Clockwork Phoenix 4 is a collection of 18 stories edited by Mike Allen. Who, I will tell you now, is a master editor. And the authors, all masters as well. This collection is really fantastic. I took my time reading it and was rewarded each time a new story began. You can call it speculative, fantasy, science fiction, but what it is, is good reading. After each story, I was left thinking of the characters and settings which were believable and yet unbelievable at the same time. I’m not always a fan of short stories, and soon after the book arrived, I become a little apprehensive and worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I shouldn’t have worried. There are stories in this collection that I’ll go back to again and again. They are so rich and detailed I know I’ll find something new each time I pick up a story.
Not to give away anything, I’ll do a short sentence or so about each because I feel each story deserves a mention. You’ll note I have many favorites.
Our Lady of the Thylacines by Yves Meynard – A Girl learning the value of life from the Lady. A slightly dark tale containing that all important lesson of the value we place on life. This is a great story to start the collection.
The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter by Ian McHugh – Behra is the ninth daughter of the Canal Barge Magician and she is full of the magic her father harnesses for his use. When she finds her magic and learns to use it, all bets are off and she wants out. Fantastic piece — I love stories like this. Blood magic is used in cruel and vicious ways in this story and the world building is amazing. A favorite of mine.
On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse by Nicole Kornher-Stace – A post-apocalyptic world full of ghosts and the person who collects and catalogues them. I had a bit of trouble following this one but it’s such an interesting concept that I think I will go back and re-read it. A world ravaged yet full of ghosts is appealing.
Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – Do the dead get lonely? A drowned girl floating away her days wonders much about the world after meeting the beach bum. There’s a creepiness to this story but not the creepy you think of when you think of ghosts. I think it’s the idea of floating around, never knowing where you’ll land or what will happen that’s creepy. Maybe it’s just the great unknown and how scary it can be or maybe it’s just me. It’s a wonderful story though.
Trap-Weed by Gemma Files – A heart-broken selkie running from loneliness is captured by a collector. I love tales of sea creatures and the magic infused in this story is perfect. It rocks you slowly along bringing you to a bittersweet end that’s a strange metaphor for life and where we should place our trust. A favorite.
Icicle by Yukimi Ogawa – A half human, half snow-woman leaves the only home she’s ever known to look for her father and finds a love she can’t have. Oh, is this one a hard lesson of family life. Heartbreaking and yet wonderful. A favorite.
Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story by A.C. Wise – Two hungry ghosts haunting the world in the only way they know how. This is such a sad story but instead of disliking the ghosts, I just pitied them. When you open yourself to love, you open yourself to heartbreak. So good.
What Still Abides by Marie Brennan – Throw some Norse gods and the undead together and what do you get? This story. It’s told using Germanic derived words, according to the author’s website. Yes, I looked that up. I needed to know. In fact, the language makes this one. It brings it to a whole other level. Reading this one is an experience.
The Wanderer King by Alisa Alering – A post-apocalyptic world of the dead and dying and two women looking for a way out and the king that can get them to a new world. Oh, what a wonderfully sad, terrifying world. It’s brutal and full of menace. A favorite.
A Little of the Night by Tanith Lee – Fleeing from a murder, a man comes upon an evil place, and instead of continuing to run, he feels compelled to search for the source of that evil. He becomes drawn to it. A great, great story. A favorite.
I Come From the Dark Universe by Cat Rambo – Sex in a far off place. A brothel manager takes in a woman who says she came from the dark universe but offers no more. She’s quiet, mysterious, and maybe just the right bit of love needed for another lonely soul. Love in a whore house is so complicated. Eventually, what we come to learn is that there’s a love for all of us, if we’re willing to be patient. It’s hard to describe this as romantic (brothel and all) but it’s the best way to describe this so I’m going with it. It’s my absolute favorite in this collection. It’s one I will read again and again.
Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw by Shira Lipkin – A witch who can switch between realities and is happy to play around with the boundaries of love but shies away from her own heart. Zee, the witch, is such an intriguing character and I love how she plays around with everyone else’s heart and ignores her own. It’s a keeper and by that I mean it’s another favorite.
Lilo Is by Corinne Duyvis – Being a single mother of a spider-girl can be interesting, to say the least. Oh, my god. So wonderful. I laughed my way through this one thankful I didn’t need to deal with a spider-girl. Mostly I laughed nervously because spiders completely freak me out. I went back and re-read parts too. Love it. You’re tired of reading this, I know, but, a favorite.
Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer by Kenneth Schneyer – A critic takes us on review of an artist’s work. It’s such a strange story but very interesting. The descriptions make you see not just the artwork but the artist. A good read.
Three Times by Camille Alexa – Do you know what it means to be alive? An entity takes human form to learn what it feels like. Sweet, sad, than utterly heartbreaking. A lovely little gem of a story.
The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – A universe of replicated humanoids each with a role. When one being begins to die, she undergoes surgery only to wake with a chest full of bees where a heart should be. This reminded me of The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. A strange world that not only confuses but fascinates. A great story.
The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – A scribe attempts to note the life of the Old Woman, who constantly interrupts and berates him. It’s amusing, warmhearted, and slightly sad. A good story.
The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff – An extended family gathers for a Seder, and in doing so bring together the universal soul. The history of soul 2065 evolves, and in turn, becomes a most wonderful story. Spanning 70 years, the soul changes but never forgets. An amazing way to end the collection. A favorite.
Ask me what this collection is about and I’ll tell you it’s about life, it’s about love, it’s about tragedy, it’s about the alluring nature of sex, it’s about the feeling of belonging. There’s so much more to these stories than you think there will be. Go and read them. That’s all I have left to say.
Mike Allen shared a copy of Clockwork Phoenix 4 with me for review.
Clockwork Phoenix 4
Edited by Mike Allen