Review of “Autumn Woman” by Michael Greenhut

The unnamed narrator tells the reader she doesn’t need her “policewoman training” to see what would soon cause the footage to cut out. She notices a woman, dressed for fall when everyone is dressed for the heat of summer. Not only are her clothes out of season, but they’re also out of date. She looks as if she “waited for a man on horseback.”

Her body is found with others after she’s detonated some sort of bomb.

Some months afterward, the narrator notices the same woman—no, a woman looks like her, a twin maybe—holding flowers at a ski resort. Her body is also recovered with others there.

After a third gruesome incident, the narrator traces the women back to their source.

Thoughts:

The author gives the reader some striking and memorable pictures. He shows us not a nursing home, but a “labyrinth of wheelchairs and senescence.” Nevertheless, a couple of things didn’t ring true. For example, how did the narrator find where the women were coming from? No logical connection is given to her finding her way there. Nor is there any connection made between her search and her finding the person who might tell her something. When she asks that person a question, the person seems to offer a non-sequitur response, but it is, in fact, the answer to the mystery.

There are space restraints on these stories, but there should also be logical progressions. Had there been, this would have a great little tale. As it is, this is only fair. It asks the reader to check the brain and rely on the emotions.

While I don’t wish to belabor the point, the first line speaks of “policewoman training.” Is this different from police training in any substantial way?

As to most important criteria of all: was the story a good read? I would have to say it had its moments. Fair to partly.

Bio:

According to his goodreads profile, author Michael Goodhut has a day job as a game developer. He has stories published in anthologies such as Surviving the Collapse and in periodicals such as Fantasy Magazine.

Title: “Autumn Woman”
Author: Michael Greenhut
First published: Daily Science Fiction, November 12, 2018

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Review of “The Multiverse of Michael Merriweather” by Stephen S. Power

This is not as much a story as it is a montage of Michael Merriweather’s different lives. Is he aware of them? It’s unclear. While many of the lives are the same in many ways, there are also great differences in career and in education. He and his wife always marry. They meet in grad school, arguing about fate. (Nice touch.)

Sometimes they have children and sometimes they don’t. This makes a difference in their wealth and their lifesytle. They always love each other—just differently.

While the plot is minimal, and characterization beyond the main character nearly non-existent, the author nevertheless creates a portrait of love between two people across multi-universes. It is tender. It survives bad jobs and good jobs. It survives the pressure of children and the loneliness of being without children. It endures the stubbornness of youth and righteousness as well at middle-age contentment.

I rather liked this subtle tale.

Accord to his bio on the Simon & Schuster site, author Stephen S. Power short fiction has appeared in places like AE and Flash Fiction Online. He’s published more than seventy poems. He’s a veteran editor. Simon & Schuster has published his first novel, Dragon Round.

His site is: http://stephenspower.com/

Review of “John Granger” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Susy Lorton has just turned down John Granger’s marriage proposal. She hopes they can remain friends. John’s heart is broken. His lease on the old farm of Friarsgate is up. He’d planned to renew it and make her mistress of the place—oh. There’s someone else, he realizes.

She admits as much. Robert Ashley.

Well, John says. Robert Ashley isn’t a bad fellow. Not like Susan’s cousin, the guy who works in the bank, Stephen Price.

John decides to sell his possessions and immigrate to the wilds of America. He says he will return and, maybe years later, sit by the fire with their children.

The evening he leaves, he says goodbye to everyone in the small town, saving his farewells for Susan and her father for last. Cousin Stephen stops by. While he’s there, he asks about his travel arrangments. Will he be carrying much cash?

Susan asks him to promise to write when he arrives on the other side of the Atlantic. He promises.

No letter ever arrives. In the meantime, everyone is relieved when the jerk cousin Stephen takes off, except those to whom he owes money. They look for him in London, but to no avail.

One evening, after Susan and Robert are married, she sees John sitting in a chair by the fire. He says nothing, but vanishes.

Robert pooh-poohs the incident. She fell asleep and dreamed. John is safe in America. Didn’t the bank get a request for money from him? Sure, he’s a cad for not writing, but he’s busy.

Thoughts:

Sadly, the reader can see what’s coming from a mile away. The characters are engaging, however. The reader immediately feels for John Granger. Sure, the poor guy just had his dreams dashed, but he doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He’s alone in the world. He still loves Susy. He sees the man he lost out to as a decent sort. He just doesn’t have a place in town anymore. He wishes them well and makes plans to leave.

At the same time, the reader can’t blame Susan. She is the one who brings about justice for John, despite a disbelieving husband, who is determined to tell her not to worry her pretty little head.

This brings out a theme I’ve noticed in much nineteenth century “women’s” literature: a quiet, but firm feminism. Susan actually gets the chance to ask her husband, “Do you believe me now?”

