In this week’s installment, there’s a rumor of angels in the city as quiet as death and heads are sure to roll. We’ve got delapidated farms in ethereal dust storms, Caribbean favelas with non-euclidean geometry, and a telepathic unicorn named Steve. The Tor Stories Let’s Read just keeps rolling on, so let’s roll with it…
Ø. “A Rumor of Angels” by Dale Bailey
A teenage boy walks away from his father’s wasted farm to follow the other travelers heading west where there is a rumor of angels.
Tom Carver is a young boy living with his father, a farmer, during the period of the Great American Dust Bowl. As all hope seems lost, Tom finds himself compelled by the strange “magnetism” of rumors, whispers of work not only westward but the specter of angels roaming the countryside with great and terrible power. After abandoning his father and being taken in by the Overtons, a displaced family of roaming farmers not unlike Tom’s father, the four continue to push forward west in hopes of collecting on the promise of whispers, hearsay, and myth.
“Great winged monsters, they say, and they never stay for long and the more devout among them messengers from the Lord and this required no abjuration, for God had perished in the dust, in the wind-torn wheat and in those smudged handbills that fluttered across the prairie. God? God had perished in their hearts.”
Bailey’s writing is nothing short of immaculate, communicating depths of despair and hope, futility and that unique, stubborn human endurance of the spirit to bear with grace the weight of the unbearable. Visions of Steinbeck and McCarthy by way of Mark Helprin come to mind when reading Bailey’s prose. The central driving question that hangs in the air, “Will we meet angels?”, is as ephemeral and omnipresent as the story’s namesake. I really enjoyed this one. I strongly believe that this story deserves to be read in literature courses as a sterling example of fantastic realism and how to capture the by-and-large ineffable spectrum of human emotions in a few, choice words. Tom himself is a gifted storyteller, adept at the “spendthrift flow of words” not unlike his long-dead mother. A Rumor of Angels trumpets the power that stories have to uplift us, to allow us to travel to places far beyond our physical location, drawing strength from the invisible well to which all words are in part a doorway.
Do yourself a favor today; Take some time out and read this story. You’ll thank yourself afterwards. I know I certainly did.
140. “The City Quiet As Death” by Steven Utley & Michael Bishop
Between the incessant music of the stars and the spectre of a giant squid caught inside a locket ball, it is difficult for Don Horacio to maintain a restful mind.
Jesus-Jackrabbit-Pole-vaulting-Christ, in “The City Quiet as Death” Utley and Bishop have channeled Lovecraft’s cosmic-fueled death ramblings and done him one better. Stories like this are the reason why I even started this read through series in the first place.
Horacio Gorrión is a taciturn, reclusive misanthrope and the sole beneficiary of a massive inheritance living in the city of Infante Sagrado, the capital city of Isla Arca, a fictitious island nestled in the Caribbean Sea. For years Horracio has alone been hounded by unceasing music of the spheres, the clamorous static of the stars, the unbearable dog-tone of the Big Bang. Basically,Horacio is living inside a Lovecraftian nightmare and even makes a overt comment on this.
After his repeated, perpetually-abandoned attempts to claim his own life, his sole companion and family maid Adelaida requests the aid of Doctor Vega and Father Casares to appeal to him on behalf of his mortality and sanity. Each offers something to Horacio, either the promise of answers through business or the potential of salvation through faith. Both of these offers orbit in some way around Adelaida’s locket, a gift from her long-deceased husband who may or may not have tamed the offspring of a particular Old God and confined it within the necklace.
The prose in this story is unbelievably tight and well-written, to pick one particular passage to demonstrate the deft mastery of implied horror that Utley and Bishop possess feels like a disservice in divorcing it however momentarily from the entire piece. I seriously loved this story and have made a serious mental note to check out whatever Utley or Bishop write in the future purely on the strength of this one story alone. It covered all the paces of a satisfying supernatural horror story and in true Lovecraftian fashion, it ends in total madness.
Go check this story out. Seriously, go right now and read it.
77. “Heads Will Roll” by Lish McBride
Lena’s not your typical animal trainer. And when she and her unicorn partner, Steve, decide to enter a fight, it’s definitely not your typical fight….
Lena and her unicornis companion “Phantom”, cheekily named “Steve” in reality, have entered into a dangerous cage fighting tournament that pits endangered mythological creatures against one another in order to fight for freedom from the inside. Things go successfully, though not entirely predictably, according to plan.
“That was the thing about humans. They found it so easy to discard the implausible and the unbelievable. People ignored anything that made them uncomfortable. A forgetful, ungrateful race that looked at unicorns and saw purity, and looked at me and saw the weakness they thought inherent in my sex. Gone is the memory of the unicorn as the protector of the forest, the guardian of the weak and innocent. Vanished are the warrior women of antiquity. The furies. The morrigan. The valkyries. Violence was in our blood, but humans have forgotten all that.”
McBride certainly wasn’t kidding when she titled this story. Violence, carnage, and pandemonium abound and it’s frickin’ fantastic. Lena and Steve make a wonderful pair of fantastical vigilantes bringing the fight to the people and creatures on the wrong side of celestial law, kicking ass and taking names when they have the time. I definitely would look forward to reading about more of their adventures in a longer-form narrative. I’ll have to investigate and see if McBride has anything like that in mind. Hmmmm.
And once again, another chapter in the epic saga of the Tor Let’s Read is concluded. These three have got to be some of the heaviest hitters in this series so far, I sincerely hope they only get better from here on out because this is quality of writing is nuts. I’m still up in the air as to which three stories I’ll be doing for my next installment. Weird shit or Weird Noire? Heads or Tails? A flip of the coin, a decision suspended in mid-air….
See you next Sunday, September 29th!