Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience.

Book Review: Machine of Death

Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !Title: Machine of Death
Editors: Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !
Rating: 4 out of 5
Publisher: Bearstache Books
Format: eBook

A few months ago, I read submissions for Apex Publications’ upcoming Glitter & Mayhem anthology. Reading the slush, and reading more stuff about it in the aftermath, I’ve learned something about what it takes to put together a good themed anthology. Specifically, don’t take stories that do obvious things with the stated theme.

Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !, is a collection of short stories that upholds that lesson in spades.

First, the theme, originally proposed by Dinosaur Comics: in the future, a machine is invented that can predict how a person will die based on a small blood sample. The machine is always correct, yet its predictions are vague and cryptic, resulting in deaths that are unexpected yet technically accurate.

The great pleasure of MoD is seeing what ways the authors have devised of going beyond the obvious idea of people meeting their demises in unexpected yet delightfully ironic ways. Instead, the strongest of these stories talk about what changes this new technology would have on our society, or how it would subvert previously-normal aspects of our lives. This is a long collection – at 34 stories, perhaps exhaustively so, and this length is my only complaint about the book – so instead of going through each story, I’ll pick out a few of my favourites:

“Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions” by Jeffrey C. Wells – I loved that the main character actively welcomes his death and is conditioning his body to be as healthy as possible when he dies, all so that the lions who are destined to eat him will have a good meal. This one had great dialogue, a truly memorable character, and an ending that reminded me a lot of Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”.

“Firing Squad” by J. Jack Unrau – The framing story on this one is slightly odd, but the political commentary (as well as the uncomfortable truths it exposes about the ignorance of many rich Westerners backpacking through a developing country) pleased my inner university student.

“HIV Infection from Machine of Death Needle” by Brian Quinlan – It’s all there in the title, folks. Audaciously brief.

“Not Waving but Drowning” by Erin McKean – This is my favourite from the entire collection. It’s brief, but the narrative voice behind it is spot on. I felt like I really knew this character – a high-schooler in a place where the MoD tests are mandated for all students – and why she made the choices she did to keep her death prediction private.

“Exhaustion from Having Sex with a Minor” by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw – Saucy title aside, this is a clever send-up of the media circus surrounding a political campaign. What really makes it is the twist at the end, which would have been impossible to conceal in any other narrative medium.

“Cocaine and Painkillers” by David Malki ! – This one went on a bit longer than it needed to, but it turns out that combining the Machine of Death with institutional sexism and infomercials is a success.

“Prison Knife Fight” by Shaenon K. Garrity  – Yet another one that comes up with a unique societal implication for the MoD: the death predictions are used as part of the screening and application process for elite preppy pre-schools. Here, the title knife fighter is one such toddler under consideration, and his plebeian manner of demise looms large over his patrician family as he grows up and slouches towards Yale.

“While Trying to Save Another” by Daliso Chaponda – Most of this story didn’t work for me, especially the main character, but there was one scene within it of particular beauty. In it, a secondary character knows that she will die tomorrow, and hosts a farewell party for her friends – the secrets they reveal, and the manner in which the person about to be murdered wishes to be remembered, is extremely poignant.

“Miscarriage” by James L. Sutter – I think this story subverts the anthology’s theme the most out of the entire collection. Ultimately, the death machine bodes well for the start of a life, rather than the end of one. It all hinges on the final line of dialogue.

“Cassandra” by C.E. Guimont – This is the last story in the book, and I can see why the editors chose to close it out with this one. Not only is it the only one in the collection that actually attempts to give a full explanation of where the machine’s predictive powers come from, but more importantly, it shows the devastating length to which one person will go to save herself – and the entire world – from destruction.

Anyways, if you’re up for some morbid, intriguing fiction – or if you happen to love neon green dinosaurs – Machine of Death is a worthy read, despite its length. The sequel anthology, This Is How You Die, will be coming out in July. I’m looking forward into seeing what new ways these contributors will reinvent its central concept.

Book Review: Before and Afterlives by Christopher Barzak

Before and Afterlives by Christopher BarzakTitle: Before and Afterlives
Author: Christopher Barzak
Rating: 3 out of 5
Publisher: Lethe Press
Format: eBook

Note: I received a advance review copy of this book from the author.

