Book Review: Eric Syrdal’s Pantheon, by Mariah Voutilainen

if you haven’t read Pantheon yet, it should be on your shortlist…

Indie Blu(e) Publishing

Eric Syrdal’s Pantheon takes readers on an epic journey through time, space and emotion

By Mariah Voutilainen

As a keen reader of sci-fi and fantasy novels, I was very impressed by Eric Syrdal’s Pantheon.  For me, the title alone recalled deities of myth, promised encounters with larger-than-life heroes, and set up an expectation of sweeping verse.  Syrdal, a self-proclaimed romantic and sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast, does not disappoint:  He deftly weaves a tale of adventure, his protagonists crossing paths with virtuous Goddesses, who coax them toward their destinies.

As I read the first section, I worried that Pantheon was a little too heavy on the usual themes of fantasy and fairy tale:  Warhorses champing at the bit, armored fighters, swords at the ready, the proverbial dragon looming over the embattled heroic Poet.  Despite this, I continued on and was glad I did, for Syrdal quickly demonstrates that his story…

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leaving the castle by the lake

Equating home with family had always made sense to her before she had lived anywhere but this boreal country.  She knew with certainty that she was out of place here:  From her brash American-ness to her multi-ethnic appearance, no one could mistake that she was not of this land and never would be.  Curly black hair wild under her attempt at a hand-knit beanie, children still stared at her in unabashed wonder of her origin.  She had come here for her own children, but even though they could sponsor her residency, they could not make her any more acceptable in this place.

Nevertheless, she found a strange sense of peace in her bubble of otherness.  She was largely left alone, only spoken to when absolutely necessary, able to bask in her own thoughts during the quiet school days and nights when the children were asleep.  She filled the silence with songs and soliloquies or the quiet tapping of her fingers on the keyboard.  Soul food was different here, but nevertheless filled her belly with its bland richness.  Taking up a national hobby, she brushed off her needles and knit with abandon as if her creations would inspire admiration from anyone but herself.  One morning, she realized that she had dreamed in a language not her own, and thought:  Am I finally one of them?

She imagined what it would be like to go back from whence they came.  Things had changed:  Her homeland was a foreign country, more foreign than this place.  Her house had been renovated while she was gone.  Old landmarks and routines were no longer familiar.  Her driver’s license had expired long ago.  She could hardly remember street names or locations even though she had lived there for twelve years.  Shocking what absence could do.  For some, homesickness made the imprint of memories stronger.  She had never been homesick–her brand of sentimentality never allowed it.  All she had done was waved goodbye, let go, faced forward, and jumped head-first into a singular adventure of her own making.

Now in the kitchen, she peered through the blinds.  Much of her time here had been spent looking, staring, observing with intention.  She searched the evergreens in the distance, eyes stopping only once they lit upon her favorite building in the town.  In the summertime it was not visible; the foliage of cottonwood trees lining the back fence of the parking lot obscured the view.  But now, during the winter, the bare bones of the trees framed the castle with their phalanges.  It was tiny at this distance, even though she could reach it in fifteen minutes on foot if she left the apartment right now.  Its cone roof, slate grey against the sky.  Although she could not see it, she knew the lake, its face undisturbed, provided the perfect backdrop.  At night it was obsidian, reflecting the lights of the town.  In the long summer days it was wreathed with her favorite lupines in purple, pink and white.  The flowers and the lake were etched into her arm by a tattoo artist named Sanni.  The short-lived pain of carrying this special spot with her seemed a small price to pay.

She would miss this place. She felt a sadness that enveloped her entire being.  It was so powerful that she had to hold her breath to push it down.  She no longer knew where she belonged; too removed from her previous life, not enough invested in this one to plant herself firmly in a land of strangers who welcomed her as a curiosity.  There was no place that felt like home.  She wondered if there ever would be, and who she would have to become to find it.

(written 12 january 2018)

no. 107

did you think that i had disappeared?

oh my dearest,

in the off-chance you wondered at my absence

i am still here

somewhere between up and down, right and left

suspended in thought, preoccupied in stillness

but happily here, nonetheless

as you see,

my feet have come to light upon the ground

finally

i will try not to depart too soon

for our mutual liking, hoping that

you are still here

maybe returned from your own journey?

were you not dallying in the clouds?

making friends with the moon and stars?

seeking audience with the sun?

no, you say,

you were just waiting patiently for

my return.

written 5 november 2018

First Contact

on of my favorite flash fiction writer friends is sharing his amazing work in honor of his 40th birth-year. lots of marvelous pieces for all of you flash-fiction lovers!

MY 40

When the aliens arrived, we asked the scientists to figure out what they had come for first.

We asked the science fiction writers next.

We should have asked the poets sooner. They came for love.

“First Contact” was originally published in 2018 by Cuento Magazine, which has retweeted it as one of eight stories from its first eight years as part of its anniversary celebration.

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Review: Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena, by Mariah Voutilainen

i’m back with a new review! please take a look at this intriguing novella by Kindra M. Austin. you won’t be disappointed!

