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Guest Review: Paul Jessup reviews the Weird Dream Society’s Anthology in support of RAICES

Weird Dream Society: An Anthology in Support of RAICES

Edited by Julie C. Day

With stories by: Nathan Ballingrud, Carina Bissett, Gregory Norman Bossert, Karen Bovenmyer, Christopher Brown, Emily Cataneo, Julie C. Day, Michael J Deluca, Gemma Files, A.T. Greenblatt, Nin Harris, Chip Houser, James Patrick Kelly, Marianne Kirby, Kathrin Köhler, Matthew Kressel, Jordan Kurella, Premee Mohamed, Sarah Read, Sofia Samatar, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Steve Toase, A.C. Wise

Okay, anyone who knows me knows I like my fiction Weird. That’s Weird-weirdly-weird with a capital W weeiiirrrrdddd. So, you may think, what does one weirdo think of this weird collection? I adored it. This is weird as it should be, weird that does what weird does best. But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Most reviews save that kind of judgement to the last paragraph, teasing its way through plot overviews and rambling review commentary and all sorts of stuff like that.

But I’ve never been one for rules or guidelines, and really neither is this collection. I will say, I knew a few of these stories ahead of time, they were favorites published in off beat anthologies and magazines back in the day, so seeing them here was a joy and a promise of things to come. You know an anthology is going to be good when you recognize some of your favorites right away. But enough, enough, enough. Singing praises is so gauche, don’t you think? As a reader you’re probably just sitting there going, enough already! Come on, Paul. Give me more. Give me meat, give me gristle, tell me what I want to know, give me a feeling of what to actually expect in this anthology.

And isn’t it sad that we expect a short blog post or article like this to fully replicate an experience of reading an entire work, boiling down into some pithy clip or soundbyte that can emulate that experience? Part of wants to just tell you to read the book and have that be that and we can all get on with our lives. A good cause gets good money, you get good stories, and that’s that.

I mean, look at that table of contents. Look at those stories! Tell me you don’t recognize a few of these. Wait, you don’t? Have you been living under a rock for a few years? Fine, fine, fine. I’ll talk about the stories and try and give you the bare experience of reading them, so you can figure out for yourself if you should go out and  buy it (and really, duh, you should).

Let’s get something else out of the way, okay? I feel like Weird Fiction as of the last few years have become stale and samey. It’s lost its weirdly way, and that’s why I am so invigorated by this collection. This is weird as it was meant to be, weird that breaks rules and rules us in strangeness.

Anyway, yes, the meat of the experience. The stories themselves! Of course I can’t cover every story here and not just reprint the collection in miniature, can I? I mean, even if I give a paragraph to every single short story, this review would become short story length itself. And really, you might as well just have bought it and read it yourself at that point. No, instead I’m going to pick a few of my favorites and talk about them here. This is one of those super rare anthologies where I didn’t hate a story (some of the others in the past that had the same effect- a few Year’s Best Anthos edited by Datlow, Windling, etc, the Tin House Fantastic Women anthology, the first Best American Fantasy, etc, if you liked any of these anthologies, you should buy this outright).

The anthology kicks off with a muted snazzle, the kind of story with prose that dazzles. It’s one of those stories where I stopped every few moments to admire a sentence or two and just let it sink in and subsume me. The Ghost Who Loved a Mannequin by Marianne Kirby is a Zinger of a story, and if you’d read it already you would laugh at the genius of my punning. It’s the right kind of weird to start this off, it’s abstract and clings to your mind with some really stark imagery, and there is a silence that haunts the narrative, in more ways than one.

What to talk about next? Should we skip to the last story already and start with a bookend of this book, or go a different route? Let’s talk instead pick one at random, shall we? Okay, I’ve closed my eyes and here we go. One, two, three…

My finger lands on…oh!  Flyover Country by the editor, Julie C. Day. Funnily enough, that’s one of the stories I read in Interzone way before I read it here! Kind of funny how that is, isn’t it? If you know anything about Interzone at all, you know this is a fantastic story that breaks the molds of speculative fiction. Again, the prose is top notch, and I found myself stopping and just re-reading bits and pieces. It sings, it does, and it adds to the narrative as a whole.

Man, it’s hard writing about a short story without giving it all away, isn’t it? I can’t distill down the essence of this story without telling you the story itself, and that ruins the surprise inside. A story about trust, a story about awareness, a story that gave me goosebumps the first time I read it and then goosebumps again when I read it now. I mean. It’s even more powerful in these days of quarantine…

Reach out and touch me. Find out what happens next…

But again, I don’t want to give away the pleasure of discovery in a story like this. Maybe I’m not fit to review short stories, maybe I can’t say too much, speak too much, without taking the joy of the story away from you. Never mind! Onward! Let’s see, let’s talk about another random story. Here we go…

One, two, three…and my finger lands on…

A Girl Who Comes out of the Chamber at Regular Intervals by Sofia Samatar. YES. Just, YES.  Look, if you’ve ever read Samatar’s fiction before, you know exactly what I’m going to say (yet again) that this prose is fantastic, poetic, that I found myself lingering over perfect words and sentences. Have you noticed a pattern here?

The best weird fiction is that kind of weird fiction, that plays with the poetry of language, that stranges everything everyday with the word choices, turning the everyday into the surrealday allday and this story is another prime example of that. So tasty, those words. But how about story? Prose without a story to hang it on is empty beauty, without core and meaning.

Come on. If you know Samatar then you know that there is a skeleton here to hang the pretty skin on. I’m normally not a fan of first person, I think it works well when it works well, but for the most part it can be tired and worn out and too much monologuing. But it works here, it never stays it’s welcome, it just flows on and on and when it ends, well. You don’t want it to end.

I’m going to take a moment here and point out the weird in this anthology is full of slippery interstatiality. And by that I mean that it doesn’t stick to one massive overarching genre that we’ve come to know as the Modern Weird. A weird that has become stale, caught up in Lovecraftian hangups, modern day gritty things that all read alike after awhile and really just aren’t weird. Not in the bones, not in the eyes, not in the mind.

These stories are what weird should be. Each one is a different subgenre and its own beast all together. Even the stories I’ve talked about so far (and two at random, no less!) are varied and wonderful and weird. Take this last story, for example. You could say it’s steampunk, you could say it’s horror, and you could also say it’s unlike anything else in this collection, and yet it fits in perfectly. This is the book of misfit stories, a true weird experience that is well worth it.
Okay, I’m going to stop now. It’s sad, because I’m starting to sound like an advertisement, and it’s not. I’m just feeling electrified by the stories in this collection because each one is a different beast, and yet they are all connected in the places that matter. They are weird, they are genre, and they contain fantastic prose I’ll keep coming back to over and over again. I mean, look at the list of writers above- it’s a really great list of writers. And reading this has me loving weird fiction again, a genre I’d felt has grown stale and boring and very very un-weird as of late.


Paul Jessup – Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award winning author of strange and slippery fiction. With a career spanning over ten years in the field, he’s had works published in so many magazines he’s lost count and three or four books published in the small press.  You can attempt to find him at https://pauljessupmain.wordpress.com/

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Categories: Book Reviews, Short Story Collections, Uncategorized

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