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The Gate Theory
The Gate Theory
Price: £1.91

4.0 out of 5 stars "The Gate Theory" by Kaaron Warren, 27 Nov 2013
This review is from: The Gate Theory (Kindle Edition)
These days there seems to be an avalanche of new books and it is very often that I find myself in difficulty catching up with all of those I want to read. And the situation becomes more desperate when the books I wish to read one more time are taken into consideration. Fortunately, things are easier for the short fiction, with the proper incentive I can put together more readily the time and energy necessary for a returning to my favorite stories and authors. The most recent opportunity to read again and enjoy one of my favorite writers was when the newly founded Cohesion Press published Kaaron Warren's collection of reprinted stories, "The Gate Theory". A collection of five stories, all familiar already, but what better excuse to relive their magic than this collection could I find?

"Purity" - Unsatisfied by her personal life and the medium she lives in Therese joins Calum and Daniel, an unusual preacher and his grandson. It is a story that touches firmly the bizarre, but with an adequate effect. Kaaron Warren is proficient in creating the atmosphere of religious hypnosis and the image of a strange cult leader and his followers. The end is unsettling and amplifies the impression of grotesque and strangeness.

"That Girl" - The story's main character comes to Fiji backed by the funding of a wealthy Australian woman in an attempt to improve the conditions in St. Martin's, a psychiatric institute. While there she discovers a local legend and the connection one of patients, Malvika, shares with it. The atmosphere of the story is excellently captured and built, the fragments of conversations, the local myths and superstitions are all elements that set the general feeling. Although it is basically a ghost story "That Girl" is just more than that, the reality of a particular corner of a society, Fiji and St. Martin's in this instance, the cruel face of human behavior and the chilling elements of supernatural are mixed perfectly to inflict dread and to leave the reader with a bitter-sweet aftertaste after reading it.

"Dead Sea Fruit" - Among the patients of the story's heroine, a dentist, are the girls hospitalized in the anorexics ward. But when the legend of Ash Mouth Man they circulate seems to come to life the main character has some decisions to make. "Dead Sea Fruit" is a story with an extended sense of surrealism, the characters and the readers walk in a dreamlike state, but also on the thin line between right or wrong, reality or fiction. However, no matter on which side of these thin lines the action will take its course there is naturalness to it. And although the story heads to an obvious destination, while the reader expects the evident to take place Kaaron Warren delivers a final twist surprising and effective as a punch in the stomach.

"The History Thief" - Alvin died choking with a piece of meat, but when he wakes up as a ghost still anchored to earth he starts to discover things he didn't experience in life. Until he finally finds the courage to interact with Mrs. Moffat, a former co-worker.

"Three days Alvin lay on the floor of his dusty lounge room before he realized he was no longer anchored to his body. He rose, enjoying the sense of lightness but also feeling deeply sad at the sight of his small, lonely corpse."

But as it becomes clear quite early in the story not only Alvin's corpse is small and lonely, his entire existence was defined by insignificance and solitude, as much of a ghost in life as he is in death. Quite early too I became sympathetic with his character, the mix of Alvin's memories and present state inflicts an air of melancholy and sadness to the story, sense that does not leave the reader until the end. On the contrary, it will be enhanced by the end. "The History Thief" grows gradually with all the new experiences Alvin has, stealing the thoughts and feelings of others, finding a certain meaning for his existence in death more than in life and getting the courage to finally do some of the things he wanted to do create the perfect medium for the final turn of the story. Although this final twist is not as stunning as the one of "Dead Sea Fruit", it is as efficient and potent as the previous one. And despite the release some of the characters get in the end I could not shake the feeling of deep sadness this unforgettable story leaves behind.

"The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfalls" - Rosie McDonald has a talent for getting rare dog breeds to her clients, but when the latest order is for the vampire dogs of Fiji she might have to pay a price for them as well. Another story with a profound sense of surreal, again the reader walks the thin line between reality and imaginary. The story moves fast accentuating the feeling of vertigo inflicted by the surrealist atmosphere. It is a story with a powerful character at its center, a character that has to take fast and dramatic decisions, feels the need to prove herself in face of preconceptions and unjust consideration of her skills, but in the end the rewards remain to prove their worth.