Before and Afterlives is my first exposure to Christopher Barzak’s writing, but this collection of 17 stories returns to a few themes so noticeably that I imagine they appear throughout his body of work: the despair of living in a declining community, gay relationships, and coming to turns with loss. Not every story deals with these motifs, but they are present enough to make me wonder. However, in this case, I think it’s best to deal with each story on its own terms. Here’s a breakdown of all 17:

What We Know About the Lost Families of – House: Part Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, part Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, “What We Know” involves an unnamed collective narrator recalling the history of a local house haunted by malevolent spirits. This story informed my impressions of Barzak’s writing style throughout this collection, as it employs a sort of Southern Gothic sensibility that I noticed in subsequent stories.

The Drowned Mermaid: This was one of my least favourite stories in the collection. On the surface, it’s about a woman who finds an injured mermaid and nurses it back to health in her bathtub. Underneath, it’s about her attempts to deal with the disappearance of her drug-addict daughter. The subtext is painfully obvious, however, and the woman is so self-indulgent in her mourning that I ended up losing whatever sympathy I had for her at the start. I happened to read Ted Chiang’s novellette “Story of Your Life” this month, and Chiang’s take on a mother mourning a lost daughter is so distinctive that this one suffers badly in comparison.

Dead Boy Found: A young man deals with the ripples of shock that spread throughout his community after one of his schoolmates is found murdered. Although I fully understood the protagonist’s anger and disconnectedness, I thought the climax of the story – where he, completely nude, climbs into the hole where the other boy’s corpse was found – was the kind of overwrought, Laden With Meaning occurrence that I typically associate with literary fiction, and thus try to avoid.

A Mad Tea Party: Here’s another story about a woman dealing with loss in an unhealthy manner. In this case, the protagonist is railing against the death of her controlling mother, and still has her domineering sister to deal with. My interpretation is that she has some sort of mental illness which is exacerbated by her family’s lack of compassion, but despite this, I didn’t feel any sympathy for the main character. Instead, I got irritated by her self-indulgent anger and lack of foresight.

Born on the Edge of an Adjective: In comparison to the previous few stories, “Born” was a welcome change of pace. At first, it starts out as a story of a man not being able to get over a breakup, and then it turns into something different. The ambiguous ending works surprisingly well, but what really anchors everything is the depth and reality of the spurned protagonist’s emotions.

The Other Angelas: This story centres on a gimmick – a drab woman solves a mid-life crisis by inadvertently creating more audacious clones of herself – but it’s handled with a light touch, so it works. This story is short and ends on a happy note, so it doesn’t wear out its welcome.

A Resurrection Artist: When a young man discovers that he has the ability to resurrect himself after committing suicide, his pragmatic older sister turns his knack into a form of income. However, this story left several questions unanswered at the end. Is he the only known person who can do this? If so, then why does the title reference “A” resurrection artist instead of “The” resurrection artist? Whenever the main character resurrects himself, he finds a new belonging – a notebook, a gold ring – on his person. What is the significance of this? I really wish this story ran longer.

The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire: Yes, the protagonist really does have barbed wire growing from his body. All his life, the boy has been isolated from others on account of his strange affliction, but the arrival of a new preacher in town – along with his comely daughter – changes things. Predictably, teenage hormones get involved, and just as predictably, the protagonist displays absolutely no foresight about how he’ll be outcast again if he has a (never explicitly stated but pretty obviously sexual) liaison with the preacher’s daughter. This one seems like another example of People Doing Stupid Things Because This Is A Beautiful And Literary Story, Dammit.

Map of Seventeen: Meg is a girl with a fierce will and penetrating insight. She doesn’t like it at all when her opportunistic brother Tommy moves back to the family home after college, new boyfriend in tow. But what can she do? Ultimately, when she learns the truth about Tommy’s new boyfriend, she also learns that sometimes leaving harsh judgement aside is best. I loved learning about Meg’s inner life in this story, as she’s a remarkably intelligent, canny girl. However, while I applaud her new maturity about learning to let things be, part of me hoped she would tell her brother off. Meg has valid reasons for resenting her brother, and I really wanted him to be taken down a peg. Despite this, I think that the relationship between Tommy and his boyfriend was well-realized.

Dead Letters: Alice has just learned that Sarah, her best friend from childhood, is dead – but she doesn’t believe it. She was dead once too, after all, but she came back, so Sarah must be back as well. She takes it upon herself to write a series of increasingly disturbed letters to her best friend. However, over time, the lack of response forces Alice (and the reader) to question her existence. This story works better in theory for me than in practice. After a while, I found Alice’s continued insistence that Sarah was alive to be annoying rather than creepy. The implication that Alice was Sarah’s imaginary friend didn’t work for me either, especially since the fact that other people can see her appears to contradict this.

