This month, our theme seems to be dead people. Or if not quite dead, not quite your typical zombie, either.
In “The Altruist and the Dead Man” by Edward Cowan, we learn about the company you keep and life on the ledge. Darja Malcolm-Clarke presents a lyrical tale of an oceanside city on Great Nizea’s Eve, while Catherine Cheek gives us a glimpse of a woman back from the dead, along with insight to problems the newly dead face. Read it here first: it’ll also appear in John Joseph Adams’ zombie anthology, The Living Dead in September, 2008.
Jennifer Crow, Ed Gavin, and Marcie Lynn Tentchoff, our poets for this issue continue the theme. Be sure to read “Fire Begets Water,” “Palmetto Ridge,” and “Princess.”
Iin search of a good book? I share one of my latest favorites with you.
Finally, our usual .pdf version will be late, since our technical staff person is on the move. Check back soon!
I hope you enjoy this issue.
West, Michelle. The House War: The Hidden City. DAW : 2008. ISBN: 978-0756404703
I read a lot, but mostly at night tucked in bed, just before I fall asleep. Any book that shuts down my internal editor is quite good. If I find one keeps me awake longer than an hour, it’s excellent. If I must force myself to close the book’s covers and turn out the light, it’s a delight.
It had been a while since I found a book that kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning, but then I discovered Michelle West (aka Michelle Sagara) had a new book coming out, and I snagged a copy.
The House War: The Hidden City kept me up several nights and I had to sacrifice several hours on a Saturday to free myself of its grip. Even then it didn’t let go. I started a reread a week later, which speaks clearly to the love I have for this novel, and eventual series.
Rath, a nobleman who has relinquished ties to his family and chosen to live in the slums of Averalaan, is solitary and prefers it that way. He first encounters Jewel, a ten-year old orphan, when she steals his satchel, and caught by a sense of her regret and shame, follows her to the bridge she calls home. Discovering she is ill and unable to abandon this child to her obvious fate, he brings her home.
Rath and Jewel begin an uneasy relationship. Rath questions his original decision to rescue Jay, as she is called by friends, the more so when she rescues other orphans and creates a family of her own. At the same time, he cares about the child and trains her in the use of a dagger. From him, she learns the byways of the underground city, which is where Rath finds relics to sell.
Jay’s own secret—her unreliable ability to see the future—is not easily shared, even as it allows her to save abandoned and mistreated children like herself. When she finally confesses this skill, Rath understands that she has talent few possess. Reluctantly, he helps her rescue the children she finds, only to be caught in a plot that is deeper than simple cruelty and depravity. This is not an easy world: demons walk disguised as humans and must not only be confronted, but defeated.
While Rath’s and Jay’s growing relationship is the backbone of this tale, Michelle West creates a very real world, more than the average fantasy provides and grittier. Life is not pretty on the streets of Averalaan; children are bought and sold into brothels and trust is not easily won—even among those whom you label friends. The ultimate betrayal slices at that trust.
But a sense of history permeates this novel, particularly with the addition of the ruins of the ancient city beneath the squalor. Unknown mages, a more advanced culture the present inhabitants have mostly forgotten, and a bridge that separates the Order of Knowledge and the Houses of the powerful from the lowly suggests even more lies hidden.
While Rath slips between them all, and Jay sees what others would prefer to remain unseen.
It’s a long book—over six hundred pages—with three other volumes to follow. But treat yourself and read this one, especially if you think fantasy has nothing new to offer. I haven’t been this entranced by a series since I discovered Lois McMaster Bujold and Miles Vorkosigan.
Callie in the streets by daylight
dancing to the traffic noise,
strutting proudly down the sidewalk,
grinning at the passing boys,
stops beside a snoring wino,
insects crawling on his skin,
tilts and drains his dreg-lined bottle,
drinks another soulmate in.
Callie in the streets by twilight,
roaches weaving through her hair,
braiding it like Disney bluebirds
into something rich and fair,
pauses by a grimy food cart,
smiling as she shakes her head
to its owner’s posted menu,
seeks out something else instead.
Callie in the streets at midnight
sings her sweet and regal song
to the strains of heavy metal,
calling on her loyal throng,
watches as they swarm about her,
offerings piled on their backs—
pretzel crumbs, a half-chewed hot dog,
someone’s ear, and other snacks.
Marcie Lynn Tentchoff is an Aurora Award winning poet/writer from the west coast of Canada. Her work has appeared in such magazines as On Spec, Weird Tales, Talebones, and Illumen, as well as in various anthologies and online publications.