The subjects and the characters of these five stories are haunting. They will not leave the reader indifferent, producing a change to certain extents, and that is always a sign of quality in fiction. The stories stay with the reader long after they are finished, the characters are all memorable. As a matter of fact, although they might not have a name or you might know them as Therese or Alvin or even present themselves as Rosie McDonald but always they will feel real. They may very well be the stranger we pass on the street, the neighbor we salute on our way out or a family member. They are flawed and we might not like them a lot, some of them are selfish, some find interest in other people's misery and tragedy, some seek an escape from their every day existence, some fortunes, some love, but every single one of them seem to be incarnated body and soul. So much so that the reader feels the need to look over the shoulder in case all these characters are in the same room. Or in the mirror in case the stories seem to talk a bit about ourselves.

At a first glance, the collection of these five stories seems to be disjointed, but "The Gate Theory" is a perfect example of Kaaron Warren's accomplishment in converting different themes and subjects into dense and powerful fiction. Her stories have the tendency to insidiously crawl under the reader's skin, slithering unnoticed until they find a place from where one is unable to shake them loose after reading.


On a Red Station, Drifting
On a Red Station, Drifting
by Aliette de Bodard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.56

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "On a Red Station, Drifting" by Aliette de Bodard, 26 July 2013
"For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station's artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.
But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper's brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station's resources. As deprivations cause the station's ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe.
What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance..."

In the recent couple of years it is easy to remark Aliette de Bodard among the most important names of modern speculative fiction because of her recent works being shortlisted or winning the prestigious awards of the genre. But in the light of the recent appreciations Aliette de Bodard has received let's not forget that even from the early days of her writing career her works have been recognized for their value. After all, how many writers can put in their CVs references such as honorable mentions in year's bests or nominations to Nebula and BSFA Awards from their debut years?

So far, Aliette de Bodard's published works dwell in two universes, a couple of stories and the "Obsidian and Blood" trilogy of novels, set in the Postclassical Mesoamerica, a historical noir with fantastical elements, and the rest of her short fiction set in the Xuya universe, an alternative history spanning from 1400s to the distant future. To go into specific details of the Xuya universe here will somehow evade the scope of this review, therefore I recommend a visit Aliette de Bodard's website for all the information and stories of this alternative setting. Among those stories you will also find "On a Red Station, Drifting", the latest exploration of the Xuya universe.

The Dai Viet Empire is at war and the rebel fighting forces push closer and closer to the heart of the empire. When the conflict zone reaches the 23rd planet Lê Thi Linh flees it and seeks refuge among her distant relatives on Prosper Station. Welcomed by the Hounoured Ancestress, the AI of the station, she is instantly disliked by her cousin and Prosper's administrator, Lê Thi Quyen. The interaction between the two cousins gives birth to a family drama, a conflict with consequences beyond their personal lives. Two women with strong personalities bearing different connections with the past, but a similar one with the near future.

Although the Dai Viet Empire is the pinnacle of technology the past and old traditions are never forgotten and a constant presence in the everyday life of its citizens. The lineage of one family can be traced to its roots, the family ties require certain obligations according to each member's statute. A certain examination is required for everyone around the Dai Viet Empire and failing this exam or the incapacity of reaching a higher level at the examination can throw one to a different destiny entirely. Lê Thi Linh and Lê Thi Quyen had different paths in life because of the examination, but war throw their situation in disarray, one once in power finds herself at the mercy of the other while the weaker member of the family finds herself in a position beyond her training. Linh and Quyen have their private wars, with each other, but also with themselves, one trying to reconcile with the past, the other challenged by the present.

The conflict between Linh and Quyen takes the central stage in the story and the consequences of this clash of personalities are felt all around the two. Aliette de Bodard builds these two characters with virtuosity, and while there isn't a side I was willing to take or with whom I sympathized more, Linh and Quyen are clearly, strongly defined characters... memorable for all the right reasons. The end of their conflict and of the story is played very well too, there is nothing predictable at "On a Red Station, Drifting" and this just one more motive for Aliette de Bodard's novella to work smoothly.

Of course, "On a Red Station, Drifting" is not all about characters. It is about a setting that feels only natural. Technology and tradition go hand in hand here without impeding each other. Aliette de Bodard reaches the perfect balance for the two, blends them to the maximum effect and creates a world that brings both the amazement of a new discovery and the sense of intimate familiarity for the reader. The language is another fundamental piece of the novella found in almost perfect equilibrium, sometimes simple, sometimes with poetical quality to the point of the actual verses being born on the pages on the book. Sensible or hardened, vulnerable or firm when needed.

There is little surprise in the recent wave of recognition Aliette de Bodard receives for her works, as seen in "On a Red Station, Drifting" every little sign of esteem this amazing writer gets is deserved in the fullest. The next natural step would be a majestic tome gathering all Aliette de Bodard's short fiction, "On a Red Station, Drifting" included, for the readers to enjoy and value. Adorned with an equally grand cover artwork and not the unfortunate choice we can see on the hardcover limited edition of this novella.