Plenty: Here, the main character looks back on his time in Youngstown as a grubby university student and on the rifts that developed between him and his housemate when their goals for the future diverged. In particular, he thinks about the sweet old lady who left bags of groceries on everyone’s doorstep, and the secret power she had that allowed her to be so generous. This story displays a similar generosity of spirit, and is probably the most fairy-tale-like of the lot.

The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter: Sylvie can see ghosts and talk to them. When her father discovers this, he decides to take advantage of her unique skills and sets himself up as a ghost-hunter. Eventually, as Sylvie grows up and her father takes all of the credit for her supernatural abilities, she realizes that his efforts cause more harm than good. This story works on a lot of levels, but in particular I liked how creepy Sylvie’s father sounded under his veneer of oblivious benevolence.

Caryatids: Lucius is a male prostitute who’s been paid to do something new by a repeat client. In this case, the client is a scientist, and he’s created a new type of nanomite that, when injected, induces a sex change in the injectee. I wanted to like this story for its boldness, but the section where Lucius acclimates to his new female body is positively dripping with the Male Gaze. It left an awful taste in my mouth, especially since his depiction of gay relationships in some of the other stories here are fairly positive and/or nuanced.

A Beginner’s Guide to Survival Before, During, and After the Apocalypse: This is the only previously unpublished work in B&A, but it’s a stunner. I’m a sucker for fiction told in the second person, and this story is a good example, as we trace the unnamed protagonist into back alleys, underground meetings and caves while the society around them becomes more totalitarian and quickly breaks down.

Smoke City: Along with “A Beginner’s Guide”, this is my favourite story of the collection. There’s an overtone of the myth of Persephone and Hades in the proceedings (a woman goes down into some sort of underworld to periodically reunite with her husband), but the underworld itself is a hell of smoke and industry and giant furnaces. Some of the details of the setting are made even more macabre by their steadfast normalcy, like the fact that the giant factories are given women’s names like “Eliza” and “Carrie”. This story filled my head with images of grit and smoke and damp yellow kitchens – a much stronger visual imprint than many of the other stories here.

Vanishing Point: Nathan disappeared from his family’s lives last year, and his mother still hasn’t recovered. Of course, that’s hard to do, especially since Nathan didn’t disappear all at once. First his skin became transparent. And then, slowly, over the months, the rest of his body did too. Now, Nathan’s mother is telling the story of his disappearance all over again to a researcher trying to get to the bottom of his strange malady – though it turns out that Nathan still has a few things to say about the subject. This story was fairly neutral to me – I don’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other.

The Language of Moths: This final story is the longest one in the book. It, like “Born on the Edge” and “Map of Seventeen”, has a young gay character, Eliot, as its central focus. His family – made up of his entomologist father, academic mother, and autistic sister – go off on a camping trip in the hopes that his father will be able to capture a specimen of a previously unidentified species of moth that he saw once as a child. Eliot is resentful of his family’s unspoken expectation that he will always look after his sister, and when he’s given an opportunity to be on his own, he takes it. This part of the story is well-told.

However, the depiction of Dawn, Eliot’s sister, is hugely problematic. She’s barely verbal, and often wanders off by herself if no one is watching. This is typical for some people on the autistic spectrum. But, unbeknownst to her family, she can communicate with insects. When she sees how much her father wants to discover that species of moth, she asks her new friends for help, because she wants him to be happy. Likewise, when Eliot starts up a relationship with a young man in a nearby town, Dawn notices this and decides to leave him alone because he’s so happy. Looking at the math here (special powers + interested solely in helping others + no discernable wants of her own), Dawn looks like a textbook Magical Autistic Person. This saddens me, because otherwise this story is full of great beauty and depth.

Overall, my opinion of Before and Afterlives is mixed. Some stories, like “The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter” and “Smoke City”, were near-perfect. Others, like “The Language of Moths” and “Map of Seventeen” were interesting but flawed. I found that what turned me off most consistently from his writing was when his characters displayed extremes of obstinance or emotion that I didn’t fully understand, especially when the consequences of those characters’ actions seemed obvious to me (as the reader) but not to the characters themselves. In the end, this collection has left me puzzled more than anything else.

