I wanted to have some fun weekend reading this month, so I only read novellas and novelettes in the book department. Had some nice weekends sitting on the patio and reading a whole book all at once. I also read a nice mix of mournful sci-fi and dread-inducing horror short stories this month.

Three books propped up against two potted plants. The book on the left is River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey. It has a green cover with people riding hippos. The middle book is Rogomelec by Leonor Fini. It has a black cover with a blue winged individual on it. THe book on the right is Cradle and Grave by Anya Ow. It has a grey and red cover with a ruined city in the foreground. Green elaves rise from the pots above the books.

Books:

Rogomelec – The protagonist goes to an island monastery for a retreat for the health, meets many odd and hedonistic monks, and uncovers a terrible event in the ruins of the castle above the monastery. This book is like every nightmare I’ve ever had. Which makes sense, as it is a surrealist book. The protagonist seeing a rotting chair drifting down a river, and then later seeing the crest from the chair in the ruins of a castle an island away is a very dream-logic way to convey location and information. Left me feeling discomfited and mildly disorienting, like any good nightmare does.

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – A darkly fun hippo romp. A group of hippo riders with various skillets such as explosives, thievery, and murder are hired to blow a dam and flush the feral hippos of Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, making them someone else’s problem. The world-building of an alternate United States trying to wrangle feral hippos, and the seedy underbelly that grows up around the hippo overrun rivers was tremendously inventive and fun. All of the characters were super distinct and memorable. While you can tell from the kind of story this is that at least one double cross and one hitch in the plan is inevitable, genre savyness didn’t slow down the action or rub the edge off the surprise.

Didn’t particularly care for the epilogue, which felt like it addressed the whereabouts of characters whose fate seemed already assured or wrapped up by earlier chapters. But this is the first book of two, so an epilogue does in some ways seem mechanically necessary.

Cradle and Grave by Anya Ow – The opening of this was a little rough for me. It threw too many new concepts and terms out, without a lot of description or explanation of them which doesn’t quite work as a worldbuilding method for me personally. For the first several pages of the book, I was filling in the post-apocalypse setting with other bits of media (pictured a lot of the early setting as just the game Fallout 3), because the story just takes off while the setting is still waiting to be described. However, this does even out about 20 pages in, at which point the setting comes into its own, and has some really fun new plays on post-apocalyptic mutations and environmental degradation. The Rinse in particular and the way it and other bodies of water warping time if you get too close to their banks was a really cool concept in a way I cannot overstate. I also really enjoyed the bridge crossing sequence near the end of the book, and the body horror that fills it. I thought the main characters had a really intriguing dynamic, and I really enjoyed the way the title came into play during the ending. I think Servertu and Serverun, much like the setting, needed a little more development earlier on. Serverun is the guy the group is trying to beat to the Room in the City, and Servertu knows what his motivations are, but only reveals them to the reader and to Lien in the last few pages, making the stakes feel a little weird for the run through the city. So a bit of a mixed bag, although a very inventive one, and when it was good it was really good.

Short stories:

You Cannot Return to the Burning Glade by Eileen Gunnell Lee at Reckoning – After fire and a death, something comes back to the woods that the protagonist watches over with trail cameras. Something screams in the woods. The story wrestles with the ravages of fire and its human and animal costs. I love the grim yet hopeful ending of the protagonist going forth, armed with a gun and with bird seed. Two things have to happen to move forward. One of them is an act of necessary violence, and the other is an act of feeding, of giving. It’s sharp and dire, but there is still a glimmer of hope beneath it.

(A secret is that I did read this story in March amidst all the dinosaur fiction but it didn’t thematically fit. I have been thinking about this story for a whole month though so it goes in this post, so that you too can read it and think about it nonstop.)

Not Quite the Last of the Martian Redhounds by Adam Lee Weatherford at the Arcanist – Martian Redhounds, bred to dig up O-tubers which over-produce oxygen for Mars’ new atmosphere, are no longer needed. The protagonist has one of the last of the working redhounds, an aging dog named Numa, and thinks about what a future that no longer needs the working dogs might hold for the two of them. A really lovely, melancholic story, with a quiet sense of resignation. I loved how quickly and deftly the author introduced the world-building of Mars and its dogs and oxygen-producing tubers.

Evolution of the Species by Jessie Ulmer at Dread Stone Press’ Dose of Dread – Really tense bird horror, and you know I love a story with birds as a central player. Someone’s child is left alone in a house, to fend off the birds that the “plague of the species” has turned violent and hungry. The narrator has a very clear and recognizably youthful voice, in a way I enjoyed a lot. The story is mournful and bitter, as the child wrestles with the fact that they did not and could force themselves to fit inside the shape their father wanted for them, against the backdrop of a very frighteningly rendered ecological disaster.

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