Category Archives: Genevieve Valentine

The Premier Issue of Nightmare Magazine is so Good It’s Scary

Yes, I’m starting another review with another bad pun.  As I said previously, some things just have to be done.

Nightmare Magazine is the new online venture from John Joseph Adams, through Creeping Hemlock Press.  Whereas Lightspeed focuses on science fiction and fantasy, Nightmare will feature new and reprint horror and dark fantasy, with interviews, nonfiction, and artist spotlights thrown into the mix. 

Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Nightmare is out of the gates and running, having gone live on October 1.  If the quality holds, it will definitely be worth the money I spent to support it.  Supporters got their electronic copies the same day the magazine went live, or I would have posted a review in advance.

While current plans are to publish two new and two reprint stories a month, the first issue has four new stories, an editorial by Adams, a column by R. J. Sevin, Author Spotlights in which the authors discuss their stories, and part one of an interview with Peter Straub.  Cover artist Jeff Simpson is the featured artist in this issue’s Artist Spotlight.

Since this blog tends to be fiction oriented, let’s take a look at John Joseph Adams’ selections, shall we?

First up is “Property Condemned” by Jonathan Mayberry.  In this story, four kids explore what is rumored to be the most haunted house in the most haunted town in America.  This one is thought provoking and disturbing, and ultimately deals with the choices we make and whether we actually have those choices.  It features some characters from Mayberry’s Pine Deep trilogy.  I didn’t know this until I read the Author Spotlight on him.  The story is a great stand alone, but I suspect if you’ve read some or all of the trilogy, it will have deeper meaning.  (I downloaded the first volume on my ereader after reading the Spotlight.)

A man participating in the Iditarod runs afoul of the Wild Hunt and years later becomes their prey in Larid Barron‘s “Frontier Death Song”.  This piece of dark fantasy was my favorite in the issue and is one of the best things I’ve seen from this author.  Barron captures the fear and panic of being pursued and makes it real.  I should have seen the ending coming, but I didn’t.

Genevieve Valentine takes us into Ramsey Campbell territory with “Good Fences”, an ambiguous story about a bitter man and a decaying neighborhood.  Calling this story “ambiguous”isn’t meant to be slight.  It’s the ambiguity that makes it work.  Valentine deftly weaves several possibilities together, never letting us know which one is real.

The final fiction piece is “Afterlife” by Sarah Langan.  This tragic tale concerns a middle aged woman living with her hoarder mother, waiting to be evicted, and running a school for ghosts reluctant to pass on.  (A ghost story isn’t the same as a haunted house story, although the two overlap to the point it’s hard to tell them apart at times.)  The real horror he doesn’t come from the ghosts, although they can be horrifying when they choose to.  Rather, the horror unfolds as we learn more about Mary, the protagonist, and her mother Corrine.

I was impressed by the high quality here.  I would expect any of the stories could be picked up for a Best of the Year anthology next year, they’re that good, especially the Barron (IMNSHO). Adams has set himself a high standard.  Anyone with any familiarity with his work can see that he’s becoming one of the premier editors in the field today.  If you like good horror and dark fantasy, check this one out.  Stories  and features are posted free online, with a new ones going live each week.  If, however, you would like to show support for this publication, subscriptions are available here

The Greatest Show…Anywhere

A few weeks ago, when I was doing the series Seven Days of Online Fiction, I looked at what was the then current issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies on Day 1.  Because I wasn’t reviewing series fiction as part of the Seven Days, I only examined one story.  The one I didn’t look at was “The Finest Spectacle Anywhere” by Genevieve Valentine.  After I posted the review, the editor, Scott Andrews, kindly sent me an email telling me the story was self-contained. 

I’d intended to go back and look at the story.  Then Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus came to town.  They’re set up at the coliseum getting ready for a series of performances that start tomorrow.  I’ve been driving by the elephants going to and from work every day this week.  What better motivation to visit a circus in a fantasy world?

