L.S. Johnson delivers a provocative and original short story collection that ingeniously blends myth and nightmare. Whether it concerns the efforts of an infertile witch to construct a golem-baby, or a daughter’s quest to understand a father’s guilt and a mother’s supernatural infidelities, or a woman’s violent association with a group of possibly imaginary but nonetheless dangerous little men, each story in this remarkable collection demonstrates the limitless capacity of intelligent speculative fiction to enthrall, inspire, and amaze.
I received this eBook from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Vacui Magia is a novel filled with dark fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories. They’re not meant to just terrify but to shock you, make you think and intrigue you.
These stories had awesome world building. The separate stories were either contemporary settings or historical settings. Each of story was entirely unique and neither one crossed over into each other. The characters were complex and interesting.
While none of these stories had gratuitous gore that many people relate to horror movies and stories, it still had that horror element. Horror can be more than just disgust, it is shock and fear as well. Some of these stories were definitely shocking.
Little Men with Knives featured a cafeteria lady who was unhappy in her life setting. She listened to her neighbours fight at night and fed these gnome like creatures. By day, it dragged on. She learned the gnomes would help her around the house if she fed them right. Eventually she learned they could do more than clean a house.
For me, this definitely hit the nail on the head for the concept of the fey folk Brownies or Hobs. If you feed them clotted cream and other goodies, they will help out around the house. Ignore them and they create mischief.
The titled story Vacui Magia plays heavily with magic. A lonely woman who wishes she had had children. She consults her grimoire and makes the decision to do forbidden magic and create herself a golem. This is a unique point of view as it is in the second-person voice. Rare to see.
I found this fascinating, especially the quote where a witch should know her heart as intimately as her hands or face. It definitely touches in that idea that the study of magic is a whole being idea. This was one of my favourite tales from the book.
The Pursuit of the Whole is Called Love is about gender switching aliens who explore the human nature of sex, marriage, and oneself.
For me, this was a bit too weird. I honestly couldn’t get into it. However, I wouldn’t say that this was a bad story. It just didn’t mesh as well for me.
Germinant is about a young girl who disobeys her mother and ends up suffering the consequences of her disobedience. It’s a rather surreal way of seeing oneself suffering consequences. This one was also a little too strange for me. I didn’t really understand it or understand the time frame the story was placed in.
Vendemiare had to be my all time favourite. It had a lot of a Twilight Zone-esque feeling to it. The story involves a dying village and vineyard, cursed by the wife of the vineyard owner. It also involves a half-breed demon child and the dreamy yet horrifying state that the child and the voice of the story’s mother. I absolutely adored the concept and the story was well written. You felt like you were there along with Arianne as she tries to rescue her half sibling.
This is How You Lose Yourself is the shortest story. It’s almost more of a poem. It definitely dances with the darker side of these stories.
Clotho sits more in the mythological side of this story. Many may not know but Clotho is the youngest of the Three Fates who are responsible for spinning the threads of fate. This tale speaks of the progression the sister’s go through, but in a different lighting.
This was another of my favourite stories. I’m especially interested in mythological tales.
Julie spoke of a woman who was turned to prostitution by her aunt and her lover. A sad tale, for the times. She is the muse for a writer (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) and listens to everyone praise him while she struggles to say that he stole her life story. She exacts revenge on him eventually and pays the ultimate price for it.
So this anthology of short stories had some great tales and some weird tales; but what I dislike doesn’t necessarily mean anyone else won’t like it. I especially enjoyed that all the protagonists were female, with the exception of the story involving the aliens.
I recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good Weird Fiction tale.
L.S. Johnson lives in Northern California. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Interzone, Long Hidden, Fae, Lackington’s, Strange Tales V, and other venues. Currently she’s working on a fantasy trilogy set in 18th century Europe.