Jan 30th, 2018, The Donner Party by Dale Bailey, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018

I feel like a broken record this month, but I hope you believe me when I say there have been just so many great stories from both F&SF and Asimov’s SF.

Dale Bailey hits a morbid and chilling tone in this story, an alternate history of England where the aristocracy eats human flesh once a year as a delicacy and as part of the Catholic tradition. “The Lord commands us to eat of his body. . . ” as one character puts it. But this is only done during the First Feast of each year, and it is a great honor if you are of lower rank, to be invited to a party at which “ensouled flesh” is served at the end of the meal.

Dale Bailey, I take it, must have put in some precursive research into the manner of what human flesh tastes like, as the description is excruciating, and the name has given the morsels, “stripling” makes one squirm when a character eats it. Furthermore, there is even a legal market at which lowly humans are caged and bread for tenderness. It’s all horrific.

Mrs. Breen, the protagonist is of a low order but married quite well above her station–well enough to be invited to the First Feast at the Donner residence–the talk of the town each and every year. With the friendship of Mrs. Donner, however, comes expectations not lightly shirked.

Mrs. Breen falls out of Mrs. Donner’s good graces, but things are not as they seem. As Mrs. Breen frets over her return to society and the restoration of her husband’s good name to that of the elite, a deal has been made that will surprise readers–though there are subtle signs along the way.

A wonderfully written tale of how people justify their actions over those they see as beneath them. (B+)

For Love of The Game

This month is chalked full of amazing soccer games. My love of soccer is rivaled, perhaps, only by my lover of writing, and this month soccer may win out. Why? Because two huge international competitions are being held. First, and already in progress, is the Copa America Centenario, the 100th anniversary of the oldest international soccer tourny in the world. On June 10th the European Championship begins in France, which is also bound to be extraordinary.

The other day, however, I went to a game in Seattle. Now, Seattle Sounder fans are a bit notorious for being Seattle fans first and soccer fans second–sadly the attendance at this game showed the truth of this all too well. The match was between Haiti and Peru. Two teams that never make the big stage of the World Cup. Peru has potential, and they showed flashes of it against Haiti, but Haiti never makes the World Cup and typically is a completely overlooked country in much more than just soccer.

The stadium is a 67,000 pot, but only 20,000 people came for the game. This is a major international competition, and yes, these were B teams of the tournament. They don’t have the recognizable players like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico do, but a love for the game is supporting the games that are smaller–because the play can still be great, the game exciting. But Seattle fans are fans of themselves, it seems, not so much of the sport.

On the 14th Argentina and Bolivia will face off in Seattle, and I expect attendance to be much higher then. If Messi is likely to step onto the field, more people are likely to show up.

The European Championship, on the other hand, is stacked for some intriguing and exiting matches. Germany must be the clear favorite. Their dominance in the 2014 World Cup was incredible and amazing to witness. But Spain, France, Italy, Holland, and even England, can’t ever be ruled out. Then there are the dark horses, or sleepers. Wales has made the Euros for the first time (maybe ever, I’m not sure), as has Iceland–which I’m hoping show well for themselves as it’s one of my top destinations for future traveling. With so much soccer coming up I don’t know how I’ll get anything done at all this month.

The Last Hill He’d Ever Climb

(Written with The Most Dangerous Writing App)

After the river, and the hike, the trip that had taken him from the very stars to the smoldering earth, all he’d really learn was that this–all this life–as he looked out over the rolling hills of Worcestershire–was bullshit. Authenticity was bullshit, and Alicia was especially bullshit–or at the very least, full of it.

He picked up his walking stick and ran his thumb over the sad knot that looked like an eye. It had stared at him ever since he’d picked it up on the outskirts of York. What a long piece of ginko had been doing in such a place, down that cobble stone alley, he’d never asked himself and until now he’d never even questioned what kind of wood it was. But that knot, that eye, that had stared at him with such longing–the same way Alicia had done, so many times–and how had that ended? His hand tightened on the stick that came should height.

Above, the cloud held still. There was no billowing, no grand sign in the sky like he’d once believed there must be, instead there was just a long endless sprawl of gray.

After all his bad fortune, he shouldn’t have been surprised when he felt the first drops, but in truth it was too easy for him now, and at that moment it seemed as though nothing wouldn’t surprise him because if authenticity wasn’t worth a damn then neither was his disdain.

At first the rain was a soft patter, like a couple fingers beating a rhythm on the body of a guitar. An old travel guitar; and it was almost too quiet to be heard but then it hardened, just as his heart had done when in the gutter of Manchester weeks before and it went cold on his shoulders, his head, his arms, and the stick he held–which now felt so inadequate.

He brought it up near his waist and in one swift motion that didn’t resemble the movement of the clouds at all, he brought his leg up and with a snap that was thunder in another world the stick broke in half.

He left it on the hill there, and when he began to walk down from that lofty place he turn and did so backwards, never taking his eyes from the two pieces of himself he’d left behind.