Abyss & Apex # 76 is up!

Actually, it's been up for a couple of weeks, at least -- but this online journal of speculative fiction, reviews, & poetry is always worth a look. Or two.

And this time, Yours Truly has a poem in it! (As part of particularly strong TOC, if I do say so myself. Which, alas, I just did.)

Find the whole issue here :

Or get directly to the poetry, here:

My villanelle, "Dark Matter Haunts Us," may be found here:

My Goodreads review: A Spectral Hue

A Spectral HueA Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What's it like to have a muse? What's it like to be one, & how does one wind up becoming one? Is muse-driven creativity a blessing, a curse, or both? These are a few of the many related questions that are worked out -- but never quite answered -- in Gidney's beautifully strange, dark novel of artistic obsession.

On the surface, the plot is simple enough: an African-American grad student becomes fascinated by the Shimmer Artists, a loosely-defined group of "Outsider Artists" working in varied media, all inspired by the Shimmer Marsh in Maryland & the nearly indescribable color of a flower that grows there. Said student goes to the town of Shimmer, investigates the mystery of these artists, & eventually discovers way more than he expected to. There are possibly ghosts involved. There is possibly possession, or something akin to it.

The plot, however, is only a small part of this novel. Although it's nearly impossible to describe without committing spoiler, A Spectral Hue is a poetic examination of intertwined lives & creative drives stronger even than slavery. It is character-focused, though deeply supernatural. It is one of the odder & lovelier things I've read this year, though I did dock one star for my sheer confusion. Readers more tolerant of ambiguity & loose ends will likely find this a five-star experience. Recommended for fans of dark poetic writing, cultural exploration, & subtle chills.

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Recent poetry publications

Just in time for the Sequestered Spooky Season, I'm very happy to announce that I have poems in the latest issues of both Spectral Realm (dark & weird verse, mainly formal, plus reviews) & Weirdbook
(dark / weird poetry & prose)! These are both nice thick trade paperback journals, suitable for accompanying all that Halloween candy you bought anyway this year . . .

Spectral Realms #13 (Ed. S.T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press)

I've got two poems in this one, "Among the Petroglyphs" & "Red Land, Black Pharaoh"

For ToC, or to order:

Weirdbook #43 (Ed. Doug Draa, Wildside Press LLC)

I have one poem in this one, "Dark Rift"

For partial ToC, or to order:

My Goodreads review: The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed: A Vintage Movie ClassicThe Bad Seed: A Vintage Movie Classic by William March

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This tightly written, if slightly dated, psychological horror novel delivers more subtle chills in its 200+ pages than many more bloated modern efforts.

Although the general plotline may seem familiar to today's readers, the "evil child" theme -- with appropriate "scientific" support -- was still fresh when this first came out. Since human nature hasn't changed, the reluctance of various characters to see that evil in a too-perfect-to-be-true little girl is still pretty believable, & the social strictures of the 1950s complete the picture.

Recommended for those who appreciate elegant structure with their scares, or anyone craving one more late-summer chiller. Would probably make a perfect weekend read.

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My Goodreads review: Mexican Gothic

Mexican GothicMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one really is pretty much what it says on the cover: a Mexican Gothic. Gothic as in the dark, addictive (to the adolescent me, anyway) somewhat romantic novels of the 1960s & 1970s. Mexican as in del Toro movies, hallucinatory & imaginatively nightmarish.

The combination makes for an excellent late-summer page-turner (clicker?), though there's a bit of intellectual weight as well. Set in the 1950s, the novel includes multiple references to eugenics theories still current at the time. There is also the requisite creepy isolated house & grounds -- here inspired by an actual English mining area within Mexico -- scraps of anthropology from the heroine's reading, & more than anyone ought to know about fungi.

Most of this is discussed in a Goodreads interview with the author, which can be found here

I found it added to my post-reading enjoyment, without being too spoiler-y for pre-readers.

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My Goodreads Review: The Royal Art of Poison

The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most FoulThe Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fast-paced & darkly amusing look at the history of poisoning from the Renaissance onward, with some discussion of accidental poisoning (via cosmetics, mostly) & unintentionally fatal medical practices. A middle section is devoted to several famous cases of suspected poisoning, most of which did not actually turn out to be poisoning at all! Another later section of the book discusses 20th & 21st century political poisoning cases, most of them Soviet / Russian. The author concludes with a helpful & widely varied list of poisons, citing origins, symptoms, & ultimate cause of death.

I'm not sure how much I'll retain from the audio version of this one (there was a lot of detail), but it certainly covered the topic in an interesting manner. Recommended for true crime buffs, history lovers with morbid minds (guilty!) & mystery readers.

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My Goodreads review: The Physicians of Vilnoc

The Physicians of Vilnoc (Penric and Desdemona, #8)The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Any new Pen & Des novella is a must-read for me, though I hesitated upon learning that it did feature a plague. I shouldn't have worried. This is another solid entry in Bujold's spinoff from her Five Gods world, though it definitely should not be a starting point for new readers. More than usual for this series, this one requires full background knowledge of the characters (though the author does include several helpful bits of recap along the way).

Aside from the medical plotline -- happy ending, no spoiler for anyone who reads Bujold regularly -- the main focus of this adventure seems to be the nitty-gritty of Pen's relationship with his highly talented demon, Desdemona. When Pen & Des encounter a new temple sorcerer & his very young demon, all four entities must manage their differences to save an army camp full of patients & ultimately discover the source of the disease.

Readers who crave nonstop action may not find this to be their favorite in the series. Those who enjoy seeing a magic system worked out with both logic & humor, however, will settle right in for another welcome visit.

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