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The Lorelei Signal is a fantasy webzine dedicated to strong female characters. With three issues now under her belt, editor Carol Hightshoe has commemorated the first year of publication with the release of A Time To… Volume 1. This anthology brings together the best short stories and poems of The Lorelei Signal 2006, and it stands as testament to what a success that inaugural year was.

The best of issue 1 kicks off with Lee Martindale's Act of War. This piece of flash fiction uses stark descriptions to build a tense and creepy atmosphere, as a group of villagers take refuge inside a warehouse. Outside, soldiers are preparing for battle against something that approaches. The story is tidy and complete, and there's a great twist at the end, but its briefness has the feel of a prologue, and that makes it perfect for the first story of the anthology.

Blood and Ashes by Michele Acker plumps us straight onto a blood-soaked battlefield during the height of a war. Our protagonist, Sorea, is a woman posing as a man in the army, and facing the complications that brings. And as the day on the battlefield grows long, she soon realises that it sometimes takes a woman to know a woman, and it's a lesson learned too late. The sense that everything may not be as it seems is carried through this tale from start to finish. Acker packs a lot of character information into a relatively short piece, but it doesn't detract from an otherwise enjoyable story.

Next up comes Kayelle Allen's The Last Vhalgenn, which is also the longest story in the anthology. Raik is the king's concubine, recalled to the kingdom from her duties with the army. The king's wife is pregnant, and the unification of two lands depends on the birth. Here, with a clash of cultures, Raik is assigned a covert mission, where she walks a precarious line between the greater good and an act of treachery. Although Allen's prose is easy to read, and the story is both engrossing and poignant, I felt that as a whole The Last Vhalgenn could've been developed a little further. The story is 10,000 words long, and with a few thousand more it could go from being a decent yarn to a great tale.

The final outing from issue 1 is Urania by Bobbi Sinha-Morey. This poem of the ancient Greek muse draws the picture of a lonely woman, isolated in her dreams of the heavens. For a deity who holds philosophers and astronomers most dear, Sinha-Morey's lavish description of the galaxy creates a perfect atmosphere for thought and seclusion.

And this brings us to best of issue 2. First up is Before Their Time by Elizabeth Barrette. This is arguably the best poem in the anthology. It's a satirical look at how men have fashioned mythologies in a way that has pushed woman to the back, or portrayed them in a bad light. Both funny and sad, Barrette makes a strong point that these mythologies have created a mind-set that can never be rewritten.

J. Michael Matuszewicz's Debtor is a story of mystery and intrigue. When an old man receives visits from an enigmatic young girl, he assigns her domestic chores in return for food and board. Here, debts are revealed, both new and old, and it slowly becomes apparent that this unlikely pairing are not the complete strangers they first appear to be. Matuszewicz paces this story well, and does a great job of dangling clues that lead to a conclusion steeped in the mythic.

In Nim of the Kamankay, Tracie McBride presents us with a warrior worthy of any Sword and Sorcery story. Nim is nobody's fool, a battle-hardened soldier who has to prove her mettle with the band of mercenaries she wishes to join. The tale is very short, and reads much like an early segment from a full-length novel. The atmosphere and characters McBride creates reminded me of Robert E. Howard, and that's what I found most appealing; it took me back to my schooldays, and all those summers spent reading the exploits of Conan the Barbarian. It would be a crime, I think, if this was Nim's one and only outing.

The last selection from issue 2 is M.H. Bonham's When the Vengeance is Gone. This is a SciFi story that parodies the Nazi witch-hunt that occurred after WWII. In a land that is rapidly becoming a totalitarian state, Lara is a hunter of war criminals. She is devoted to her job, and never questions the morality of the cause. Until, that is, her very old and dear friend is implicated in the never-ending war trials. When the Vengeance is Gone stakes a good claim for being the best short story in the anthology; Bonham's characters are well drawn, the plot has a good, even pace, and the descriptions are easy for the imagination to follow. But the problem, once again, is that this tale is crying out to be a much larger piece of work. With its open-ended conclusion, the author could develop this into something truly special, and quite easily discover she has a novel on her hands.

When the best of issue 3 begins, Marva Dasef treats us to Chilpequin 22 Miles. This story follows the journey of a woman who “liked to take the roads less travelled”. One day, while driving her car, she sees a sign to the small mountain town of Chilpequin, and on a whim decides to check it out. Once there she engages a barmen in a conversation concerning the yeti myth, and soon discovers that Chilpequin possibly isn't the simple town she first supposed. Dasef's tale is a quaint and enjoyable affair, where, to be truthful, not much happens. But that's the idea; she makes a clever point that a myth is a story, a seed that grows within the human consciousness, and it's our imaginations that bring it into existence.

Next, Ashley Arnold's New Beginning brings the age-old warning that we should be careful what we wish for. Bridgette fancies herself as something of a child goddess, much to the amusement of her friends. But little do they suspect that there may be a little truth behind her claims, and Bridgette learns the hard way that there's more to her power than she realises. This story has a nice feel and encapsulates the innocence of childhood. It's fun to read, but the smile is soon wiped from your face with an ending that is both sad and coldly logical.

And this brings us to arguably the best of the best in this anthology. Swing a Sparrow on a String by Ken Goldman gives the stark account of Angela, a crippled girl imprisoned because of her disabilities. Continually interrogated by a nameless and cold-hearted guard, Angela has to discover what use a cripple can be to a society where uselessness is punishable by death. Swing a Sparrow on a String is a Kafkaesque nightmare, and Goldman's storytelling carries a matter-of-factness that is chilling to read. He makes us feel for Angela, and wish her reprieve from the situation's absurdity. He slowly draws us towards a conclusion that sounds off like a dark punch line, and it's work like this that sets the benchmark of quality that The Lorelei Signal strives for.

The anthology ends with a second poem from Elizabeth Barrette. The Night the Moon Was Stolen is a whimsical affair that is both entertaining and a good pick-me-up after Goldman's nightmare. There's a certain mischievousness about this poem, as the theft of the moon is witnessed by an indignant onlooker. Barrette's inspiration melds styles from folklore and modern writings, and it adds a positive epilogue to a collection of tales that form a vastly entertaining read.

A Time To… Volume 1 is a great body of work from a very respectable webzine. Carol Hightshoe can feel proud with her achievements here. And with the first year of The Lorelei Signal behind her, she can look forward to another year of toil, which I'm sure will see her publications move from strength to strength.

 

Order a copy of A Time To... volume 1 from Lulu now

 

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