Having said all that, though, even with as much as I found to like about this engaging little tale, it was too obvious, and the characters too one-dimensional for me to recommend it.

Bio note:

British author Mary Elizabeth Braddon was a prolific writer, producing some ninety works. She was best known for her “sensation” novels and short stories, that is, tales often dealing with horror, true crime, or the supernatural. Her most well-known work is perhaps Lady Audley’s Secret. Braddon also edited the magazine Belgravia.
In a time when such things were frowned upon, she lived with the married publisher William Babington Maxwell while his wife was in an insane asylum. After his wife’s death, Maxwell and Braddon married.

Title: “John Granger”
Author: Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915)
First published: 1870

Book Review: “Veiled Atrocities” by Sami Alrabaa

 

This nonfiction book is a collection of narratives of people who have suffered as a result of policies and practices of the Saudi Arabian government. In his introduction, the author says he collected these stories while he was an instructor in the 1990s at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He claims he conducted “multiple interviews,” sometimes with the “victimizer.”

As one might expect, he begins with an indictment of the Saudi higher education system. Here, the author shows that, paradoxically, hard work is not all necessarily. As for academic achievement? Well, not a big deal. Connections are more important. Whom do you know? The graduate, regardless of his marks, can expect to spend most days at a ministry job his uncle or cousin arranged for him, drinking tea while the foreign laborers take care of whatever work needs to be done.

King Saud University allows women to attend, but they must be strictly kept separate from men, even male instructors. The women can see the instructor, but the instructor is not permitted to see them or hear their voices. A strange woman’s voice might send him in a tailspin of lust. They deal with this in one of two ways. The male professor lectures remotely or through a screen.

The author relates one story to illustrate how silly the situation can get: once a foreign instructor lectured a class of women via video camera. After half an hour, he asked if there were questions, which could be submitted by fax. When he received none, he continued. Some time after the close of class, a Western female colleague mentioned she had passed by his class. “You know, you really don’t have to make so much effort,” she told him. “The girls were skipping out. There wasn’t a single student in that lecture hall.”

Other stories are as absurd, but with far more sinister consequences, inside and outside academia. Before readers finish the book, they will have heard of people mutilated, disappeared, stoned to death, and women raped, beaten, tortured and murdered. This is a harrowing read.

Questions come up regarding the author’s credibility. He gives the various people aliases, though he often mentions how he knows them. At times, he knows people both on the receiving and the giving end of an atrocity. A torturer may be a former student of his, for example.

Do these things happen? There are repeated reports of these sorts of things happening documented by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

As I finished this book, the first reports surfaced of the disappearance Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor, Jamal Khashoggi. He went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork to prove a divorce so he could marry a Turkish woman. That’s the last anyone has seen of him to date. Grisly stories have emerged of a Saudi hit team torturing and murdering him. His body, so the stories go, was then dismembered.

At this point, his fate is unknown, but there has been no proof of life he entered the consulate on October 2.

What author Alrabaa calls for is the world community push Saudi Arabia to account for its human rights abuses and its support of international violence in the name of Islamic fundamentalism.

“Hatred, discrimination, and violence are crimes against humanity and must be stopped,” Alrabass writes. In another spot, he adds, “All this has nothing to do with religion and much less with religious freedom.”

Title: Veiled Atrocities
Author: Sami Alrabaa
First published: 2010

Review of “Basilissa” by John Buchan: Halloween Countdown

The orphan Vernon dreams, upsetting his nurse, Mrs. Ganthony. He tells no one what the dreams contain, for even he understands little. He only senses a Fear, a Something several rooms away.

When he is fifteen, he realizes the dream comes on the night of the first Monday in April. He also realizes the Something moves one room closer each year. Presently, it was about ten rooms away. He was thus comforted to some degree, understanding the mystery would end eventually. He would not struggle with it forever.

Years later, while recovering after a storm sailing around the Greek isles, Vernon and some friends come across an old white building. It appears to have been fortified in the past, perhaps once the home of some old Venetian sea-king. Vernon asks a local who lives there.

The man crosses himself and spits over the bow of his fishing vessel. “Basilissa,” he says.
Further explanation reveals this “Basilissa” (“Queen”) is a great witch, the Devil’s bride.
“In the old day in spring they made sacrifice to her, but they say her power is dying now. … We do not speak her name.”

This must be the Fear, the Something. It is now the first Monday in April. Vernon has to see this Basilissa for himself, Devil’s bride or not.

Thoughts:

The dreaminess of Vernon’s early childhood forms a sharp contrast to the adventures of the latter part of the story. He seems to want to shake off the dreams. He trains to strengthen his body and keep himself fit.