In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair
In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair
Price: £0.77

4.0 out of 5 stars "In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair" by Cate Gardner, 12 July 2013
When the mirror released Kathleen into the unknown, for the briefest of moments she giggled and realised that she'd never laughed before. She had been a blank canvas, sitting and waiting in a room and occasionally bouncing from wall to wall desperate for freedom - and now she was out. White walls no longer surrounded her. In this new place, a thousand mirrors spun reflecting worlds.

There is magic within names. We can see it at work every day, while passing a signboard with a tempting name painted on it inviting the passerby to scan the show window of a cozy shop or to step over the threshold of a stylish little coffee house. We can see it at work on the book covers adorned with an alluring title seducing the reader to a further exploration of the pages that follow. "In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair" is a title with such magic, but it is not the only one of the kind among Cate Gardner's works, she has a small history of such enticing titles. Fortunately, Cate Gardner's fiction is more than just cheeky, original titles, but it is also a show of ingenuity and imagination without any borders in sight.

So, open the door carved with the name "In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair" and you'll see instantly Cate Gardner's inventiveness at work:

"To Kathleen, the most irregular thing about the mirror wasn't its sudden appearance on the wall or its reluctance to reflect the gargantuan nature of her bedroom furniture, but that it appeared to be of normal size. That is, it was something she could see her reflection in without feeling like a Lilliputian or a specimen in a box. Leaning back on her heels and spreading her arms wide, and for once fighting the urge to smile rather than frown, Kathleen looked to the concave glass ceiling. She was an ant in their farm, a flea in their circus, and now something new looked in at her. She would investigate the mirror. It would prove to be something good."

Kathleen Fair is young girl held captive in a room where every single piece of furniture overtops her. The only door of the room is guarded, but an escaping way is revealed when a mirror appears on a wall and someone strange enters through it. Kathleen steps outside her room for the first time and discovers a cavern with thousands of mirrors reflecting and accessing thousands of worlds. And from this point her adventure begins.

"In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair" is a delightful tale of love, discovery and courage. The readers will discover beyond the portals of mirrors, a chamber of a perfumer, one who collects "a dab of testosterone, lust and a hint of strawberry fields" in order to create his potions, or a sassy version of hell where invisible graffiti artists write warnings and contracts on the walls and the devil wears "a black suit over a grey t-shirt" while twirling an umbrella until "it flapped open and then he rested it against his shoulder." There are promises and deals made, attempts to sneak out of them, a love triangle, or better still, quadrangle, and a hot air balloons contest. In a phrase, it is an exuberant display of imagination spiced with humor and a story that holds all the way to the end.

Cate Gardner's novella might bear reminiscences of a twisted rescue of Persephone from the underworld, Astrid Lindgren's Nils Karlsson Pyssling or Patrick Süskind's "Perfume", but these tiny hints are, if you like, something borrowed for good luck, familiar elements used without abuse and without losing the originality of the story in the least. On the contrary, I could say that all these small, recognizable components are given a new dimension, transformed and blended perfectly in the unique creation that is "In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair". There are also a couple questions that remain a mystery, some who and whys, but once again I believe that in letting these little things at the power of each reader's mind Cate Gardner enhances the particularities of her story and gives it a feature personalized to the likings of everyone who picks up her novella.

Cate Gardner might have published only in the shorter forms of fiction so far, stories, novellas, small novels, but every single one of them is written with exceptional skill and passion. "In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair" is the latest example of Cate Gardner's prowess in weaving fantastical worlds and strange events and to confirm that she is one of the distinct voices of modern speculative fiction.


