Growing Concerns

It’s the summer time, definitely a time of growing concerns with me. Ideally, I’d like to take Agent Orange to my whole lawn or pave it over. However, various regulations and erosion make that a poor idea. Urban living requires the futile and time consuming job of managing nature rather than giving it the much freer range allowed during my rural youth.

So, in honor of the latest seasonal holding action against nature, I called this title up on my Kindle.

This review exhibits a sort of a dereliction of reviewer duty. (Rather like my weeding and fertilizing.) Even I almost feel guilty about its lateness.

My records say I got this review copy via LibraryThing on February 3, 2014.

Normally, I’d just say we live in the age of the long tail, that this review might generate publicity and sales even years later for the book and its authors.

However, in this case, this Chupa Cabra House title isn’t even for sale any more on Amazon. However, the link below will take you to Smashwords where you can still buy it.

This brings up an unpleasant truth for authors wanting their new works reviewed. (Or, at least, the truth of how things operate at MarzAat.)

You’re not just competing for my attention with the authors whose works were released the same week, the same month, or the same year. Sometimes you’re competing with authors millennia dead. Some of us have a large mental list of titles we’d like to read. And your book, however interesting it sounds, may not rise to the top immediately.

And it’s not just a mental list with me. I have hundreds of dead tree books in the house waiting to be read and many e-books.

Publishers, authors, and editors impose opportunity costs with reading even a free book – to say nothing of reviewing a free book.

Still, I did promise a review, so I’m going to do a Low-Res Scan of the stories in the two months since I read them.

Low Res Scan: Growing Concerns, ed. Alex Hurst, 2014.Growing Concerns

With a title like Growing Concerns and a cover full of leaves and a horror publisher, you’d expect tales of sentient vegetation, malevolent and mutant plants, and mad scientists.

And that’s what you get. But you also get other approaches to the anthology theme, some non-fantastic.

I don’t remember too many bad stories in this book.

But I also don’t remember every story, so I’m going to only mention those that stuck in my memory after two months.

A frequent theme is the haunted garden, a plot of land where blood, murder, and strange plants come together. (In some ways, it’s an old theme. God in Genesis tells Cain “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the ground”.)

Donna A. Leahey runs that theme through a bitter marriage between a college professor and his wife and their duel about what to do with “The Wisteria”. Ethan Nahte’s “Pete’s Peat” is a bitter-bitten variation set in a swamp. The conflict between being a supportive spouse vs. acknowledging the truth is an additional theme running through Darren Todd’s “Plot 264”. Its narrator and his wife are undertaking organic gardening.  Bad food and worse dreams result.

The horror horticulture is a bit different in other stories. In these, it’s not old blood calling from the ground. Plenty of new blood is shed on stage.

Despite the title of N. J. Magas’ “Journal 6 of 8: Techniques in Grafting”, its protagonist is not a mad scientist, just a mad gardener. His amoral, chilling account of his child-killing “Mortus Garden” gets really gruesome when a father shows up looking for his missing daughter.

Weedy, the hero of Barry Rosenberg’s “Finding His Roots”, is a scientist and has the strange idea that plants are sentient. His lab colleague and romantic rival for another co-worker’s affections mocks him mercilessly. But Weedy starts put some alligator weed meristem cells in his brain and starts hearing voices. Something of a science fiction story since some of the peculiarities of  cloned plant behavior seemed based on actual scientific research by ecologist Richard Karban.

James S. Dorr gives us a gentle, casually toned story about a man who really just wants enough green in his lawn to keep the dirt in place and wishes his wife didn’t nag him about watching baseball and drinking beer. Then he goes to a garden store and gets some helpful advice and some very special flower “Seeds”.

There’s a macabre Alfred Hitchcock and E.C. Comic vibe running through the non-supernatural “Don’t Waste Anything” from C. J. Andrew. Its gardener is very thrifty. Plant fertilizer is expensive, and some men are just a waste of space, but she has a solution for both problems.

Sibling rivalry of a very dark sort takes place in a garden in Robert J. Santa’s “Of Sweet Peas and Radishes”. Young Victoria’s growing concern is that her infant brother is taking up too much of mom’s time.

Sinister carnivals make appearance in two stories.

To celebrate a particularly good harvest, the citizens of Durney County let a traveling show set up in Ken Goldman’s “Harvest Moon”. The acts are peculiarly bloody and the finale … Really, what were they thinking hiring somebody named Ambrose Malvolio and his Malvolio Thrill Show?

Roy C. Booth and Axel Kohagen’s “Screamin’ Siren” isn’t exactly about a carnival but a carnival ride. The Screamin’ Siren turns out to be a tree and gives rides of whatever length it wants, and, sometimes, people don’t come back from those rides. It’s also not really sure it wants the new guy, an Iowa engineering student, taking over from its current “operator”.

Redpath” by Luke Murphy at first seems to be another tedious lecture on corporate greed of the man-is-a-cancer-on-the-planet sort. An activist from nonprofit Greedwatch infiltrates an annual board meeting of Tarsus Pharmaceutical. Who and what she finds there are bad enough, but Murphy also puts a memorable sting at the end of his tale.

In some ways, “Maybe Another Day” from D. G. Sutter has an underdeveloped plot, but, in others, it’s a classic take on the anthology’s theme. During a drought on a hard scrabble farm, a poor family begins to realize that the nearby trees have found another source of water: their bodies.

At worst, these 18 stories are ho-hum and predictable, but there are enough good ones that, if you can find a copy, it’s worth picking up if you like mad scientists or have an uneasy or resentful relationship with the silent, always encroaching, and needy vegetable kingdom.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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