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

Fiction River #21: Tavern Tales, edited by Kerrie L. Hughes

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Fiction River #21: Tavern Tales



Edited by Kerrie L. Hughes



(WMG publishing, January 30, 2017, pb, 292 pp.)


Quest for Beer” by Stefan Mears
Closing the Big Bang” by Michèle Laframbois
Hero #8” By Ron Collins
Girls That Glitter” by Dayle A. Dermatis
The Kids Keep Coming” by David H. Hendrickson
One Last Round at Cozy’s Tavern” by Lisa Silverthorne
Wider Horizons” by Diana Benedict
Grounds for Dismissal” by Anthea Sharp
The Next Dance” by Jamie Ferguson
Schrodinger’s Bar” by Kim May
The Gods are Out Inn” by M. L. Buchman
The First Ingredient” by Eric Kent Edstrom
The Legend of Long-Bow and Short Staff” by Brenda Carre
Killing Spree” by Brigid Collins
The Hot Eagle Roadhouse” by Chuck Heintzelman
Death at the Pines” by Annie Reed

[Editor’s note: I have asked for this review to be split between two reviewers. Benjamin Wheeler reviews the first half of the anthology while Valerie A. Lindsey takes a look at the remaining stories.]

Reviewed by Benjamin Wheeler

This collection of sixteen short stories is centered around bars, taverns, inns and any other kind of establishment that might have both alcohol and adventure.

Quest for Beer” by Stefan Mears starts with Velec and his companions entering a bar to rest up after the latest quest. Velec is tired of adventure, and all he wants is one quiet night without a mystical journey. This story is pretty funny, the conceit of an adventurer not wanting adventure for once is quite amusing and Velec’s near desperation to prevent said adventure does not get boring.

A more science fictional focus comes with “Closing the Big Bang” by Michèle Laframbois. The Big Bang Bar has front row seats for the rich and famous to witness an induced nova, but Guess37 has deeper plans for the destruction of his guest’s financial plans. This is quite good SF; the nova scene, the twist at the end and the bar itself are all excellently done. Suspension of Disbelief was lost over how Loren hacked the Big Bang Bar AI’s system and then escaped. It struck me as unbelievable that something so complex and high class would fall to the actions of one agent, or that meddling with the bar’s programming would go undetected in the end. If there was a statement to be made for the arrogance of the rich, then there should have been mention of loose security due to that arrogance, as the bar’s security measures were talked up in story.

Hero #8” By Ron Collins stars a charity dating event that goes horribly wrong when shots are fired. Firefighter Devin Hamilton must stop a shooter from taking more victims. This short story packs a lot of the human element and excellent pacing into a small package. The veteran at the end of the story, when Devin confronts the shooter, struck me as ham-handed and more of a series of tropes than a real character; however, the build up to the confrontation had real weight behind it.

Set in a drag bar called the Glitter Room “Girls That Glitter” by Dayle A. Dermatis has Nikki Ashburne attempt to solve a mystery brought to her by a ghost drag queen haunting the bar he used to own. This ghost detective story falls flat by caring more about the setting than the actual mechanics of the story and hoped it would cover for any weaknesses. The people involved act natural in disbelieving Nikki but when she’s trying to convince them they are swayed quite quickly. The ending has a similar problem where the documents missing are hidden in a framed poster when there was no implication that anyone was looking to steal them. It struck this reviewer that Nikki found the papers because she was meant to find the papers, not because she had earned the finding of the papers in the way of good detective fiction. Also, she somehow lost the ability to see ghosts for the climax. It was a missed opportunity to have one of the ghost characters do more than just sit around and talk to the protagonist.

The Kids Keep Coming” by David H. Hendrickson is a melancholy examination of police violence on inner city children. The Nameless protagonist must hear the story of children slain by cops to let them pass on by stamping their afterlife passport. This seems more of a ‘crucify the [blank]’ sort of tale, where the tale attacks a certain group, people, or job to make and ideological statement, mostly at the expense of the story. In this case, cops and the inner city children who are caught in the crossfire. The stories told within the short story seem to miss crucial parts of perspective and focus on the subjective feelings than what might be objective. There’s also no chance within the story that the cops might be justified, as with the strawman Sullivan O’Hare who is shown to be a brutal child killer of a cop who had no chance of redemption, and even when ‘justified’ in the story, was cast as a villain.

In “One Last Round at Cozy’s Tavern” by Lisa Silverthorne, washed up detective Sam Brewer attempts to find his captain’s father even while he deals with painful memories of a divorce from his wife Maggie. Set in a piano bar, the characters of Syne and Lettie carry much of the story. The ending left me scratching my head at the state of Rico’s father and how he would accept this current state in an alternate reality.

