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

Lone Star Stories #16

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"Wolf Night" by Martha Wells
"Angst in D Minor" by Jenn Reese

Lone Star Stories #16 offers three quite different pieces of short fiction, all well-written, and well worth reading.

In "Wolf Night," Martha Wells introduces us to Parker, an outlaw carrying stolen army payroll over a snowy winter pass to meet his partner in crime. Parker is confronted on his way by a frightening figure, red-eyed and spouting words in an Indian tongue he can't understand. He reasons that this magical projection has been left by a shaman warning his people away, but from what Parker doesn't know. Shaken and nearly frozen, he finally finds his way to the nearest stagecoach stop after dark, where he is greeted by the sight of a gutted man, bleeding in the snow, and suspicion from those kneeling around the body. These men belong to a group of travelers passing through on the season's first stage, which has stopped for the night. A few of their number, including the man at the gate, have been killed brutally—some believe by a werewolf. Something about the werewolf story doesn't sit right with Parker, despite the apparent belief of the remaining stage passengers, and he sets out to investigate, revealing more than he bargained for.

Wells tells her tale using strong, spare prose, evoking a sense of place and time. The dialogue feels authentic to the 19th century American West, but avoids the cliché and heavy-handedness that can drag down a period piece.

I did have a bit of trouble discerning just how many of the party, and exactly who, had been killed initially. The passage where Parker hears the story seemed somewhat unclear to me. However, this did not bother me enough to diminish my enjoyment of the tale.

Readers may notice a clue to an actual historical connection within the story. I did not immediately recognize the reference, but saw the clue and looked it up. Those with more knowledge in this area may find the reference more rewarding than I did. Nonetheless, I found "Wolf Night" to be an interesting and entertaining story.

"Angst in D Minor" by Jenn Reese is the story of a teenage siren, who like many teens, longs to get away from home and find her own way in life. She's tired of preening, singing with her mothers to help lure men to their deaths, and eating said men. So she uses her newfound literacy (a gift from one of the men, before they ate him) and innate stubbornness to force her mothers to let her leave the island to attend Bulfinch High, the nearby academy for monsters, demigods, and the like. At the school, she wrestles with typical teenage problems like homework, social acceptance, and a terrible temptation to lure, kill, and eat the boys in her class.

Cleverly told with a sharp wit, "Angst in D Minor" is a delight to read. From Callia's use of chewing gum to keep herself from singing and inadvertently luring the male student body, to her slightly cynical internal dialogue, this story kept me smiling, and even once made me laugh aloud.

From Reese's witty romp, we move to a much more serious piece, the melancholy and moving "The Great Conviction of Tia Inez" by M. Thomas. Celia, the narrator, recounts the story to her brother, who was too young to understand the events when they actually transpired. She tells of their sad Tia Inez, who endured the dangerous journey through the desert to find her beloved husband when he disappeared after working in the U.S. for some time. Tia Inez, convinced that her Roberto is still alive, searches for him at the places where men wait to be hired for day labor, and asks those she meets if they have seen him. Finally, she meets one who says he has seen Roberto, but this man tells her a terrible tale that strains her ability to cope. She becomes obsessed and loses her job. Yet, she is still convinced that her husband is alive. In the midst of Inez's hope and grief, the ghost of her father begins to haunt the family's porch, taunting Inez with his presence and what he may or may not know about Roberto.

I lingered over this story, tasting Tia Inez's bitter sorrow and her sweet, ever-present hope. I could hear Celia's voice, as she explained their strange aunt and herself, to her brother. I found myself wanting to reach out and offer comfort to these people who seemed very real to me.

"The Great Conviction of Tia Inez" is a deeply affecting story of loss and unshakeable conviction. With subtlety and grace, Thomas invites us to consider how we may face great loss—through a very personal struggle between hope and despair.