Published in Issue 23 of Visionary Tongue, Winter 2007.

This collection of short stories is spun out of the theme of the spelling bee: a much loved school-based institution in the US that has recently crossed over the pond in the form of the latest TV quiz craze (Deal or No Deal doesn’t count–that’s just opening boxes).

On the cover, a small girl spells out the words that could be as sinister as ‘Vivisepulture’ or ‘Macerate’, to name two of the titles. It seems rather apt, given that most of the stories deftly turn tales of the familiar into tales of the uncanny.

Although some of the stories rely on a stretching of the definition of their chosen title word to get the tales to fit, this is a pleasing collection of ‘eye gifts’ as Jay Lake might put it (from his description in ‘Transpt: “Crossing the Seven”’): The collection poses the obscure next to the weird next to the touchingly real. Stories such as Clare Dudman’s ‘Eczema’, Tim Pratt’s ‘Autochthonous: “From Around Here”’ and Elizabeth Hand’s ‘Vignette’ are intelligent and dream-like. A special mention must be made of Paolo Bacigalupi’s ‘Macerate: “Softer”’ with its vivid portrayal of murder, made all the more disturbing by the gentle imagery used. Fans of Michael Moorcock will be pleased to read an excellent Elric story here: ‘INSOUCIANT: “A Portrait in Ivory”’. My favourites though would have to be the first three stories, which are Liz Williams’s ‘Lyceum’, Hal Duncan’s ‘Chiaroscuro: “The Chiaroscurist”’ and David Prill’s ‘Vivisepulture’, which combine clean, crisp narrative with a twist of the gothic.

If you enjoyed Kelly Link’s ‘Magic For Beginners’, this collection has the same quirky flavour, with the added bonus that you might increase your vocabulary in the reading of it.


Bantam/Spectra ISBN: 978-0-553-38433-8

Review by Donna Scott