Book Review: Silent Girl by Tricia Dower

Silent Girl by Tricia DowerTitle: Silent Girl
Author: Tricia Dower
Rating: 3 out of 5
Publisher: Inanna Publications
Format: Print

For a long time, I’ve dreamed about writing an anthology of stories told from the perspective of various female figures from classical mythology. I even have a name for this imagined anthology – but of course, I won’t mention it here (not yet, at least).

Tricia Dower has done me one better by actually sticking to the plan and publishing Silent Girl, a collection of stories reimagining the lives of female characters from several Shakespearean plays.

Some of her inspirations come from the more popular plays in Shakespeare’s canon – like Gertrude from Hamlet and Miranda from The Tempest – while others are from the lesser-known ones – like Volumnia from Coriolanus and Marina from Pericles of Tyre. No matter the source, all of the protagonists are multilayered and thoroughly drawn.

More importantly, Dower’s stories don’t shy away from the harsh realities of women’s lives across time and space. In “Kesh Kumay,” a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, a Kyrgyz woman attempts to foil her family’s plans for an arranged marriage in the hope that she can finish her university degree. In “Nobody; I Myself,” a woman tries to save her interracial marriage to a Vietnam vet who is entertaining thoughts of joining the Black Panther movement, and positions herself as the ultimate victim to save him from his revolutionary tendencies. Then there’s the title story, where a young survivor of the 2004 tsunami gets sold into the sex trade and ends up in Katrina-era Louisiana.

By and large, these aren’t happy stories, although glimmers of humour and hope exist. Like most story collections, there are strong points and weak points, with my personal favourites being “Kesh Kumay” and “Cocktails with Charles” – in this case, I’m a sucker for happy endings. Unfortunately, I found the weakest stories in the collection to be the opener (“Not Meant to Know,” a reimagining of The Tempest from an outsider’s point of view) and the closer (“The Snow People: 30-46 AGM,” a sci-fi dystopian story about racial oppression and climate change).

In particular, “Not Meant to Know” felt like it was far too short, and showed only the tip of the iceberg. Part of me wonders if the author felt the same way, as she’s recently expanded it and turned into her debut novel, named Stony River. I haven’t read that one yet, but I admit to being intrigued by it, not least because of its wonderful and evocative cover.

One of the unforeseen benefits of reading this book was that it helped forge some unusual connections. One the way home from work one day, the woman sitting across from me on the train asked if Silent Girl was good, and told me that she knew the author! Now I keep my eyes peeled for her in the hopes that I can strike up a conversation about other books. On top of that, this collection’s very existence makes me feel that my own story ideas will have a home in the future. Where that home will be, and what form it will take, I don’t know, but this book felt like a catalyst in many ways.

Book Review: Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

This is it – my 40th book review of the year! When I pledged to do 40 book reviews a year ago, I had no idea what I was setting myself up for. Now, with this final entry, we can all bask in the satisfaction of someone actually finishing what they start. But anyways, onwards to the review itself!

Cracklescape by Margo LanaganTitle: Cracklescape
Author: Margo Lanagan
Publisher: Twelfth Planet Press
Format: eBook
Rating: 3 out of 5

Cracklescape is a collection of four short stories by Margo Lanagan. They are not interrelated – even the word “cracklescape” makes no appearance within the collection – but they do share similar themes. Here’s a short summary of each story in turn.

The Duchess Dresser: Tanner, a young man living in a flat with several other tenants, has a ghost haunting his dresser. One particular drawer, locked tight, twitches and jerks ominously in its drawer tracking, and he’s reluctant to open it or fix the darned thing by calling a locksmith. Eventually, the scale of the haunting grows and he experiences a truly unusual form of inhabitation/possession by a ghost while being sick with the flu. Ultimately, the ghostly presence departs his life as quickly as it entered it.

The Isles of the Sun: Elric is a carefree boy like so many children are – he runs along the beach and plays pretend with his friends. But deep down, he realizes he wants something more. He fears the way that people get old and let the heaviness of talking and eating and watching TV weigh them to the ground. Why can’t he be like the spirits he sees flitting about in the sunbeams, who can make people feel happy and – even better – fly? He ultimately realizes he can be like those spirits, and convinces all of the other children in his neighbourhood to join him. His mother Jenny, sensing something different about her son, attempts to stop him, but is too late – and who would believe her story anyway that the sun-cast shadows of the birds heading out to sea look strangely like children?