“The Finest Spectacle Anywhere” concerns a small traveling sideshow in a world torn by war for decades.  In addition to performing, they also scavenge the ruins.  The viewpoint character is known as Little George.  He’s sort of the roustabout, but he wants to be a performer.  The only way to do that is have Boss perform some type of operation on him to replace his bones with copper.  The trapeze artist, Elena, doesn’t want him to have the operation.  There’s some uncertainty as who is actually in charge, Boss or Elena.

Little George doesn’t get much respect.  He gets even less when juggler Peter joins the troupe.  Of course Peter is up to no good, and Little George seems to be the only one who suspects.  Things proceed in a fairly straightforward manner from this point, so I’ll not say anymore about the plot.

This story is rather short, and as a result, we don’t learn a great deal about some of the members of the circus.  And by the end, they’re calling themselves a circus, not a sideshow.  There’s some significance to that.  Sideshows and circuses seem to have different military and political implications in this world.  Valentine implies there will be consequences of this change in title, some good, some bad.

And that in many ways is one of the more intriguing things about the story.  The world. We’re not told if this is a future Earth or a secondary fantasy world.  Well, not in this tale at any rate.  There’s a previous story, “Bread and Circuses” in an earlier issue of BCS as well as a novel, Mechanique:  A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which was released earlier this year.  I think I’m going to have to check them out.  Valentine gives just enough hints about the characters that I want to know more about them.  Especially Panadrome, who has some sort of accordion built into his body.  This was a glimpse into a fascinating world, and I’m going to take the opportunity to go back and visit.

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 1: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The first story we’ll be looking at in our Seven Day of Online Fiction is”Buzzard’s Final Bow” by Jason S. Ridler in the May 5 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  This is issue number 68 for those of you who are counting. The other story in the issue is “The Finest Spectacle Anywhere” by Genevieve Valentine.  It’s the second in a series.  Since one of the rules of The Seven Days is to only look at standalone stories, it won’t be considered here.  It looks intriguing, though, so I may post about it after The Seven Days.

“Buzzard’s Final Bow” concerns an aging former gladiator, Buzzard, an old wrong for which he’s been trying to atone for years, and an evil task he’s been given.  The story is well told, and while it doesn’t hold any great surprises or unusual twists, it’s compelling. 

Buzzard is a flawed hero.  He carries a tiger around in a cage, to which he’s chained.  And this is the only problem I had with the story.  We’re not given a lot of detail about the cage, but he’s chained to it.  The chains seem to be quite long, because he is able to go into another room without taking off the chains or taking the cage with him.  Having drag this cage and tiger around with him everywhere went pushed the limits of my suspension of disbelief.  If that’s what he actually does.  I may be misinterpreting things a bit.

Anyway, the plot is fairly simple.  Lady Astra is the regent for the young Lord Konrad, a weak and sickly lad.  She wants him out of the way so she can assume the throne, as regents are wont to do.  She knows Buzzard was once Bazzar Kiln, a slave who won his freedom in the arena, where she once watched him perform.  Buzzard’s freedom is in some way tied to his tiger companion, Lady Razor, and it’s her life Lasy Astra uses as leverage.

For a short story, this one is deep and surprisingly moving.  As we learn more about the circumstances under which Buzzard gained his freedom, he becomes more and more sympathetic.  There’s also more to the young Lord Konrad than we’re first led to believe.  He has unplumbed depths of courage. 

I’ll not say more because I don’t want to spoil the ending.  Ridler doesn’t take the easy way out.  He’s set up a situation involving guilt and atonement, and he doesn’t flinch from the harsh reality of either of those things.  This is one that will stick with me.

I’ve not read any of Mr. Ridler’s work before, but he’s published in a variety of smaller venues.  If this story is typical of his work, then I expect his name will be appearing on the tables of contents in the venues with wider circulation soon.  I’m certainly interested in reading more of his work.

This series, Seven Days of Online Fiction, was started to see just how high the quality of short fiction online is.  Over half of the short fiction with multiple award nominations this year were published online.  While I won’t even attempt to pick award nominees, much less award winners, I will say that this story is of high enough quality that if I weren’t familiar with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and this were the first story published there that I’d read, I would read more.

Quality count (high, low), end of Day One: 1-0.