the Little Red Reviewer

Clockwork Phoenix 4, edited by Mike Allen

Posted on: June 4, 2013

Clockwork Phoenix 4, Edited by Mike Allen

Available July 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the editor (thanks Mike!!)

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What kind of stories will you find in Clockwork Phoenix 4? Only those are that are magical, imaginative, heartwrenching, just plain bizarre, forward-looking, backward-looking, biological, romantic, hopeful, darkly funny and openly frightening. All the words that describe the best speculative fiction you’ve ever read apply. In fact, if this isn’t the epitome of speculative fiction, I don’t know what is.

Mike recently did an interview with me over at BSBB, and I asked him about the job of an editor. Among other things, he described it as being similar to being the director of a play. Did you recently see a play or a movie that was more than the sum of its parts? How about a musical that was only 2 hours long, but seemed to have weeks of song in it? That’s what Clockwork Phoenix feels like, like time has been frozen, allowing Allen to cram far more beautiful strange things than the laws of physics should permit in less than 300 pages. Allen is a dude who really, really knows how to direct.

I used to always read anthologies in the order the stories were presented. I started liking anthologies much better after I decided I’d read the stories in any damn order I wanted (usually starting with the shortest). I know Mike Allen put these stories in this particular order, for a particular reason, and by reading them out of order it’s like I’m going through his carefully curated museum backwards. To be even more contrary, the order I’ve reviewed a handful of stories in isn’t the order they were presented in either.

I’ve not read much from most of the authors in this collection, so I greatly appreciated the “Pinions” section in the back, where each other offers a short bio, and more importantly a little snippet about how their story came to be. It was very nice to read that Corrine Duyvis is an arachnophobe.

Here are my thoughts on a handful of selected entries. This is just the smallest taste of what awaits you within these pages. Where available, click on the author’s name to visit their website.

The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – The Old Woman has hired someone to transcribe her story, but since he keeps getting things wrong she interrupts and tells him what he aught to be writing down. Their interaction is hilarious, but her story starts out sadly. The Old Woman is very lonely, and wants a family. She goes into the city to find orphans who might want to be adopted, and instead finds another population that is in more dire need of being wanted. It’s a little jarring how the story goes from a fantasy-feel to a matter-of-fact feel, but in the end it all works out.

Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – what happens when two story cliches meet each other? Beach Bum is the mysterious guy the female protagonist always meets in the story, maybe to fall in love with, maybe to learn something from, maybe to be hurt by, maybe just to watch. Drowned Girl is the dead girl the investigator always finds, the mystery to be solved, the child to be saved. And who knows? Maybe Beach Bum and Drowned Girl can help each other out and learn from each other. It couldn’t hurt to chat with another cliché, could it?

The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter by Ian McHugh– Behra’s father keeps her sisters around, but she’s the only one who survived. The ninth daughter, her father speaks through her mouth to better focus his magic. Quite at odds with her violent and ruthless home, Behra exudes hope and innocence. She has no idea how powerful she really is, which is perhaps why her father keeps her imprisoned on the barge. He’s a cruel and disgusting creature, what causes a man to do what he did to her sisters? Behra cares only for her half-brother Chiufi, and perhaps for the little porcelain golem who has the power to change her life.

Trapweed by Gemma Files – I always like me a Selkie story. After an ill-fated swim, the selkie Ciaran finds himself aboard a ship captained by a sorcerer and manned by sea creatures forced into human form. With his skin held hostage, Ciaran stays aboard and learns to be a sailor. A fast paced and creepy story from beginning to end, I really wasn’t sure if Ciaran would survive to the end. Captain Jerusalem Parry’s use and misuse of his ship and his crew make spending a day on the Flying Dutchman sound like a vacation. An unlikely ally and a anomalous island lead to a very a satisfying conclusion. We get a few hints of Captain Parry’s past, and I’d happily read an entire novel about him.

What Still Abides by Marie Brennan – I read this, but I swear to you, I heard it too. Written nearly in meter, this story moved forward not by sentences and paragraphs, but by heartbeats and counted breaths. Incredibly transportive, it has an Old English feel to it, with thanes and eorls and a wight that gains strength from the blood of mortals. This is the story of a haunted grave, and of the twisted start of a new religion. It felt like a bedtime story gone horribly wrong. Marie Brennan blew my mind earlier this year with her A Natural History of Dragons, I think I should get used to that blowing minds is simply what she does. Looking back at my review for the third volume of Clockwork Phoenix, it surprises me not at all to find Brennan’s entry was one of my favorites.

Lilo Is by Corinne Duyvis – this was one of the last stories I read, and I wish it had been the first. An unplanned pregnancy is made all the more complicated by the fact that the child’s father is a spider demon. Lilo’s mother loves her, who wouldn’t love their own child? But Lilo isn’t like other children, she has hidden arms and hidden fangs, everything she inherited from her father is hidden. Lilo’s poor mother is helpless when it comes to helping the little girl learn how to make beautiful webs, or learn how to control her natural hungers. Her mother wants Lilo to feel loved and accepted, and isn’t this what everyone wants for their children? But her mother doesn’t know how to help her little girl, because she doesn’t know how to be part spider. If you’ve ever felt the need to help someone and didn’t know how, or paced helplessly as a loved one went through something you couldn’t protect them from, you need to read this story. I’m arachnophobic, and I read this story twice, even after it brought tears to my eyes the first time. I felt so terrible for Lilo’s mother. How many times did my parents not understand what I was going through, how many times was I unable to articulate what I was feeling?