Bajazzle: Women frustrate Don – or at least, his long-time (and now annoyingly svelte) partner, Su, does. Not to mention the Sheelas – those bratty, loud-mouthed girls who board trains en masse in black clothing and sequins, moaning and twirling and flaunting their bodies. However, Don meets a new and delectable woman at a beach party, only to have his encounter with her become far more incredible and gruesome than he expected.

Significant Dust: Vanessa is running away. Her fellow coworkers and backpackers at the roadside restaurant she works at don’t know this – and she doesn’t want them to know, either. All she wants is to forget that sunlit day in Perth when she went to the beach with her sister – the beach that only one of them was able to walk away from. Now running (physically, figuratively, however you want to put it) is the only method that Vanessa has to cope with the guilt of seeing her sister falling, falling, against the sand, able to talk and call for help, but not able to move…

Of these four stories, “The Isles of the Sun” and “Significant Dust” were the ones I found most affecting. The people within all four stories feel real and well drawn-out, but the characters of those two in particular were the most sympathetic. In contrast, Tanner from “The Duchess Drawer” and Don from “Bajazzle” both seem entitled and aggravating, especially in the context of how they perceive women – my preferred interpretation of both stories is that this entitlement lies at the root of the haunting phenomena that both men encounter. Do they emerge from those encounters changed for the better, though? It’s hard to say.

This leads to both the best and the worst aspects of this collection. All four stories show exceptional skill and craft in characterization and tone. They also mesh well because they deal with events that are haunting (both literally and figuratively) and ineffable. A strain of melancholy runs throughout all of them – Vanessa’s guilt over inadvertently causing her sister to become a quadripeligic; Tanner’s  shock upon experiencing a female body from the inside, aching all over from bobby pins and corsets; Jenny’s disbelief over the loss of her son; and Don’s revulsion over the ramshackle state of a beachside cabin.

However, this melancholy belies a larger problem: the endings of these stories often don’t have a point, and the background settings are sketched in so subtly that I have a hard time connecting them to the larger phenomena that Lanagan intends.

In particular, “Significant Dust” is supposed to (somehow) tie into an alleged alien abduction that happened in the late 80s in Australia –  or at least it should, given the epigraph she includes that gives the story its name. The ghost that haunts Tanner’s dresser in “The Duchess Dresser” manifests suddenly when he’s outside of the house, interacts with another tenant, and then suddenly walks out the door. Why is this? The woman who seduces Don in “Bajazzle” turns into a hideous demon-thing, and when he escapes her clutches, she reappears in the distance, looks at him, and then disappears again. What exactly is this sort of ending supposed to prove?

Part of my dissatisfaction with these endings lies in the fact that I’ve been reading slush for Electric Velocipede for nearly two months now. Through working with EV, I’ve read my fair share of stories that employ vague, ambiguous, or poetic endings in a misguided attempt to sound profound or literary. Those kinds of endings don’t work – or if they do, they have to be handled with considerable skill. Margo Lanagan does have skill, but the endings of the stories in Cracklescape remind me of all of the other stories I’ve read in which the author uses ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake.

 

Book Review: Every House is Haunted, by Ian Rogers

Title: Every House is Haunted
Author: Ian Rogers
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Format: Print
Rating: 3 out of 5

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the author through Goodreads and Facebook, and am familiar with some of ChiZine’s staff;  although I have tried to remain neutral in this review, these circumstances have probably informed my opinion of this book.

Every House is Haunted is a collection of 22 short stories by Ian Rogers. Loosely arranged around the theme of homes – as both places and ideals – each story rubs up against the threshold between the real and the unreal. Although most of these stories are horror stories, they traffic more in the subtle dread of the soul than in gore.

The tales are broken up into five groups that refer to different parts of a house: “The Vestibule,” “The Library,” “The Attic,” “The Den,” and “The Cellar.” Those words alone should give the attentive reader a clue about what to expect, as they aren’t typically associated with modern-day housing. Instead, they make us think of houses that are old, or dark and decrepit – of places where dust and stale air linger.

