“The Vampire's New Clothes” by Martin L. Shoemaker
Reviewed by Clancy Weeks
Did anyone ever wonder why Dracula would bother with such an incompetent individual as Renfield for his point-man? More importantly, what sort of mischief could he cause for the Master in his desire to serve? In “The Vampire's New Clothes” Martin L. Shoemaker asks those questions, and Renfield himself gives us the answers. In a showdown with the Great Detective, the Master only requires Renfield to perform one simple task, and even that is apparently too much for the poor man.
Told from Renfield's point of view, this is a wonderful peek into the mind of a madman on a mission. Shoemaker does a marvellous job of working through every turn, trip, and pratfall, and the pity we feel for Renfield is matched only by the contempt for the man who trusts him. Great fun.
In “Penguins of Noah's Ark” by Larry Hodges, the mystery of how the penguins made it on to Noah's Ark is solved once and for all. Nothing is spoiled by revealing a burning Bush was involved—along with dinosaurs, mastodons, and unicorns.
This is a cute bit of flash-fiction at just the right length and gravitas. So many of the stories we learn as children that are supposed to be true sound incredibly dumb when told the right way. The ending is less than what I wanted, though, as I was sure a groan-worthy pun was going to be the payoff. Still… fun read.
“The World That You Want” by Laurie Tom, is a bit of dark fantasy centering on Joan, her sometime friend and protector, Brandon, and a mysterious Decision that must be made. Hell has come to Earth, and demons feast on the ghosts of man. The Earth is to be reborn soon, and only one person gets to choose its shape. The process of deciding who gets to choose is brutal, as you would expect when humans are involved. The choice at the end reveals the true nature of humanity.
There are a number of layers to this story, and Joan is the perfect character to uncover them. Naive, yet open to learning, she is also a child of her times. It is amazing the things humanity can become accustomed to if offered few other options. Very well done, and recommended.
The fifty-fourth Lucifer Jones story from Mike Resnick, “Pure Beauty and the Beast,” is a tour de force of history-altering storytelling at novelette length. The wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time can not only change the course of history, but muck it up real good. What exactly did Lucifer Jones do in the Philippines to cause such a commotion an ocean away. Clyde Calhoun and his beloved Kiyomi know, but they aren't saying.
I laughed the whole way through this one, and, I am sad to admit, had no knowledge of Lucifer Jones or any of the other stories involving him. It looks like I'm headed to the nearest bookstore to dig up a copy of any of the volumes of The Chronicles of Lucifer Jones. After fifty-three previous attempts, it's a sure-fire bet that the characters will be well-defined and complete. The world is rich with references to past exploits, and there is a consistency even in the way Resnick revisits real-world events while still stirring the pot with Lucifer's hand. Recommended.
Dantzel Cherry tells the tale of “Leslie's Love Potion #4” in a string of website customer reviews and comments, and is another piece of well-done fantasy flash fiction. The reader is taken on a journey through the reviews of a love potion recipe, in a very atypical romantic comedy. It's You've Got Mail for the magical set.
This story is so cute it bleeds pink, and that's okay with me. It made me smile at the end, and that's all that counts.
“The Devil Walks Into a Bar” by Steve Pantazis is another very short fantasy tale involving choices. Lucifer is meeting Uziel in a bar to discuss terms for the End of the World. As usual, though, when Satan is bargaining, the devil is in the details.
If I were a religious sort, and with my temperament, I could actually see the whole thing playing out just as Pantazis writes. Uziel is a bit of a prat, as one would expect, while the devil is just… cool.
Nathan Dodge give us a very different take on the “oldest profession” in his story, “The Professional.” Brea is one of the best, and most sought-after companions in this weirdly erotic SF story. Mazl has a new client on the hook for Brea, and he's a Zaeran, so… well, to say more might just give the story away. It's a family business, and business is good.
This story gives rise to an interesting discussion that, while fun and light, is really about the sex industry. While there are lots of horror stories about women—and boys—being forced into the trade, there are also quite a few where this is a life they chose for any number of reasons not having to do with poverty or drugs. It's possible that in some future world, there will be no stigma attached to such a profession, and the criminal element will be eliminated. Short story… big discussion.
Clancy Weeks is a composer by training, with over two-dozen published works for wind ensemble and orchestra—his most recent work, “Selene,” was premiered in Houston on April 3rd, 2016—and an author only in his fevered imagination. Having read SF/F for nearly fifty years, he figured “What the hell, I can do that,” and has set out to prove that, well… maybe not so much. His first short story, “Zombie Like Me,” will appear in an upcoming issue of Stupefying Stories, and he is currently writing a serialized novel, Sleepers, for Channillo.com. He resides in Texas with his wife and 9-year-old demon spawn, but don’t hold that against him.
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