Strange Beasties, edited by Juliana Rew

Sunday, 29 October 2017 14:53 Victoria Silverwolf

Strange Beasties



Edited by

Juliana Rew



(Third Flatiron Publishing, Fall 2017, pb, 186 pp.)


"In the Days of Mister Cuddles" by Bruce Arthurs
"Valediction" by John Sunseri
"The Wraith's Child" by Philip John Schweitzer
"Besta Branco" by Tim Jeffreys
"How Not to Eat People" by Sarah Tchernev
"To Riddle the Lake" by Lucy Harlow
"The Black Horse" by Philip Brian Hall
"Glass" by Jean Graham
"Creatures" by Marc E. Fitch
"Thirsty Creatures" by Christa Carmen
"Harry on the Farm" by Isobel Horsburgh
"Sailors' Hearts Taste Better" by Paulo Da Silva
"The Passenger" by Jeff Hewitt
"Beast of the Month" by Wulf Moon
"The Spark That Starts the Flame" by Daniel Rosen
"Niagwahe" by Brenton Clark
"Looking for Lusca" by John J. Kennedy
"Project Sargasso Findings on Global Nightmare Epidemic" by Brian Trent

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Ranging from slapstick farce to gruesome horror, the stories in this anthology feature all manner of fantastic creatures.

Macabre but light-hearted humor fills "In the Days of Mister Cuddles" by Bruce Arthurs. A little girl brings home what she calls a cat from another plane of existence. Although the animal is really a gigantic spider, her very strange family accepts it as a pet. Chaos results. This story combines the creepy with the kooky in a way that reminds me of the Addams Family.

An old man and a young girl find something in common at a racetrack in "Valediction" by John Sunseri. Their shared love of the sport leads the girl to take a daring action. That sounds like mainstream fiction, because I have not mentioned the fact that the track features enormous slugs. This is a good story, but it would be just as enjoyable without the fantasy element.

"The Wraith's Child" by Philip John Schweitzer creates a unique and bizarre legend. A rock monster eats a dead woman. Her ghost becomes its wife. The marriage is a happy one, except for the fact that the woman wants children of her own. (The rock monster reproduces by shedding part of its body.) The way in which she attempts to do so is as strange as everything else that happens. The author shows great imagination, but the story may be too weird for some readers.

The Amazonian jungle provides the setting for "Besta Branco" by Tim Jeffreys. Three hunters track down a legendary White Beast said to inhabit the forest. A child leads them to their prey. The author describes the events leading up to the hunt, as well as its ironic aftermath, but fails to portray the battle itself, weakening the impact of a tense adventure story.

"How Not to Eat People" by Sarah Tchernev takes the form of podcasts by two monsters. They give advice on how to give up devouring humans. Things don't work out as they expect. This silly story may raise a few smiles.

"To Riddle the Lake" by Lucy Harlow is a dense, poetic account of the transformation of an inhuman narrator from one form to another in a world very different from our own. The prose is moody and evocative, but not always clear.

Yorkshire during the Eighteenth Century serves as the background for "The Black Horse" by Philip Brian Hall. A squire who is excessively proud of his racehorse makes a bet with a mysterious stranger. The fellow wagers a pair of fabulous diamonds against an unspecified item of equal value belonging to the squire. When we find out that the visitor calls himself B. L. Zebub, we realize we are dealing with a classic fantasy theme. This is a pleasant story, if not entirely original, that reads like a folk tale.

The narrator of "Glass" by Jean Graham takes the form of a roach, but is able to change its shape at will. Along with others of its kind, it waits for a murderer to return to the scene of the crime. This is a chilling tale of crime and punishment not meant for the squeamish.

Equally terrifying is the deadly animal captured by scientists in "Creatures" by Marc E. Fitch. It lures women to their destruction by making sounds like a crying baby. The plot has few surprises, but is effectively frightening.

"Thirsty Creatures" by Christa Carmen is a surrealistic account of an unexplained disaster that changes water into a deadly substance. A woman ventures out into the ruined world. This brief story creates an eerie mood.

"Harry on the Farm" by Isobel Horsburgh seems at first to be a simple story of a father taking his son on a trip, along with an animal in a basket. Slowly the reader realizes that Harry is no ordinary pet, and that the boy is no ordinary child. This is a quietly unnerving tale of strange transformations.

A hideous sea siren who lures men to their doom is the narrator of "Sailors' Hearts Taste Better" by Paulo da Silva. She converses with a beautiful river nymph who is doomed to become as deadly and repulsive as the siren unless true love rescues her from her fate. The outcome of this mythological tale is unexpected.

The title character in "The Passenger" by Jeff Hewitt is lying in a ditch by the side of the road when a man driving through a winter storm stops to rescue him. He turns out to be something more than human. He relates his strange story to the driver, whose life changes because of the encounter. This is a surprisingly inspiring tale of ancient magic.

"Beast of the Month" by Wulf Moon consists of a series of letters between an exasperated wizard and the company that supplies him with fantastic creatures. Things quickly go wrong. The humor is sophomoric, but anyone who has dealt with an unresponsive corporation is likely to appreciate it.

The protagonist of "The Spark That Starts the Flame" by Daniel Rosen is an engineer forced to design rifles for the factory that keeps his wife and child prisoner. Hunters use his weapons to capture animals that produce valuable pheromones with a powerful effect on the human mind. After the loss of his family, he travels to the far land where the animals live, with a plan to begin a revolution. This is a dark, violent story, set in a society similar in some ways to the modern world, but with many disturbing differences.

The title of "Niagwahe" by Brenton Clark refers to a being from Native American mythology that can take on many shapes. The narrator and his family first encounter it as a bear, then in a more subtle form. This is a tale of dark fantasy with a simple plot.

"Looking for Lusca" by John J. Kennedy concerns a slow-witted fellow who is compelled to take a small plant out of an underwater cave while he is on a diving vacation. The plant increases his intelligence, allowing him to obtain great wealth, but it also has plans of its own. This is a story with many twists and turns, as well as a touch of black comedy.

"Project Sargasso Findings on Global Nightmare Epidemic" by Brian Trent consists entirely of dialogue. A scientist and a government official discuss the unexpected connection between the arrival of aliens and a worldwide plague of bad dreams. They reach a startling conclusion. This is a tale of impending apocalypse that may cause the reader to lose some sleep.

Victoria Silverwolf hopes these stories won't give her nightmares.