The Whisper Jar
The Whisper Jar
Price: £2.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Whisper Jar" by Carole Lanham, 4 Oct 2012
This review is from: The Whisper Jar (Kindle Edition)
Anthologies are one of best ways for discovering new authors, but recently I find myself more and more attracted by the collections of stories signed by one writer. It is an even better method of feeling the power behind the writers' talent, an extended source in identifying the author's voice and finding new stories to enjoy. With this the driving thought and with an open mind I turned the first page of Carole Lanham's debut collection, "The Whisper Jar", and started reading.
"Whisper Jar" - The inhabitants of High Cross start to keep their secrets stored in jars, but when an accident occurs in the Jar House the safe keeping of the secrets is shattered to pieces. Carole Lanham's collection debuts with this dark poem with lighter tones, but setting the perfect mood for the stories that follow. However, the subject and the characters of the subsequent stories will change. For an even better result.
"Next day she found her little boy, ashamed and blushing pink.
She gave him one good spank and poured her jam into the sink.
"I don't know what you have done, but put your mouth right here.
Confess your crime to this fruit jar as though it were God's ear.""
"The Good Part" - After a mysterious stranger have lived on the nearby field for a few days, Etta suffers changes that her brother, Gidion, cannot fully understand. But when the lives of the people Gidion loves are threatened by this change he has to make one very important choice. The main theme of "The Good Part" is only hinted, but Carole Lanham returns to the roots of this subject and gives back its dark side in an era dominated by misplaced romance.
"Keepity Keep" - Alban and Gage Turnbull find Petaloo, a fairy who becomes their best friend, in the garden of their house. But when the boys grow older the competition for Petaloo's attention sharpens. The reader is left in mourning for the childhood that Alban and Gage Turnbull leave behind. Every little step of the boys' metamorphosis into adults is evoked in the pages of this story with the power of personal experience.
"The Blue Word" - In the Salvation House orphans are raised and schooled until the age of 18 when in a graduation ceremony they are released from the institute. But the mystery surrounding the graduation process might not fit any of the students' dreams. A post-apocalyptic setting in which the death of a dream can be the most terrifying side of the horror element.
"Maxwell Treat's Museum of Torture for Young Girls and Boys" - After Hayden's parents are involved in a tragic accident he moves in the house of his cousins where the Treat brothers are putting together a museum dedicated to torture. Melancholic, frustrated and cheerful all together, the story holds the reader on the toes, always keeping things around the corner in such fashion that not even the smallest of glimpses or glances can be seen.
"Friar Garden, Mister Samuel, and the Jilly Jally Butter Mints" - The sisters Estrella and Esme and Samuel, the son of the household employed nurse, escape the everyday reality with the help of the colorful Jilly Jally Butter Mints. Imagination is literally brought to life here and the toys and games are enhanced by magic. The misunderstandings can bring the tragic into play though and only the narrow minds of adults can give them power over magic.
"The Reading Lessons" - Lucinda and Hadley are two friends, whose destinies are not meant to cross, with a love for forbidden books and readings. Lucinda, despite her caprices, is the gravitating point for Hadley and their usual play almost an addiction. And like any addiction no good can come out of it.
"The Adventures of Velvet Honeybone, Girl Werewuff" - The second poem of the collection, this time untouched by the lighter tones of the first one, is a replay of the Little Red Riding Hood with the added touch of one particular mythological aspect and in the personal and excellent manner of Carole Lanham.
"The Forgotten Orphan" - Barnabas, one of the orphans of the Asylum of Fatherless Children, discovers what is hidden behind the security door of the attic. Carole Lanham places the story for the grand finale of this mighty collection again in an orphanage. But this time, Asylum of Fatherless Children (I can't imagine a more haunting name for an orphanage), is not the place of safety and refuge that Salvation House ("The Blue Word") is. It is not easy to forget the characters of "The Forgotten Orphan", no matter how much time they spend on the stage of the story. It is even harder to grasp the dimension reached by the secret hidden behind attic doors, secret more terrible than the monsters Barnabas and his friends imagine living behind those doors.
Perhaps secrets might be kept in jars, primarily in whisper jars, but Carole Lanham knows to unscrew the lids of these holders of secrets and spill the contains on paper. Particularly those put on storage by children or adolescents, the main characters of all the stories from "The Whisper Jar". Childhood always wakes the reader's nostalgia and Carole Lanham masterfully brings this feeling to life. But every single time she challenges the common, pushes and twists the boundaries. Amusement shifts to tragedy, innocence turns into sexual innuendo, the magical, literally in places, time of play becomes a moment of cruelty, all with the spontaneity of which only the children are capable of. None of these transformations, however, are straightforward. Every little change is made with an admirable subtlety, not one of them offensive and all natural. Every time the unexpected is an important ingredient and a seasoning element of surprise.
The same goes for the terror component, Carole Lanham does nothing for the sake of horror or shock, she doesn't use blood and violence in an attempt to terrify her readers by all means. She makes the readers uncomfortable in a refined and intelligent manner and putting an attractive language to work in favor of her stories. With such qualities reflected from "The Whisper Jar", Carole Lanham already announces herself as a prominent figure of the genre from her debut collection. As a matter of fact, the horror genre needs more such writers to raise it to its deserved and true value.


