- "Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl" by Richard Parks
- "Icicle" by Yukimi Ogawa
- "Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story" by A.C. Wise
- "The Wanderer King" by Alisa Alering
- "Lilo Is" by Corinne Duyvis
- "Selected Program Notes From the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer" by Kenneth Schneyer
- "The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
- "The History of Soul 2065" by Barbara Krasnoff
With a release date of July 2013, Clockwork Phoenix 4 will provide some not-so-light summer reading. The latest in the series edited by Mike Allen, Clockwork Phoenix 4 was Kickstarter-funded, and the introduction to this volume has Allen explaining the reason behind this crowd-funded reincarnation, rather than the puzzle of an introduction which began the first three volumes. This volume contains eighteen original stories which can only be classified as speculative; most of them blur or even reject genre lines altogether. The common thread which runs through these stories is a sense of unsettling strangeness. There were several moments when reading that I felt physically altered, only to realize that it was the story and not my body which was causing the queasy feeling in my gut.
That is not to say that these stories are not enjoyable; they are, in a discombobulating, shiver-inducing kind of way. And there were several of the tales which left me thinking on them long after I had finished reading. I can't say that I understood all of the stories in this collection -- there are a few, such as Yves Meynard's "Our Lady of the Thylacines" and Benjanun Sriduangkaew's "The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly" -- whose surface-level meanings remain fuzzy, but I feel as though that confusion might add to these stories' charm. For certain, there is not one story in Clockwork Phoenix 4 that I found completely absent of merit.
In Richard Parks' "Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl," two personifications of two distinct clichés meet on a beach on several separate occasions. The Drowned Girl floats in the ocean until she washes upon a shore and upsets a community then promptly disappears, giving them an urban legend to pass down for generations. The Beach Bum falls in love summer after summer, a fling which the lovers will remember for the rest of the lives. Both characters exist mostly in the memory of the people they have left. Together they speak of their reasons for existing, their reasons for performing the same ritual again and again. This story has an unexplainable but beautiful sadness to it.
Yukimi Ogawa's "Icicle" is a simple, folkloric story of a half human, half snow-woman whose body boasts both a human heart and an icicle which rests poised ready to pierce her heart. Her fragility comes to be a burden when she decides to see the ocean, traveling far from the mountain where she was raised. Never having known her father, the story feels from the beginning as though that might be where her quest will lead. Not entirely predictable, however, the story does end on a disquieting revelation.
A boy and a girl, a devil and a ghost, make a yearly bet -- they never remember the results -- on who can capture the most souls in A.C. Wise's "Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story." A tragic story in which the sense of entrapment is palpable, "Lesser Creek" also says something about gender roles, as the village's perceptions of the two spirits differs greatly, and the methods with which they extract their souls both sets them apart and unites them.
In Alisa Alering's "The Wanderer King," a post-apocalyptic story in which the apocalypse is never explained, society has been split into two factions: the Wanderers and the Fixers. Two friends -- Pansy, a Wanderer, and Chool, a Fixer -- find a crown and set off to find the dead body it belongs to, the king who will save them. An eerie tale of redemption as Chool seeks to atone for her own bloody past, of which Pansy is not aware.
A woman has a spider-demon's child and is then forced to raise her on her own in Corinne Duyvis' "Lilo Is." Short and sweet, "Lilo Is" explores a mother's challenge to instill in her child a solid sense of self-esteem.
Written as a program to a gallery's art exhibition, "Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer" by Kenneth Schneyer is an innovative story told in an innovative way. The program notes feel like authentic program notes, complete with the program writer's pompous discussion questions which often miss the mark completely. A vivid retrospective of an imaginary artist's interesting life, with clues contained within the piece that there is much below the artwork's surface.
In Benjanun Sriduangkaew's "The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly," a woman with little time to live has her heart replaced with bees in a world where technology and life are intertwined. It's a challenging story which will reward readers more familiar with the science fictional tropes in which the story deals, but I found the details of her transformation fascinating, and her search for her missing sibling hits home.
"The History of Soul 2065" by Barbara Krasnoff is the story, told in ten-year increments, of a group of family and friends who meet each year for seder. The character Abram tells them, on the youngest member's first seder, of a legend: originally, there were 60,000 souls in the universe which were broken into pieces. When all the pieces of a soul return to one another, "a part of the universe is healed and made whole." The group decides that they are all part of Soul 2065, and a tradition is born where each year they tell each other one thing that has happened to them throughout the year. It's interesting to hear the complete lives of so many characters, and the moment of realization that the story is not as simple as it first appears is a shock.
Available here for pre-order, Clockwork Phoenix 4 also contains:
- "Our Lady of the Thylacines" by Yves Meynard
- "The Canal Barge Magician's Number Nine Daughter" by Ian McHugh
- "On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse" by Nicole Kornher-Stace
- "Trap-Weed" by Gemma Files
- "What Still Abides" by Marie Brennan
- "A Little of the Night" by Tanith Lee
- "I Come From the Dark Universe" by Cat Rambo
- "Happy Hour at The Tooth and Claw" by Shira Lipkin
- "Three Times" by Camille Alexa
- "The Old Woman With No Teeth" by Patricia Russo