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Graggonspeak Quarterly: Autumn 2020
Austin Gragg

Welcome to “Graggonspeak Quarterly”—the book review column for Space & Time Magazine. To best utilize your time reading reviews, I stick to mentioning my favorite reads that made their way to me since the last S&T issue. Think of these reviews as reader’s advisory from a former librarian and fellow SFF geek.

The smaller sibling to this column “Graggonspeak Monthly” appears online at spaceandtime.net and takes the same reader’s advisory approach in reviewing short fiction and poetry from the previous month.

Hello dear reader! I hope you’re doing well during these strange and difficult times. I had quite the problem writing this column this time around – and its an excellent problem to have considering this is only the second of the quarterly Graggonspeak installments to be published. The problem? There was a lot of stuff that made it my way for possible review and SO MUCH OF IT was excellent. My only regret is that I consumed so much material this quarter that I loved and felt needed to be in the article, that I can’t spend several pages gushing over each item.

Austin Gragg
Independence, MO
Autumn 2020

Anthologies

Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, Edited by Zelda Knight & Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald (Aurelia Leo, ISBN 978-1-946024-89-3, $29.99, 250pp) August 2020

This anthology will do exactly what sff readers crave: it will transport you. This volume is a huge achievement for the genre field. From the explosive fantasia to lush introspections – Dominion will blow your mind then leave you with an itching desire for more fiction of the same transportive quality. From dead gods, to a girl stuck in time, to survivors of a mass abduction – this anthology is excellent. But not only is the tome stellar: it’s important. Dominion is the first anthology of spec-fic and poetry by Africans and the African Diaspora.

I particularly enjoyed “Thresher of Men” by Michael Boatman because it was a rather uncomfortable read. There’s quiet a bit of that in this anthology – but it’s all good discomfort, the kind that leaves you thinking about the story long after reading it. Knight and Donald have done a superb job with this book and every word is worth your attention.

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn (Omnium Gatherum, ISBN 9781949054279, $13.99, 231pp) September 2020

Black Cranes is an anthology of Southeast Asian writers exploring “…what it is to be a perpetual outsider.” When I found out about this title, I was familiar with Lee Murray’s editorial work on Hellhole: An Anthology on Subterranean Terror – so I was instantly excited. However, then I noticed the other names involved – a list of some of the best of the best who write short horror and sff fiction today.

I went from excited to stoked. Then I saw the cherry on top – a foreword by Alma Katsu (The Hunger, 2019). I knew then that despite being close on deadline for this column, I needed to devour this book and see if I could fit it in. Full disclosure, our magazine’s publisher is in this collection, but the decision to review it was entirely at my discretion, as are all reviews.

I’ll be damned if this book doesn’t fight hard and get far on the road to a Stoker Award. I have many favorites in this book, but I’ll point particularly to the first story: “The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter” by Elaine Cuyegkeng. Cuyegkeng’s tale is a perfect blend of the familiar and the strange. It’s a tale about familial expectations and “obligations.” But it’s also a story of generational resistance. And that theme of resistance, reminiscent of Do Not Go Quietly from Apex Books, resonates with bold originality throughout. The flow of this anthology is stellar editorial work. This book is as timely as it is important in adding to the diversity of the horror field.

New Fiction and Nonfiction from Tim Waggoner—Tim Waggoner has new fiction and nonfiction out!

Writing in the Dark (Guide Dog Books, ISBN 1947879235, $19.95, 236pp) September 2020

I am a huge fan of writing craft books. In fact, I own about fifty or so strewn about my house — the small reference section holding the Writer’s Digest books on craft is one of my “must take a look there” sections at my local bookstore. I read through the first half of this book in a feverish fury hadn’t had since I read On Writing by Stephen King. Waggoner has written a book that is both easy to read beginning to end as well as it is to use as a reference book. What sets this book apart from many other writing craft books is its focus on horror. Waggoner is practical and accessible yet discusses horror and his experiences with it in deep and meaningful ways.
I’ve placed my hardcopy next to The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart by Noël Carroll —it’s that good.

Some Kind of Monster (Apex Book Company, ISBN 1937009823, $10.00, 92pp) August 2020

This novella starts at a rip-roaring pace and continues that way until the end. The story follows a young woman, Angie, who has suffered much in life and in response, decides to seek the darkness herself. What happens after death? Does magic really exist? Readers will find themselves delightfully terrified in following Angie’s journey to discover if there really
is something in the dark beyond.

Poetry Collections

The Man Who Married Death (Independently published, ISBN 1984242245, $8.00, 88pp) May 2018/August 2020 (re-issue)

While the first poem in this collection was slightly difficult for me to get through because of its length, I was so glad I pushed on for the rest of the
collection. The Man Who Married Death frames itself around the personification of Death and a protagonist who forms a relationship with it. Dark, sinister, and often vile content fills this collection in the best ways possible.

This is horror poetry like I have never seen before. Amy Langevin’s finesse with language is reminiscent of the gruesome yet literary style of Clive Barker. In fact, if I had been told that this was the new Clive Barker poetry book, I would have bought the lie. Content warnings are a must with this title (Graphic violence, suicide, rape). This collection is not for the faint of heart, but if your heart can take it, you should consider picking it up. Those who enjoy the dramatics of opera will especially enjoy the many layers of dark and brooding poetry. Vampiric, could also describe the tone. Langevin has crafted an excellent narrative throughout this collection – one that may have you question your own relationship with life and Death.

Questions for the Dead by K. B. Marie (Timberlane Press, ISBN 1949577341, $11.83, 100pp) August 2020

This title is the least “speculative” title for review this time around – yet holds massive potential appeal for sff readers. The name K. B. Marie is new to the poetry scene, but this is a pseudonym for USA TODAY bestselling author Kory M Shrum who writes dark urban fantasy among many other fantastic things. This ekphrastic collection of poetry engages with art in both the Louvre and the Uffizi. Poetry is everywhere these days and it’s difficult to find good poetry. But Questions for the Dead demonstrates mastery of the art.

This collection can be read with or without the companion pieces of art which are all openly accessible through the internet. This collection will have you feeling like a time traveler as K. B. Marie interrogates artists immerses herself in the pieces, and brings current discourse to the table with masterful depth and no lines wasted. Nine months in, this is undoubtedly the best poetry book I have read in 2020 and is instantly an all time favorite for me.

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Copyright © 2020 by Austin Gragg