of of the most beautiful paragraphs of prose I’ve read in recent memory after the jump to hide potential spoilers. Absolutely masterful.
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Tales of Ruma goes on sale today. I’ve gotten a chance to read the stories. The anthology is a relentless, grimdark, experience. The authors excel in crafting brutal stories, tragic tales, and weaving prose into a violent, punchy, form. The standout story to my eye is “A God of Death” by D.J. Butler, but I’m going to give a quick rundown of each after the jump.
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