The Bees Her Heart, The Hive Her Belly by Benjanun Sriduangkaew– Futuristic and surreal, and filled with words that felt like bubbles popping on my tongue, this is certainly one of the best stories in the volume. Sennyi is dying, and instead of being a burden to her family, she opts instead to have a small animal take the place of her heart. In exchange she’ll be a subject of the cyberneticist who invented the technology. Hoping for a bird, she receives a nest of bees instead. You’d think it would be strange to have the buzzing of bees instead of a heartbeat, but Sennyi adapts beautifully, even having additional modifications made to her body to ensure the comfort of the hive. When Sennyi goes on her search for the cyberneticist the bees prove to be surprisingly useful. This is certainly one of the strangest, most unexpected stories I have ever read. Sriduangkaew’s prose is balanced and comforting, strange but inviting, it feels like a sunset trapped in amber.

My favorite thing about Clockwork Phoenix 4 is the pure diversity of what it contains. While the subject matter of each entry was completely different, each pushed and pulled at me, each transported me. Each was it’s own universe, it’s own experience. I suppose that’s why the cover is blue? Clockwork Phoenix 4 is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

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14 Responses to "Clockwork Phoenix 4, edited by Mike Allen"

Mike Allen really has a talent for culling the best of the best. He not only features the innovative writing of new and weird spec Fic but the best of that! The stories of the previous CP anthologies I have found to be still live in my mind and reading them has educated me almost to a point of “dispatience” with so-so quality writing. It has been very rewarding to explore the other writings of the authors he’s included in all four anthologies.

Mythic Delirium Issue 0.1 just hit my ebook-coding desk. This, you’re going to like. He’s decided to include fiction as well as poetry.

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I love that he includes known and unknown authors. The “famous” anthologies are the Year’s Best ones, and everyone knows all those authors. you might discover a new short story, but you probably won’t discover a new author. In Mike’s collections, sure there are a few authors I’d heard of, like Marie Brennan and Tanith Lee, but my favorite stories are nearly always from an author that’s new to me. and I love that!

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I loved Lilo! That story broke my heart even though I had to imagine her as a little less of a spider to get through it. Trapweed was another great one and so was The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter. I read most of the stories in order but skipped around a bit and did go back and re-read too. Lilo was one that got a second look from me.

Fantastic review. I need to release mine into the wild soon. It’s taking me forever to write mostly because I keep going back and adding more. I need to just decide it’s done and let it go.

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Lilo didn’t cure me of my arachnophobia. If the spider-demon ever picks me up at the bar, i ain’t gonna sleep with him. ;)

Thanks for your kind words about the review. I’d been messing with it for around a week and had been staring at it so long I couldn’t tell if it was any good or not.

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[…] Reviewed at The Little Red Reviewer. […]

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Sounds like one I need to add to the toppling pile of anthologies. I’ve always loved short stories and now that I’ve committed myself to reading more of them this year the pile is growing faster than I can keep up.

I am a ‘read in order’ sort of person because I do believe (possibly erroneously as I have never asked) that editors put the stories in a particular order for a reason. Your ‘director’ analogy is perfect. My recent exception was reading Glen Cook’s story in the new Strahan anthology, Fearsome Journeys, as I was seeing him at a con. Came back to bite me in the butt a little bit because then I read the first story in the book, by one of your favs, Scott Lynch, and it is such a similar story in some ways you would swear he wrote it as an homage to Cook’s ‘Black Company’ series. Makes sense why Strahan put them so far away from each other.

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I need to get a copy of Fearsome Journeys. Scott Lynch had something funny on his blog about his entry, I believe he had written it as a homage to Glen Cook, and submitted it BEFORE learning Glen Cook would be part of the anthology. oops.

I used to be a “read in order” person, and I’d reach the one or two stories in the antho that didn’t work for me, put the thing down, and never pick it up again. I KNOW the editors put the stories in a particular order for a particular reason, and yeah, I’m destroying that by reading it in the order I want. . . but.

my short story TBR pile is exploding too. I love how Lightspeed and other magazines do a few audio shorts each month, I can listen to them in the car, it’s great!

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It is terribly obvious how much of an homage Lynch’s story is if you read them in order. I don’t recommend it. But I am enjoying the Lynch story anyway.

Occasionally I will skip past a story and continue on if I am not getting into it and it happens to be a longer one. I did that with the Elizabeth Bear story in Edge of Infinity. Came back and finished it at the end. It is the only story that I think does not fit the anthology, and I personally didn’t think it was very good. Shows what I know as it was nominated for awards season.

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[…] (Clockwork Phoenix 4, forthcoming July 2013) was included in reviews of the anthology at Little Red Reviewer and Dusty on […]

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I’ve got this anthology in my stack of awesome things waiting to be read. I like your approach of hopping around from story to story although I find the odds of myself actually completing a work diminish when I do this. I also find it a challenge with ebook anthologies trying to read out of order. Hopping around is not as easy as it is with a physical book. I jumped in on the Clockwork Phoenix 4 Kickstarter for my copy, and I think the next time I support an anthology on Kickstarter, I’m going to opt for the printed copy.

Love your review blog! Keep up the great work! Blase

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[…] What kind of stories will you find in Clockwork Phoenix 4? Only those that are magical, imaginative, heart-wrenching, just plain bizarre, forward-looking, backward-looking, biological, romantic, hopeful, darkly funny and openly frightening. All the words that describe the best speculative fiction you’ve ever read apply. In fact, if this isn’t the epitome of speculative fiction, I don’t know what is. — Little Red Reviewer […]

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[…] (Clockwork Phoenix 4, forthcoming July 2013) was included in reviews of the anthology at Little Red Reviewer and Dusty on […]

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