Hello, my darklings!
I must confess; I have fallen behind. Life has held me captive in her iron grip these last several weeks. Of course, that’s not to say that I haven’t been writing reviews. Quite the contrary, actually! I just haven’t had a chance to get them posted here.
It’s time to remedy that! So, without further ado…
Early in June 2018, I had the opportunity to review the 8th issue of Cirsova Magazine. If you’re not familiar with Cirsova, they tend to run fantasy and science fiction stories that are a bit outside the norm, which is one of the reasons I really like them. Among the nine stories presented in that issue, one happened to be “Going Native” by J. Manfred Weichsel. It was a tale that I found particularly enjoyable. When Mr. Weichsel contacted me to review his newly published collection of stories Going Native & Other Stories, which includes the titular “Going Native,” I was thrilled to do so.
Also, I meant to have this review up much earlier than this but, well, things didn’t quite work out that way.
As mentioned, I’ve written a review on the stand-alone tale “Going Native” once before and I don’t really want to rehash what I had said previously. In case you haven’t read that review, though, suffice it to say that it’s a really entertaining tale. I mean, there’s just something both humorous and horrifying about cultural misunderstandings that involve the folly of youth and what basically amounts to an alien STD. To top it off, it’s a great reminder to get to know the local customs before you dive in too deep with the natives and find yourself in some rather hot water. Seriously, I highly recommend this story.
“The Funniest Story Ever Told”
With a title like this, I almost expected something with a biblical bent to it. It doesn’t, although I suppose it is possible that the “greatest story ever told” could have been a source of inspiration for this one. Regardless, imagine a day when the National Mall is ringed with bleachers upon which sit spectators waiting for someone or something to exit from an alien vessel. When the off-world visitors finally emerge, the humans gathered burst into uncontrollable laughter. The aliens just look too funny! This puts a certain amount of strain on relations with the new visitors, as one might imagine, and world leaders try to come up with new solutions to prevent this reaction. Unfortunately, it’s to no avail.
If you can suspend belief enough that something could cause this type of reaction or that the proposed solutions would work, it’s an amusing tale. Of course, I don’t think this story was meant to take itself as seriously as all that, especially given the “dad joke” at the end.
“Complicit in Their Bondage”
This tale of human breeding and bondage was interesting, to say the least. It’s the story of an African American soldier, Joe, lost in an Afghani desert who gets rescued by an aristocratic British Duchess dressed in Victorian finery. She takes him to what is essentially a human zoo. On display are different types of black people, each group bred to enhance specific, grossly exaggerated physical attributes and trained to entertain powerful world leaders. Joe soon discovers that the Duchess has plans for him in her zoo and must find a way to avoid becoming her next exhibit.
As I read the story, I couldn’t help but think how bizarre the “breeds” themselves were and if the ultra-rich would flock to exhibits like indeed, if given the chance. I didn’t quite get the inclusion of Bill and Hillary Clinton, though—I’m certain there’s a point to it but I obviously missed it. Honestly, the story would have been fine without them. Then again, I truly think there’s a method to Weichel’s madness that I’m just not seeing.
“The Garden of Prince Shi-Wiwi”
The garden of the Araisan Price Shi-Wiwi is a terrifying place. Carnivorous plants abound, including those of a size to devour a man whole. After the prince feeds Unt, a Nogo woman, to one of them as part of a show for a crowd of gathered spectators, guard Lo-Dang tries to rescue her. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go as planned.
The ridiculous reasons that often underlie bigotry seem to be the name of the game in this story. The reason for the longstanding hatred between the Araisans and the Nogos, which boils down to nothing more than skin color, is a flimsy excuse for the kind of horrendous mistreatment the two races inflict on each other. The whole story brings to mind something I read some time ago during my anthropology studies on the psychology of cruelty, which essentially said that to commit an atrocity against a group of people, one first has to see them as less than human.
Jonah suffers from multiple personalities and has had himself committed to an insane asylum under the care of Dr. Strand. He suspects, though, that the good doctor isn’t as good as he seems. Instead, he’s a Satanist who’s using Jonah to commit murder and summon demons. Unfortunately, no one, not even Jonah himself, believes he’s telling the truth.
This story has the most complex plot of the bunch. The story itself, its premise, is not bad at all but it’s not without its issues. The dialogue in a lot of places was a bit clichéd and unauthentic. Some of the characters’ actions were a bit forced and awkward, especially the romance between Jonah and Aurora, and the story could have done with a bit more editing. The biggest issue, though was the head jumping, often switching to a new character’s thoughts within a sentence or two of each other. I also don’t think the humor meshed well with the horror. The mix seemed to take away from the action.
“We Might Not Have Fire, but We Sure as Hell Have Fury”
George French is a Vietnam vet recruited for a special mission to Guatemala. There, he’s captured by an Aztec renegade named El Aguila Calva, who intends to destabilize Central and South America, thus forcing the people to flee to the United States. This, he reveals, will result in the southern portion of America to become the Aztec nation of Aztlán once Americans flee north. When Calva has French thrown into a volcano, the former soldier finds himself waking in the distant future, where Americans have become weak, gutless slaves to giant snake-like aliens who used voting and legislation to take over—which was easily done because Americans were too welcoming of the invaders.
This final story in the collection is certainly going to be received by readers as a controversial one, considering its close resemblance of the current political climate and immigration laws in America. I am not going to comment on what may or may not be the story’s message (for reasons I’ll explain below), but I was definitely engrossed in the reading and wanted to see what happened. Of course, it still has its flaws, to be sure. Like the previous story, another round of editing would have helped, as once again, there are a lot of echoed words and sentence structures that could have been much tighter. The dialogue was again a problem area in that it just wasn’t as authentic as it needs to be.
The ending also left me with a lot of questions, such as how the Americans could have named George their king, as the war for freedom surely couldn’t be over so quickly. Was this one city the only location with Darskans and these few slaves were all that was left of the Americans? It would seem that, for conquest on this scale, surely there must be other Darskan cities. And, if so, why would the snake-men wait generations for the metal men to return with reinforcements? If a message such as the one Catherine mentions was sent out, wouldn’t the other Darskan settlements also be alerted and mount a retaliatory strike? And if they are aliens capable of interstellar travel, why do they only use swords as weapons?
So, why am I not getting into the message of a few of the stories here? Basically, these stories are “experimental” in nature. They bear the hallmark of Pulp Revival, a genre that is centered on action-packed narratives, romance, and characters with clearly-defined morals. To me, that makes Weischel, the author, a bit of an unreliable narrator himself, considering that a few of the stories in this collection almost contradict one another. He’s something akin to a chaos magician, who uses whatever is necessary to get the job done and cast his spell, easily switching between belief systems and moral principles as needed to tell the story he wants to tell.
But while they may tackle some pretty heavy and sensitive topics, his stories are odd, quirky, and wacky, and that’s what makes them fun.