Genre: sci fi / horror anthology
Queer Representation: bisexual, trans, nobinary, lesbian
There’s no great way to summarize this anthology so I want to start off with this: I read this book around six months ago and I am still thinking about the stories in it. Even when life ate up every last second of my free time, somehow, these short stories stuck in my brain like hardening tree sap. And I’m not a big horror fan, even gentle horror like this, which I think speaks to the absolutely superb writing from Stufflebeam (what a name!) Honestly, I don’t even remember how I got this book. It’s been on my shelf, has no publicity contact form (so it wasn’t likely mailed to me like most review material), which means someone likely handed it to me at a con.
Publicists know my taste. Random people at cons do not. So to have a book land like this, is just flat out spectacular.
My favorite story in this collection is The Lifespan of Shadows, in which a sentient house conspires to force its former occupants to remain there. The two soon-to-be victims grew up in the house, and story is filled with detailed memory that deeply resonates.
The house is flat out spooky, but in that highly-relatable way in which you can follow the progression from I’m lonely to I will trap these people here forever (relatable, not saying I’d actually DO that).
The house did not know the difference. The house wanted to be loved For a moment, it thought Beth would give it that without asking for something in return, But she would not. As for Jackie, her love for the house wouldn’t be enough to save it. That much the house knew like it knew it was made from pier-and-beam, from concrete and fluffy pink insulation, from wood and granite and carpet fibers. A terrible truth; it would never be skin. But it could witness skin. The house wanted Beth and Jackie to stay. Beth and Jackie would stay, if it was the last thing the house did.
I also really enjoyed The Damaged, so much so that I reread the whole short before writing this review. It doesn’t have much of an arc, this story, but it’s so engaging right from the start that it doesn’t really matter.
Robin Underwood is an engineer for Playmates, a line of artificial intelligence sex dolls. Due to some alluded to previous bad relationships and the contractual inability to own her own Playmate, Robin finds one of the homeless ‘damaged’ playmates, takes him home, and after some bathing and sex, decides to open him up and see where her programming went wrong. She ends up taking out his heart, which is beating far too fast, and examining it.
Night after night she brings home more damaged Playmates, each of which she sleeps with and then takes apart. All have a little box inside their heart and within each little box, a screw that’s coming loose. Eventually a Playmate catches Robin and works with her to solve the mystery, and we do get an answer in the end…but goodness the treatment of Robin’s serial killer nature is just so well done. There’s a lot of ‘this would be a crime if XYZ but it isn’t’ bits, and the absolute blasé nature of her shoving Playmate bodies into dumpsters, only being able to fall asleep to the waning light of a dying Playmate, is both macabre and brilliant.
I did this again and again, the next night and the next. It began to feel like part of a routine. Without it, without the dying embers of artificial life beside me, I found I couldn’t sleep.
With Halloween just around the corner, you owe yourself this book. Maybe a Playmate too? You can definitely buy them both here. And yes, there’s absolutely tons of sapphic content, and some nice nonbinary rep as well. Neopronouns ahoy!