Fingers and other fantastic stories
Fingers and other fantastic stories
Price: £0.77

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories" by Marian Coman, 28 Sep 2011
Marian Coman is part of a young generation of Romanian writers, but he is one of the few who touches with the strokes of his talented pencil the realms of the speculative fiction. Marian Coman was born on May 1977, in Mangalia, Romania and is currently the editor-in -chief of the newspaper "Obiectiv - Vocea Br'ilei". He graduated the courses of the Petre Andrei University with a specialization in psychology and social assistance. Marian Coman made his debut at the age of 17, when he published his first short story. That debut was followed by other short stories published in a number of Romanian anthologies and by the editorial debut with the personal volume, "Nop'i Albe, Zile Negre" (White Nights, Black Days), in 2005. Since the release of his first personal volume Marian Coman also published another fiction collection in 2007, "Testamentul de ciocolat'" (The Chocolate Testament), and a publishing volume, "Teoria flegmei. Apel la mitoc'nie" (The Phlegm Theory. Appeal at Grossness). His work was recognized with an EUROCON Award in 2006, a Kult Award for personal volume also in 2006 and with another Kult Award, for exceptional literary quality, in 2007. "Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories" is his first volume to be translated into another language, collecting four short stories previously released in "Nop'i Albe, Zile Negre" (White Nights, Black Days) and giving a small measure of the talent Marian Coman posses.
"Fingers" is the story of a man in a strange relationship with the warp on his right forefinger and recollecting some of his childhood memories. It is one of the most evocative pieces of Marian Coman, although this particular aspect will appeal differently to the Romanian readers than those outside. That doesn't mean that only Marian Coman's compatriots will find this story captivating, I only believe that the points of interest for "Fingers" will come from different angles. Set during the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceau'escu the story connects, to a point, with the collective memory of the Romanian readers putting on the wall scenes and events which can prove to be painful and sweet in the same measure. For other readers, these scenes might create an eerie and strange atmosphere, bitter here and there, but true to the reality of those historical times. That harsh period of time is dressed however in the clothes of fiction which bring all the readers to the same ground, allowing them to share some weird and unsettling moments together.
"The Bathroom Door" is the story of a boy who moves together with his parents in a new apartment only to find that the bathroom connects to a different realm. This story touches again the period of the Communist regime in Romania, but less than the previous one. Instead is more concentrated on the fictional elements, bringing forth terrifying images in a bigger or smaller scale. "The Bathroom Door" has a humorous side, that might seem unwelcomed in the context of the story, but which relieves a little the heavy atmosphere set by the general line of this drama.
In "Unwired" a few survivors of a mysterious event find themselves on an island sometime after their escape, with a young boy different from the rest of the island's population as main character, finding himself in search of acceptance. Marian Coman creates a fictional setting and situation, easily identifiable throughout the story. However, the human condition is taken into account in its full dimension. Particularly when the innocence embraces the violence and cruelty. "Unwired" is a very short, but sad story, which leaves the reader in a state of melancholy.
The monks from "Between Walls" find that the walls of their monastery are unsettled by strange noises. In the search for the source of those noises they will also attempt to cleanse their monastery of its disquietude. "Between Walls" has at its base one of the most known Romanian legends, that of the master builder Manole. His legend, described in the folk ballad "The Monastery on the Arge' River", tells the myth of the onymous monastery. Basically, the master builder Manole and nine of his men are hired by Negru Vod' to build the most beautiful monastery only to see the walls they raised by day crumbling by night. Manole has a dream in which learns that in order to finish the building he and his men have to sacrifice some very dear to them and the next day that person proves to be Ana, the pregnant wife of Manole. After the master builder Manole bricks his wife inside the monastery's walls Negru Vod' leaves him and his men on the building roof to prevent them to raise other, more beautiful, monastery. Manole and his men make wings from the roof's tiles, but fell to the ground and die one by one. It is said that in the place where Manole fell it is now a spring of clear water. Marian Coman changes the approach of the legend, giving it a new perspective, a background for the marriage between Manole and Ana and a glimpse into the monastery's future. The author also offers a natural environment for the human character and condition within "Between Walls".
"Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories" is a short collection of stories, but it gives enough opportunity for Marian Coman's talent to surface. A flowing language, kept with an appropriate translation as far as I can see, a mind that spawns images and scenes with a discomforting ease and an ability to give grace to tragedy are qualities that make Marian Coman a unique and powerful writer. I only hope that he receives the deserved occasions to enchant the readers as often as possible, equally in his native language as in others around the world.


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