Short Fiction Review: ‘Ramesses on the Frontier’ & ‘Bit-U-Men’

October 25th  saw the publishing of what I believe to be something of a unique work in our modern times. Namely, an anthology of Mummy Stories!! New Mummy Stories!! And some old ones too if you’re in to that sort of thing. Yup, Jurassic London (who I didn’t even know about until this) published Book of the Dead and a companion anthology called Unearthedwhich ‘resurrects’ some old mummy stories written by authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Louisa May Alcott!

Needless to say, I was very excited to get my paws on some of the stories inside these two epic tomes. My mind was racing with possibilities. Some of what I came up with can be found over at the Amazing Stories Blog, but of course I couldn’t keep everything under a reasonable post length so a lot got omitted. A lot! But, I’m not here to dazzle you all with my brilliant imagination, I’m here to write about books (and really anything else that pops into my brain, but books lately).

I’m also incredibly frugal. I think it comes with the territory. The more I write about books, the more I realize how time consuming it is to write about books. So, as not to waste both time and money on this somewhat risky, albeit exciting adventure, I decided to first search out and find some samples of the work for which I was contemplating a purchase. Also, I was able to link to two different stories from the website. What I found was . . . Well just keep reading.

Cover!!

Cover!!

Ramesses on the Frontier by Paul Cornell

This was the first story I read. It was posted on Tor’s website and advertised in their newsletter (indeed the news letter is how I found out about all of this). I didn’t have time to read the story immediately but had to postpone reading until a later date. As I had mentioned earlier, my mind was filling up with expectation. Mummies resurrecting,  collecting organs, turning into giant sand storms! I was absolutely giddy.

Unfortunately, upon sitting down to finally read Ramesses on the Frontier I found that my dreams of giant sand storms and ruthless pharaohs had been smashed to pieces like Canopic jars unable to stand the test of time (thankfully I still have all of my organs). What I received instead, was a POV ride along of some mummy trekking across America in an attempt to reach the afterlife. And not once did he turn into a giant sand storm.

All joking aside, I understand that Ancient Egypt has a rich history and there are likely endless possibilities to the stories you can tell. I suppose part of my negativity is that I didn’t get the one I was imagining (aka sand storms). I think the other part is that I really couldn’t understand what was going on within the story. Let me explain. In Ramesses on the Frontier we are (as mentioned earlier) POV Ramesses, waking up after something like 3,000 years of being a box of bandages. Somewhat humorously, he believes the world to exist as he knew it in ancient times. As he discovers modernity, he looks to ancient devices to describe new marvels of which he is not familiar. For instance, he describes what I assume are cell phones, as ‘spell jars’. He is pleased upon gazing into his ‘spell jar’ that all of the spells he cast before dying are still active. I assume he’s using apps? And that somehow these apps are to his liking? (I hope I’m not just missing the boat entirely and this is obviously something else) I guess what I’m feeling is a disconnect between what the author is trying to portray and what is actually written on the page. Like somehow Ancient Egypt is foreign to me (because it actually is) though through point-of-view it’s supposed to be my home, and the modern world is still foreign to me, as well as poor Ramesses. Obviously I need to just go watch Brendan Fraser scream at some mummies.

Bit-U-Men by Maria Davhana Headly

No sand storms in this one either, but I feel like I can write much more positively about this story than the other. Mostly because I enjoyed it more.

Other Cover!!

Other Cover!!

In order to understand what’s going on in this story, you have to understand something very important about history. Well, maybe it isn’t ‘very important’ to general history but . . . what you need to know is that back in the early 1900’s, people were chopping up mummies and making them in to all kinds of things. Ink, medicine, aphrodisiacs, the list goes on. In this story, they’re cutting up mummies (well only one) and making candy. Crazy right?! But also really cool.

There weren’t any narrative hiccups in this story to get bogged down in, which was a blessing after reading the last story. Everything seemed clearly written, and the parts that were supposed to be mysterious were well articulated and not in the least bit confusing. Just mysterious. This story also seems to cover a great deal of time in a relatively short amount of words. Lots of themes crammed in there too but they don’t seem to crowd. Just a pleasant story. Typically, this is where I’d delve into the details of the plot or characterization but I think it’s better if you read the story for yourself. It can be found here at Light Speed Magazine.

Conclusion

In all, I’m still super excited to finally purchase Book of the Dead, and likely it’s companion Unearthed. Despite the anthology’s seemingly rocky start, I feel that there are enough other stories contained within that I will be able to find at least a few that I enjoy. Maybe I’ll get some giant sandstorms afterall!

Laters!

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