Every House is Haunted has a few stand-out stories, such as the opener, “Aces,” about a teenage witch and her older brother, and how they each come to terms (or not) with her abilities. Other highlights include:

  • “Inheritor,” a mirror version of “Aces” that deals with a much more sinister brother-sister pairing;
  • “Cabin D,” about a man planning to destroy a haunted cabin as his heroic last act;
  • “The Nanny,” about a psychic investigator helping two murdered children enter the afterlife; and
  • “The Tattletail,” a winsome little story about a boy who wants to have a pet demon.

Other stories, like “The Currents” and “Leaves Brown,” are more subdued and could even fit comfortably within the traditional confines of Canadian Literature. “Leaves Brown” in particular is interesting because it’s the second of two stories in this collection (the first one being “Autumnology”) to talk about the impermanence of autumn compared to the other three seasons:

“You can travel to places in the world where it feels like summer all the time…or spring…or winter. But there isn’t any place on the planet where it’s always fall. That’s what makes it special. Fall is meant to be enjoyed in small doses. If the seasons were a four-course meal, then fall would be the dessert.”

Part of me wonders whether this passage should be taken as the book’s manifesto: things fade – especially things like sanity, the sanctity of life, and your ability to protect those you care about. Your choice to take those things for granted only puts you in peril.

Some of Rogers’ stories also contain well-realized characters, like the protagonist’s annoyingly hapless neighbour in “Charlotte’s Frequency” and Soelle, the main character in “Aces.” More often though, the characters remain ciphers and it is the situation itself that contains the story’s meat.

However, one of the main problems with this collection is that many of the story endings are either neutral towards, or in conflict with, the main plots. Sometimes, the tonal shift can be jarring, as at the end of “The Dark and the Young.” At other times, like in the story “The House on Ashley Avenue,” the ending is downright unsatisfactory; it’s open-ended and refuses to answer the questions introduced during the rising action and the climax. Perhaps this open-endedness is an attempt to make the stories sound more literary, but I prefer for these things to be more definitive.

Overall, though, I liked this collection, and was delighted to meet Ian in person at the World Fantasy Convention. I look forward to reading his other recent release, SuperNOIRtural Tales.

Up next: Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Book Review: Returning My Sister’s Face by Eugie Foster

Title: Returning My Sister’s Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice
Author: Eugie Foster
Publisher: Norilana Books
Rating: 3 out of 5
Format: Print

Eugie Foster is a writer I’ve encountered through the podcasts that I listen to. I won a free copy of Returning My Sister’s Face through the “Crossing the Streams” contest that she participated in, along with a host of other authors.

About the book: Returning My Sister’s Face is a collection of short stories that revisits or reinvents tales from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore. Some stories are retellings of fairy tales both Asian and European, like “The Tiger Fortune Princess” and “Shim Chung the Lotus Queen.” Others are stories that offer completely new takes on events in East Asian history, like the longest story, “A Thread of Silk.”

What I liked: The book was a good introduction to East-Asian folklore, although Foster did tweak some elements in her reimaginings. There is also great attention to detail, especially in discussing religious rituals and the shades and shapes of clothing; these added a wonderful sense of texture. The content of the story “Returning My Sister’s Face” is macabre enough to match its gruesome title, and others in the collection deal with supernatural beings and betrayals in a similarly memorable fashion. Foster is willing to insert new themes into the folklore, though, as “Year of the Fox” is a tale of both wily animal spirits and lesbian attraction. My favourite in the collection is “The Tanuki-Kettle.” In it, the heroine is active instead of passive, and the main character, Tanuki, a Japanese trickster-spirit similar to Coyote in Native American folklore, is clever and resourceful. I wish I had a tanuki-shaped teapot of my own, now!

What I disliked: Many of the stories made use of terms from other languages that it took a while for me to understand in context. In particular, the story “Honor is a Game Mortals Play” assumed a knowledge of Japanese demon-hunting terminology that I don’t think many readers know off-hand. More frustrating, though, was the fact that in a significant portion of the stories, the heroines within them fell in love with the men who crossed their paths almost immediately. I realize that this is a problem infesting European folk stories as well, but they were still noticeable. This is part of why I liked “The Tanuki Kettle” so much – instead of immediately falling in love with the first eligible male she ran into, the heroine berated him for his arrogance.

The verdict: I’ve been somewhat wary of other stories of Foster’s that were aired on both Podcastle and Pseudopod. However, I loved some of the stories in this collection, and appreciated the introduction to East Asian folklore that it afforded me.

Up Next: The Bone Spindle, by Anne Sheldon