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

Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland, edited by Colleen Anderson

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Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland

 

Edited

by

Colleen Anderson

 

(Exile Editions, May 15, 2018, pb, 320 pp.)

 

"The Slithy Toves" by Bruce Meyer
"We Are All Mad Here" by Lisa Smedman
"Operation: Looking Glass" by Patrick Bollivar
"Mathilda" by Nicole Iversen
"A Night at the Rabbit Hole" by Cait Gordon
"Reflections of Alice" by Christine Daigle
"True Nature" by Sara C. Walker
"Full House" by Geoff Gander and Fiona Plunkett
"The Smoke" by Costi Gurgu
"The River Street Witch" by Dominik Parisien
"The Rise of the Crimson Queen" by Linda DeMeulemeester
"Her Royal Counsel" by Andrew Robertson
"Dressed in White Paper" by Kate Heartfield
"No Reality but What We Make" by Elizabeth Hosang
"Firewabby" by Mark Charke
"Soup of the Evening" by Robert Dawson
"Cyphoid Mary" by Pat Flewwelling
"Yellow Boy" by James Wood
"Jaune" by Catherine MacLeod
"Wonderband" by Alexandra Renwick

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

A score of Canadian authors offer original stories inspired by the writings of Lewis Carroll in the sixteenth themed anthology from Exiled Editions. Sometimes the allusions to Wonderland are obvious, sometimes only suggestive. The book also contains two poems, not reviewed here.

The titles creatures of "The Slithy Toves" by Bruce Meyer are half woman and half serpent. The narrator encounters one such being in childhood, then later as an adult. He learns of her connection with ancient myth as well as with Lewis Carroll himself. The mood varies from nostalgic to horrific, and the style changes from casual to formal. The story is interesting, but not fully satisfying.

"We Are All Mad Here" by Lisa Smedman takes place during the First World War. A young soldier witnesses a ghastly event in the trenches. Hospitalized for shell shock, he eventually suffers a fate for which he is unprepared. The references to Carroll are extremely subtle. The author creates a very realistic account of the terrors of the Great War. There is a tiny suggestion of the supernatural near the end. Whether read as supernatural horror or war story, this is a compelling tale of the terrors of battle.

A watchman at an observatory discovers three strange intruders in "Operation: Looking Glass" by Patrick Bollivar. They are visitors from a different version of the Nineteenth Century. In their reality, invaders from Wonderland are waging war on England. The watchman becomes involved in their battle. The story has the flavor of steampunk. It is not a particularly notable example of the genre.

A similar conflict occurs in "Mathilda" by Nicole Iversen. Evil characters from Wonderland, as well as other classic works of fantasy, nearly conquer the world. The title character is the sister of Alice, and must rescue her from the villains. The mood is lighthearted, despite some violence. The ending is something of a deus ex machina.

"A Night at the Rabbit Hole" by Cait Gordon is a surreal tale blending urban fantasy with science fiction. The narrator is a gender-neutral person whose cell phone begins talking on its own. Strange encounters happen at a nightclub, and aliens are involved. The sheer madness of this story will appeal to some, but disconcert others.

At first, "Reflections of Alice" by Christine Daigle seems to be mainstream fiction about an aging fashion model and her unhappy marriage. Only at the end does the reader discover her bizarre secret. The sudden change from character study to science fiction is jarring. Otherwise, this is a well-written story about the obsession with youth.

"True Nature" by Sara C. Walker deals with a government agent, one of a gifted few who can journey through mirrors into Carroll's fantastic world. She meets a refugee from Wonderland who turns out to be something unexpected. Despite all its fantastic content, this is a simple story about learning to accept love.

"Full House" by Geoff Gander and Fiona Plunkett is an action-packed space opera. A woman and two aliens make an emergency landing when their starship needs repairs. They are captured, learn about a conspiracy, and have to fight to survive. Although not profound, this fast-paced tale will appeal to fans of space adventures.

An experiment in teleportation leads to strange consequences in "The Smoke" by Costi Gurgu. It brings the Caterpillar from Wonderland into the real world. A peculiar kind of time travel and biological oddities are involved. This story is full of fantastic concepts, but lacks a resolution.

The narrator of "The River Street Witch" by Dominik Parisien is a little girl. She claims to have the power to change the size of people and things, but is unable to control it. Her attempt to meet a man whom she believes also possesses magical abilities has tragic consequences. The plot may be fantasy or the delusions of a psychotic child. Either way, this is a disturbing horror story.

Another young girl is the protagonist of "The Rise of the Crimson Queen" by Linda DeMeulemeester. She captures a half-human creature and obtains wishes from it. Things turn out very badly, so she captures it again. This story reads like a dark fairy tale. Readers who sympathize with the main character may find the end distressing.

"Her Royal Counsel" by Andrew Robertson is a grim crime story. A young hoodlum holds a group of prisoners in a pickup truck in the desert. An entity who has driven people to evil acts for millennia narrates the story. It takes a strong stomach to read what follows. Those with a low tolerance for violence should avoid this story.

A minor character from Carroll's fiction is the protagonist of "Dressed in White Paper" by Kate Heartfield. He is a human pawn in a chess game. While riding on a train in Wonderland, he suddenly finds himself aboard an airplane in the real world. The concept is an interesting one, but much of what happens is random, and the conclusion is vague.

In "No Reality but What We Make" by Elizabeth Hosang, a strange experiment brings human chess pieces from a little girl's dreams into reality. Imprisoned by the experimenters, they must use their Wonderland powers to escape. The reader will cheer for the prisoners, even if some aspects of the plot seem arbitrary.

The unusual style of "Firewabby" by Mark Charke makes it difficult to read. The narrator creates fire magically. Like Alice, he tumbles into another world via a rabbit hole. The result of his adventures is not entirely clear.

"Soup of the Evening" by Robert Dawson takes place at a future time when environmental degradation has devastated ocean life. A cybernetic Mock Turtle defends it as much as possible. After centuries of this task, it is wearing down. Together with an equally robotic Gryphon, it protects a little girl from a rogue drone. The author manages to capture the whimsy and wordplay of Carroll, while creating an intriguing and emotional science fiction story.

The title character in "Cyphoid Mary" by Pat Flewwelling sees people in an airport act in insane ways. She doubts her own mental stability until she discovers the explanation. This is a dark tale with a downbeat ending. It may appeal to readers of espionage fiction.

"Yellow Boy" by James Wood takes place in Brazil in the near future. Much of the land is now underwater. The division between the poor and the rich has grown wider. A young man, hoping to be one of the servants of the ruling class, becomes involved in a complex scheme of disguises and deception. The ending comes as a sudden, gruesome shock, not in keeping with the rest of the story.
A magical place where people go to undo the mistakes of their past appears in "Jaune" by
Catherine MacLeod. Two people who have suffered tragic losses share their stories as they seek new lives. Sensitively written, the story is a simple but touching one.

The characters in "Wonderband" by Alexandra Renwick are modern, urban versions of those found in Wonderland. The members of a rock band, who happen to be humanoid birds, break up before the story begins. They get back together to face a new band, made up of humanoid cards, in a musical battle. The author makes the characters seem very real, and the plot is heartwarming.


Victoria Silverwolf thinks Lewis Carroll's two-volume novel Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded is both deeply flawed and endlessly fascinating.