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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Chizine #46, Oct.-Dec. 2010

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Chizine #46
Oct.-Dec. 2010

“A Loss for _____” by Brenta Blevins
“Pugelbone” by Nadia Bulkin
“Last Days” by Dave Chua

Reviewed by Rhonda Porrett

We all have those moments of searching for the right word only to have it elude us. The word usually pops into our consciousness hours later in sleep, but what if it doesn’t? What if that word vanishes from every memory, every dictionary, every webpage, every historical document? What if it’s just the first in a long line of words to disappear? How will society cope? This is the premise Brenta Blevins presents in “A Loss for _____.”

Lily, an American History teacher, has suffered recent losses: the death of her mother and breakup with her significant other. The missing words fuel her desire for something stable to hold on to, something familiar. Lily wants to rekindle her relationship with Cassie before every word in her vocabulary ceases to exist and she’s sucked into the emptiness of a dystopian world.

Brenta Blevins stretches out a singular annoying glitch into an interesting, albeit linear, story. How does modern man survive without language? A few theories are put forth to explain this mass dementia, such as the prevalence of texting interfering with our larger lexis, but no real reason is given—or can be given—which may be the most frustrating and frightening element of all.

In “Pugelbone” by Nadia Bulkin, something unseen inhabits the overcrowded labyrinth of the Warren. Lizbet is a Meer who grew up in the tunnels and cramped rooms. She’s heard tales of the pugelbones but doesn’t expect to see one, much less have it follow her home. The creature feeds on her baby brother and Lizbet must explain what has happened to him, leading everyone to wonder if the fabled creature actually exists. Has the stress of living under such intolerable living conditions caused Lizbet to commit a heinous crime, or is she telling the truth? The fate of future generations depends upon her answer.

Make no mistake, Nadia Bulkin can craft some beautiful sentences; however, “Pugelbone” didn’t work for me as a whole.  I spent three-quarters of the story with a changing mental image of the main character—boy or girl, child or adult, criminal or victim? The two intertwining back stories—Lizbet as a sister, Lizbet as a mother—were hard to follow at times. And, the creature is never fully fleshed out. Is it a living bone? A worm that sucks blood? How does this small creature clothed in refuse massacre the Meer? Does it adapt into a human parasite? The ending of the story left too many unanswered questions in my mind.

Thanksgiving. A time of plenty. But be careful, or you may be bitten by one of Them. Run. Hide. Soon you’ll be sharing crackers with your family while living in a car and toting a gun for protection. In “Last Days” by Dave Chua, the privileged lifestyle of a man and his family disintegrate into a struggle for survival. They run from Them and seek fellow survivors.

The sparse passages and bleak setting of “Last Days” are strikingly similar to the Pulitzer Prize winning The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There’s even a mention about a doctor attempting to create a vaccine in his basement in honor of I am Legend by Richard Matheson. I’m certain references to other post-apocalyptic fiction in the text exist in this homage, but my knowledge of the genera is far from exhaustive. If this type of story is your specialty, then you may understand the references without having to research the subject. The emphasis is on the journey, and I found the ending vague but suitable.