“Princess” is a mixture of one part Disney movies, to two parts Vancouver’s East Hastings Street, stirred with my all too-present twisted girly streak.
C‘est vrai, tu dois suffrir
comme une bête dans cette vie.
Nulle autre peut suffi,
mais dis “tout doit suffrir”
et se perds dans la foule
comme le bond dans une boule.
It’s true, you must suffer
like a beast in this life.
None other will suffice,
but say “all must suffer”
and lose yourself in the crowd
like the bounce in a ball.
—S. Montaigne, La Crapaud: Une Nouvelle en Vers
The moon, with its third eye, watched over us
as our balloon passed over Dismal Swamp
with a chorus of mosquitoes buzzing
around us, a malarial thicket.
Lafferty jerked the cord, and with a roar
of the back jets our party surged forward
clinging to the basket. Clara asked me,
“Are you afraid?” light dancing in her eyes.
I heard thunder rumble in the distance
and picked the crusts of dry blood from my scalp,
unable to answer. “My dear child,”
she said, taking my hand. “You are alive
because of Dr Lafferty. Be glad.
Let the dead bury their dead, and be glad.”
But I’d seen severed hands nailed to the pier
with ironclads in Charleston Harbor,
and their voices—the voices of the dead—
continued to torment me, broadcasting
their propaganda from Palmetto Ridge;
I alone could hear this. Their lies carried
a foamy, cloying sweetness and ferment.
The good doctor shook me. “What is it, boy?”
I couldn’t speak. Clara removed a glove
and slapped me, but the world turns gray and still.
I see them all around me now — the dead…
transparent, as I saw them in the marsh:
wounds gaping like mouths, their words spilling out
into my silence. They would complete me.
A needle pierced my arm, injecting stuff
to chase away phantom pains and voices,
to return color to my shades of gray.
The world had stalled; now it moved again.
“He’s coming out of it,” said Lafferty.
“This time was the worst. They’re growing stronger.”
Clara smiled and murmured in my ear
words in another tongue: Tu dois suffrir.
Warmth returned to my body. I leaned back
in her embrace, eyes closed, and tried to breathe.
“You,” said Clara, “will serve as our compass.
Show us the way.” I raised my arm to point
and the signal faded. “They’re recharging,”
I said. “Powering up for the next pulse.”
“If, before we can get there, the signal
kills the boy,” said Clara, “we’ll never find
Palmetto Ridge. It’s not where it once was.”
“They can’t…” said Lafferty, his voice drowning
in the radio waves, “…a whole ridge? No…”
“Haven’t you… their earth movers?” asked Clara.
“Look… the boy… do something… we’re losing him.”
Fade to black: The wings of an angel wilt
as I evolve. My hands have become wings.
I scurry across the night, its sharp edge
will plunge blossoms into columns of smoke;
phrases of stone linked by mason’s trowel
to my ashes and this — a chrysalis.
I sound the fathoms of night air with clicks
and pursue my prey with acrobatics
under the moon’s third eye; I can taste death–
the malarial thicket crowns my tongue.
Her voice, pressed like olives into service,
lubricated my brain; I raised my arm
and aimed our balloon towards the Eiffel
on Palmetto Ridge before succumbing
with that spire to the flashes of bombs,
our silhouettes now by fate entangled
as I evolve. My hands have become wings.
I grapple with the night, how they used me…
this, my overdose, received in exchange
for radio silence. Tout doit suffrir.
Ed Gavin works nights at a pub and burrito joint in the Greater Lansing Area, with the kitchen for his hothouse and blank verse for orchids. He once read Confederates in the Attic, and it troubled him. “The Palmetto Ridge Exchange” sprouted months later. Ed composed this poem at work, writing the stanzas down on 15-minute breaks, skipping his dinner to finish the rest. His credits include “Passage to Jamaica” and “The Pulse,” both forthcoming in The Magazine of Speculative Poetry.
Fire begets water
as passion begets tears:
I drown in our past
in the slow tide of dreams
ebbing out with the turning
of the moon. I drown in you,
in the memory of nights swimming
through wine-dark bliss
to a shore laced with broken shells
and jagged rocks. Cast adrift,
the salt of my blood
mingling with the sea’s,
I let the current batter me
to shards against the shore.
And you, mermaid-pale and careless,
look on, a comb in your hand.
Jennifer Crow’s work has appeared in a number of print and online venues, and one of her poems is slated to appear in the upcoming Rhysling Anthology. She likes to use mythological and folkloric themes in her poetry because so often they echo the pains and pleasures of reality. Her people are sea people, so tales of the ocean are ones she loves best.