the Little Red Reviewer

Wild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming, by Alethea Kontis

Posted on: May 26, 2014

wild and wishful KontisWild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming, by Alethea Kontis

published Oct 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Alliteration Ink!)

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Before last week, I’d only read a few Alethea Kontis stories, mostly what had been published in Apex Magazine. But I’d like what I’d read, and was interested in reading more. Kontis is a writer known for everything from fairy tale retellings, to secret history, to horror stories.  She doesn’t let genre boundaries limit what she writes, and many of these stories were inspired by events from her life or her friend’s lives.  She lives with one foot in a magical world, where anything is possible.

Her collection, Wild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming, contains everything mentioned in the title and more. These eighteen short stories and two poems range from dark horror to science fiction, to coming of age, to revenge, often returning to themes of facing our fears, traps and escape, and that we ultimately don’t have to go it alone. Many of these pieces are perfect for reading out loud, and some of them were even designed that way.

What’s nice about single author collections is that the author’s voice can be heard as a constant note through the entire book. And Kontis’s voice is here, loud and strong. this is a woman who wants to take you new place and show you paths you didn’t see before.

Ultimately, Kontis is a woman who knows she’s got a story you want to hear.

The first two stories are fun and satisfying, yet both seemed to run out of storytelling steam before the stories actually ended.  The opening story, 183 Million Light Years from Home is a fun little story with two intertwining storylines.  On the long rural drive home from a meeting with a chatty and wealthy business partner,  Allen Cooper balances his job anxieties against his nervousness of becoming a father.  In Parallel, explorers are hoping their latest scout will be the one that finally, finally gives them the information they’ve been searching the galaxy for. The two story lines come together in an explosive and surreally funny fashion. Allen Cooper will never know how his buzzed driving saved mankind.    Next we have Blood, Sweat and Tears, a twisted rags to riches story of a successful author’s dark secret. Everything Angelica Monroe touches turns to gold, all of her novels are best sellers. She returns from mysterious sabbatical as talented as ever, but this time, with a partner. The second half of the story focuses on Angelica’s paranoia and emotional deterioration, which only seemed to drag the story out.

A little later we get a connected pair of joyously fun science fiction stories, The Way of the Restless, and Savage Planet. Chronologically, Savage Planet comes first, but the effect is best if you read them in the order presented. In a laugh out loud but oddly realistic conceit that was inspired by a youth of listening of soap operas being watched in the next room, human cloning has allowed and fostered the idea of cloning the genes of dead celebrities.  Want to have the baby of Elvis Presley or Jon Bon Jovi, or Fabio Lanzoni? No problem.  The Way of the Restless follows one such Elvis. Except he’s not a crooner, he’s a bounty hunter/scout for hire.  He goes from a mission at a ghost town colony clean up to an art heist. And when he’s caught red handed stealing a velvet Elvis? Means it’s time to send an dramatic and impossible to misinterpret message to the woman who broke his heart. Think Firefly snark meets alien technology meets melodrama. That equation equals fun.

Taking place in the same universe and one of my favorite stories in the collection, Savage Planet is a direct prequel to Way of the Restless.  If Restless is Firefly meets melodrama, then Savage Planet is Alien meets Pern. Blu and Kat follow a distress call to what they think is a vacant planet. At one time, the planet had been inhabited, but now it’s just ruins and verdant jungle, and one very lonely holographic message. The woman in the message warns Kat and Blu that there are spiders in the sun.  This planet has a very eccentric orbit, and it’s already gotten too close to its sun, the spiders have already landed. If scifi horror is your thing (it’s mine), this will surely be one of your favorite stories in the collection, as it was mine.  Savage Planet offers one of the most intense, terrifyingly horrific escape scenes I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Kontis has plenty more than contemporary horror and scifi adventure on tap.  Take a look at Diary of a Ghost’s Mistress.  Taking place in Germany in 1946, Maddie has been left behind by the soldier she followed. She couldn’t follow him to his death, though. Surrounded by a dicrepid castle and servants from the village, Maddie is lonely and miserable. She finds what passes for peace and solitude in the old bell tower. And she meets Danika, a young woman who also battled misery, depression, and a curse. Danika pulls Maddie into her story, into her curse, and maybe this is exactly the safe escape Maddie needs.  the two women don’t parallel each other, but in a way, they do. This story goes in a completely unexpected direction, and by freeing a ghost, Maddie frees herself.

I’ll finish off by discussing The Monster and Mrs. Blake, another one of my favorites. This story is as terrifying as it is enlightening.  Young Jeremy has a monster who lives under his bed. The monster throws his furniture around, nibbles his toes, drools on him, and threatens to eat him alive. Covered in bruises from the monster’s beatings, Jeremy wears long sleeves and a hat to school.  His mother offers to help,  but Jeremy is embarrassed that his problem has gotten so out of control. He finally takes her up on the offer, and who knew his Mom knew so much about monster slaying?  To any parents reading this review, this is the perfect story to read out loud to your child. Is it scary? Yes.  Does it have a happy ending? Yes.
I haven’t talked about as many of the stories as I usually would, because this was a mixed bag for me.  As you can see, there were plenty of stories I really enjoyed. But there were plenty, probably a good one third of them, I just didn’t connect with. Sometimes it was something that knocked me out of the story, be it a draggy plot, info-dumpy or clunky dialog, or dreamlike surrealism that went so far that I couldn’t tell if this was actually happening to a character or if they were just fantasizing. And sometimes it was just me not quite connecting with the character or the story.  It happens, you know? That said, Kontis really needs to turn either Savage Planet or The Way of the Restless (or both!) into a novel.

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2 Responses to "Wild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming, by Alethea Kontis"

You really write excellent, insightful reviews. I’m unfailingly impressed, even when a book doesn’t sound particularly appealing to me, as is the case here. Oh, and happy memorial Day.

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thanks for your always kind words. Had Savage Planet been later in the collection, I may have never gotten to it, because i may have put the collection down and never picked it back up again. For the most part, just wasn’t my cup of tea.

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