Indie Blu(e) Publishing

Kindra Austin’s For You, Rowena uncovers a mystery about love and relationships, and how loss can come back to haunt you.

By Mariah Voutilainen

Given a choice of literary genres, mystery is never my first to pick up.  Perhaps it is the constant and nagging question in the back of my mind: “How did the author create such a puzzle that I can’t immediately solve?”  The details, perfectly interlocking, lead to an ending that is usually satisfying, but leaves me somehow disappointed with my own inability to catch the culprit before the final chapter, or worse, obsessing about tiny clues in an attempt to solve the crime.  For You, Rowena was a different type of mystery for me:  I didn’t wonder so much at the intricacies of how a crime was planned or carried out; Kindra Austin set the scene and created characters so fascinating and sympathetic that the only…

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no. 106

preserved

today you brought me written words instead of flowers

each syllable a precious petal, pearly

i would not let them wither,

rather than putting them in a heart-shaped vase

cut crystal emotions amplifying their blooming declarations

i took those words, cut them from their papery confines

with delicate embroidery scissors, exquisite in their sharpness

and with the caution of a philatelist, used miniature tongs

to affix them in a most secret of stores

a diary in which i documented all your acts

 

(which some say should speak louder)

 

words, simple yet somehow convoluted

but yours instead of mine

i pressed them like single windblown wildflowers

preserved, stamp-like, between pages

they are more valuable to me

than bouquets

(written 11 september 2018)

flash fiction: another mystery to continue?

hello dear readers,

here’s the beginning of another short mystery…truthfully, i’m not really sure where it’s going to go, but i thought i would throw it out here and see if that motivates me to continue writing.  i don’t even know if this snippet is enough to begin…the Inspector in this story is the very same as in “A strange morning in the neighborhood“.

 

A shock in the parlor

Jones was always too little, too late.  Never could remember or settle upon a time in which inadequacy was not a defining theme of his life.

Except when it came to Dr. Missus Jones.  Yes, his polar opposite, Dr. Missus.  A shining example of humanity.

Her love for him was not without gentle judgement; she kept him in his place, grounded, but with a tether long enough to allow him to indulge in his own shortcomings.  The daydreaming, tardiness, absentminded qualities of his existence.

And so, when Jones walked into the living room, mouth already halfway around an excuse, it took a full minute to register the scene before him.

His mouth dropped open mid-syllable, then widened into a grimace.

A low moan, like something out of a walruses’ maw, escaped.

No.  The word sucked the air from his lungs.  There was Dr. Missus, sprawled on the floor, cooked-noodle limbs at odd angles.

One satin slipper languishing near the tapestried settee, the painted toenails of its foot seemed to indict Jones for his late arrival.

Jones crawled along the edge of the rug, attempting to assess the state of his wife without actually touching her body.  It was then that he noticed the blood and realized that even emergency medicine could not save her, for she had been neatly dispatched by a garrote.  The offending tool had been thrown haphazardly to the floor just shy of the rug’s tassels.

Jones felt nauseous and managed to scramble on all fours to the kitchen, where he promptly vomited on the parquet flooring.  Without amending his position, he reached for his cellular phone, dialing the police.

Suffice it to say that the paramedics and police arrived quickly and an immediate investigation began with Jones.

What time did you arrive home?

Where were you before you arrived?

How long was your commute?

Can any one verify your whereabouts?

Did your wife have any enemies or outstanding debts?

Is there anyone you know who would want to kill your wife?

Jones just stood there, monotone answers occasionally punctuated by the walrus moan, which caused the interrogators to eye him with concern.  Soon the duty officers departed, suggesting he contact loved ones and consider staying somewhere else for the evening.

And just as they were leaving, the Inspector walked in.  She met the eyes of the officer speaking to Jones with her cool stare, and he stumbled over his words.  After a pause, he deferred to his superior,

The inspector will speak with you now, Mr. Jones.  Our deepest condolences.  He beat a hasty retreat toward the wide open front door to make room for the Inspector.

Did you love your wife, Mr. Jones? The Inspector’s question caught him unawares.  He looked down at his work-worn hands before he faced the Inspector,

Of course I did. She was my safe haven. He groaned again, tears escaping the corners of his eyes.

I’ll take a look around, if you don’t mind.  The Inspector did not wait for the affirmative response.

When the Inspector left the premises about an hour later, there was a small huddle of officers waiting for her.  They looked at her expectantly, murmuring to each other

The old gal’s looking quite confident there, isn’t she?

She’s got it all tied up in a neat package now, for sure!
Wonder when she’ll make her report, mebbe tomorrow?

The Inspector ignored all the talk and made her way past the subordinates.  Her pace quickened as she exited the front gate and moments later, she was cocooned in the smells of automobile leather and artificial lavender air freshener.  Of course it would start to drizzle now, but at least she was dry.  She took a deep but shaky breath and reviewed her handwritten notes.  Perhaps it would take a few days, but she was certain she could solve this crime, and she was certain the guilty party was not far off.