Wider Horizons” by Diana Benedict has Kelly trying to come to terms with her friend Emilio’s homosexuality within the gay disco bar “The Apartment.” There’s not much else to this story. However, this has a stark, unfiltered view of the gay bar as well as how the various characters acted. If the author expected shock when Emilio came out of a female’s bathroom stall with another man, the author should have toned down the build up. Also, the acceptance that Kelly supposedly comes to is hurt when she considers leaving for the Peace Corps in response.

Humorously, “Grounds for Dismissal” by Anthea Sharp involves the Seattle Coffee Shop Mafia. Julie Anne Lamont is a barista in Seattle. She’s kidnapped to experience the horror that is the bad coffee she has been giving out. This fun romp through the seedy underbelly of Seattle was enjoyable with excellent punchlines and coffee mafia with gravitas. However, side characters mentioned are lacklustre and often brought down to single character traits.

♣    ♣    ♣ 

Reviewed by Valerie A. Lindsey

In “The Next Dance” Jamie Ferguson paints an eloquent vignette of Nelle who makes her living having miners pay fifty cents to dance with her in a western saloon. Jamie gives us a nice story of what it may have been like for women forced to earn a living they can’t share with their family, but who hold on to their virtue and pride while dancing with a variety of customers.

Schrodinger’s Bar” by Kim Mainord is a well told story of Myla Joren and her semi-tamed space wildcat. Down on her luck, a minor accident introduces her to Rod, the owner of Schrodinger’s Bar. He offers her a job with no commitment. She only plans on staying as long as it takes her to earn enough to move on. When she receives an offer she can turn down, she finds out just how special the bar is.

In “The Gods Are Out Inn”, M. L. Buchman writes about a neutral bar run by angels where gods from every era and denomination are able to relax and drink. It is a rather rambling story about the Devil Incarnate and Freya receiving the wrong drinks from Henrietta (the angel bartender) and discussing their current issues when they are rudely interrupted by two of the old gods. I found this a difficult story to get interested in.

I found “The First Ingredient” by Eric Kent Edstrom to be a totally engaging story about a consummate salesman, Tyler, who decides to use his expertise to find a lady to address his lack of a personal life. He tries his tried and true sales techniques to find a mate, but after his “fifteenth straight terrible first date” he dejectedly visits a nearby bar. An older, experienced salesman of cookware chats him up and tries to sell him a cookware set asserting that cooking is the first step to building a relationship. Tyler identifies every sales angle that Harvey uses, but still falls into a few. Initially, he discards Harvey’s card, but the next day pulls it out and makes the call. Before he knows it, Tyler is taking cooking classes from Harvey’s wife, eventually buys the 24 piece set… and his life changes forever. Excellent writing with good descriptions; a charming story with a character you care about.

In “Freedom Unbound” Dory Crowe provides an alternate history to the American Revolution and shedding a little light on the little known Ramapough Lunaape tribe. The story illustrate the unique difficulties and dangers an indentured woman faced. Clementine is a 14 year old indentured servant who has seen the worst of people and is desperately counting the years until she gains her freedom at 21. She meets a boy who is determined to free his wrongfully imprisoned sister and take her to a secret sanctuary with the Ramapough. Clementine sees her opportunity to arrange her own freedom from a life little better than slavery. The story was interesting with some good descriptions, but could have been tighter with a few more rewrites.

Killing Spree” by Brigid Collins opened strongly with excellent descriptions and immediate feel for the main character, Spriegan, who runs the local bar. Spriegan is a berserker who managed to suppress her berserker rage to please the woman she loves. A new sheriff begins collecting protection money from all the town businesses. Only Spriegan refuses. Her old band arrives in town and she has to succumb to her barely contained nature to protect the town her friend loved. “Killing Spree” is a strong, descriptive story with a nice twist at the end.

Chuck Heintzelman’s “The Hot Eagle Roadhouse” absorbed my attention within the first two paragraphs. It opens at an anniversary feast hosted by Jalinda and her husband, Ryszard. Before opening gifts, Jalinda regales their guests with a little-known story of when she first met Ryszard. Their relationship started with a fight and a kiss. This is a well-written story despite a couple of typos. Thoroughly enjoyed it and think it would be great expanded into a novel.

Death at the Pines” by Annie Reed began with a photograph of the cottage where her father stayed when he went to Reno to get a divorce because he fell in love with her mother. This story is her imagining a result that has a less successful result at a ranch where people stay for six weeks to establish Nevada residency. Deputy Cavanaugh is called to investigate a murder at the ranch. Amazingly, he manages to solve the murder in less than eight hours! More amazing, he realizes that a female employee fell in love with one of the female guests staying before her divorce! Despite the flaw in how Cavanaugh deduced the love affair from a hidden photograph, it was a compelling story.