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

Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2007

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"The Third Bear" by Jefff Vandermeer
"The First Female President" by Michael De Kler

The April issue of Clarkesworld magazine opens with Jeff Vandermeer’s “The Third Bear.”

The story tells of a group of villagers who live in a forest, and of the mysterious bear-like creature who appears one Autumn and starts terrorizing them. The villagers, led by the village elder, Horley, attempt to find some reason for its actions, as well as some rationale for its sudden appearance. Eventually, their thoughts turn to the mysterious witch, cast out of the village in times before and now living within the forest.

At around six thousand words, “The Third Bear” is a long story to read online, but I found myself captivated. Vandermeer’s prose seems to improve with every outing, and the writing here is richly evocative, the descriptions memorable and moody. Vandermeer manages both to create a sense of the mystical, of fear of the hidden and irrational, and to anchor it in detail of a world which seems totally real.

Whether the ending of the story works for you will, I suspect, depend on what sort of ending you like. For me, it was appropriate. Either way, this story is highly recommended as a gentle but engaging dark fantasy tale.

Michael De Kler’s “The First Female President” is a shorter tale which balances the Vandermeer one well in terms of the overall issue. It’s a ghastly little horror piece about a woman and the abuse she suffers from a man. At first I thought it was about a relationship, but it becomes clear as it progresses that things are more sinister than that.

Perhaps the weakness of the work is that it sets its pieces at the start; the man is evil, the woman is helpless, and there is never really any challenge to this set-up. As a result, the story feels somewhat linear; there are no real surprises.

The strength of the piece is the sense of horror and injustice it invokes, and I found the ending, with its yearning tone, quite moving, and an original image of freedom.

Overall, I thought this was a strong issue. I look forward to the next.