However, the dream mechanism comes across as clumsy at points, particularly when the reader meets Basilissa. It reads almost like a superhero comic. Not that there’s anything wrong with superhero comics, but in the present context, the actions strain credulity.

The ending did not live up to the promise of the beginning of this story, a disappointment. Nevertheless, the story remains quite readable and ultimately sweet.

Author John Buchan was a Scottish novelist and politician who served in South Africa. He was eventually appointed governor of Canada. His most notable work is the adventure novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, which Alfred Hitchcock later adapted for film.

As governor of Canada, Buchan, along with his wife, established the Governor General’s Literary Awards, which remain among the most prestigious Canadian awards for literature. They have expanded to include both English and French language works in seven categories each.

Title: “Basilissa”
Author: John Buchan (1875-1940)
First published: 1914 The Watcher by the Threshold 1918

The story is available here.

 

Review of “No. 252 Rue M. le Prince” by Ralph Adams Cram

Upon finding himself in Paris in May 1886, the narrator of this story wishes to impose himself on an old friend, Eugene Marie d’Ardeche. D’Ardeche deserted Boston after learning that an aunt had died and willed him property in Paris. This puzzled his old friend since he and he aunt were not on good terms. In fact, it was believed practiced black magic.

The aunt lived there alone but had a frequent visitor, who was seen to arrive but never leave, a wicked older sorcerer. Once a year, carriages gathered outside No. 252 for a night of odd music and (so people who’d placed their ears up against the wall said) odd chanting. Eugene decides this was Walpurgisnacht (a “witch’s night” heralding the coming of spring). To make things weirder, the noises of this party go on even after the aunt has gone on to her reward.

One of the problems owning this property, of course, is that d’Ardeche can’t keep tenets. He’s still paying taxes on it. His alternatives are to move in himself—he’s presently staying at another of his aunt’s properties outside Paris—or let the wicked old sorcerer friend of his aunt have it.

He and couple of his friends, all medicals students, decide to stay the night. Now that M. l’Américain has arrived, there will be four of them.

The house is a monstrosity, complete with a ritual room covered in black lacquer with a pentagram on the floor. Interestingly, the story refers to another horror story of the day, “The Haunters and the Haunted,” by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton to which it bears more than a passing resemblance. The story also contains a description of what might be sleep paralysis. There is some humor. The evening before the four are to stay the night in the haunted house, they have dinner across the street. The medical students discuss their adventures in the dissecting room while the narrator squirms and asks for a change in topics.

This is gothic horror, not to everyone’s taste. This particular mixture of black magic, horror, ghosts, and humor is a little over the top for me, but it had its moments. That it doesn’t take itself too seriously is a nice redeeming characteristic.

Author Ralph Adams Cram was a noted architect, particularly of ecclesiastical buildings. His expertise in architecture shows in this story.

Title: “No. 252 Rue M. le Prince”
Author: Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942)
First published: Black Spirits and White: a Book of Ghost Stories 1895

The story can be read at Project Gutenberg.

Review of “The Shell of Sense” by Olivia Howard Dunbar: Halloween Countdown

Frances has just passed away, but she can’t pass over—not quite yet. She returns home to find it “intolerably unchanged” at least at first. She notices the closed windows. She liked a cool house, but her sister, Theresa, liked warm rooms. She sees the disarray in her work basket. Why did so small a thing hurt her?

Her sister Theresa, with whom she’d been on good enough terms, though they’d never really spoken of their feelings, is sitting at her desk—her desk!—taking care of some correspondence.

Frances’ husband Allan comes in. She’s elated. After all, it’s he that she’s come back to see, even if Allan doesn’t believe in the supernatural:

“I came, therefore, somewhat nearer—but I did now touch him,” she tells the reader. “I merely leaned toward him and with incredible softness whispered his name. That much I could not have forborne; the spell of life was too strong in me.

“But it gave him no comfort, no delight. ‘Theresa!’ he called, in a voice dreadful with alarm—and in that instant the last veil fell…”

Poor Frances comes to realize that all the time she lived happily with her husband, he and her sister were in love with each other, but out of love for and loyalty to her, they did not speak to each other of it. She’s jealous, irrationally so, making this a sad little story. Now, when the two are free to be with each other (if it’s a bit tacky to rush into things), Frances decides to step in. In so doing, she binds herself to earth.

The reader is sad not only for Allan and Theresa, but also for Frances who really should have left a while ago.

Author Olivia Howard Dunbar is best remembered now for her ghost stories. She worked as a newspaper journalist and was married to the poet Ridgely Torrence.

Title: “The Shell of Sense”
Author: Olivia Howard Dunbar (1873-1953)
First published: Harper’s Magazine, December 1908

The story can be read at Project Gutenberg and is also available as an ebook from Librivox.

© 2018 Denise Longrie