Lucy A. Snyder, Sparks and Shadows: Stories and Poetry (HW Press, 2007)

Lucy A. Snyder first rocketed onto my reading radar a number of years ago with such cyberzombie stories as "Your Corporate Network and the Forces of Darkness" and "Installing Linux on a Dead Badger: User's Notes." It was apparent from the first time I read these stories that Snyder had a gift for using horror to write political satire.

Despite being a fan, however, I had never had the opportunity to sit down with an entire collection of Snyder's writing. After reading Sparks and Shadows, I have written proof of some of the things I had only half-realized up to now, namely, that not only does Lucy A. Snyder write truly intelligent horror that is both witty and political but her stories and poems tap the feminist potential of horror to illuminate the shadowy extremes of both love and hate.

Not to mention, Snyder creates some of the funniest -- and grossest -- zombies ever.

Is it wrong to love a writer for her zombies?

Or, as Nalo Hopkinson asks in her introduction to Sparks and Shadows, "Is it sick and bad and wrong that reading Sparks and Shadows meant that I giggled my way through some of the most macabre fiction this side of the Seventh Circle of Hell?"

It's not just about the zombies, though. Snyder, a graduate of Clarion East and founder of the online zine Dark Planet, writes in a range of modes and forms. The first two stories feature one of Snyder's most unique gifts, her pitch-perfect talent for capturing the macabre tone made infamous by The Twilight Zone and those old EC comics. The first story, "A Preference For Silence," is about a woman who just wants a little peace and quiet so that she can read her book, while the second story "Boxlunch" follows one woman's simple search for a condom as it turns into epic adventure. Further into the collection the tone grows darker, leaning much more toward the gothic in stories specifically portraying violence against women, whether it is the violence inspired by the debate over abortion rights ("Feel the Love"), the violence of sex abuse (the truly disturbing ". . .And Her Shadow") or the ways domestic abuse literally destroys an entire family from the inside out ("The Dolls' Hearts"). 

By now you may be getting a clue regarding the power of Snyder's writing: it reminds us that horror is as much a girl thing as it ever was a guy thing, with a long rich tradition of writing about women's issues like body politics, family, and the social complacency of violence toward women. Yet, Snyder never preaches or lectures, she just entertains you with manic pieces like "Camp Songs: Innocent Fun or Diabolical Brainwashing Plot?" and "The Dickification of the American Female."

Snyder switches her focus once more for "Through Thy Bounty," a truly stunning story reminiscent of one of Angela Carter's darker fantasies. The story is about a female chef forced to prepare macabre meals to the aliens who rule an occupied Earth while she tunes into her mother's dreams of freedom. Two more stories which evoke some of the darker dreams of fantasy are "The Dogs of Summer," Snyder's take on the Wild Hunt legend, and "Burning Bright," a feminist fairy tale where a woman fights her way through a castle surrounded by thorned roses -- among a variety of other dangers -- in order to reclaim her kidnapped lover.

The collection ends on a gentle but bittersweet note with "Darwin's Children," a realistic story about a young woman who works in a nature center cares for a rare but ailing albino snake while she learns to face human mortality.

In addition to the stories, Snyder's poetry runs through the collection like a vein of dark gold. These short but intense poems often seem to prophesize or underscore the themes which preoccupy Snyder's stories, as in the following excerpt from "Dark Matter:"

I am the death you cannot see,
I am all you cannot bear
to know about your universe,
because to know that I am real
is to know there's no escape
from this, your fragile world,
your tiny azure ember burning down
in the cold of an endless night.

There are many other stories and poems worth reading in this lengthy collection that totals over fifteen short stories and six poems, and whether you are looking for dark fantasy or horror or or just something to tickle your funny bone, I recommend you pick up a copy of Sparks and Shadows. Also look for another collection by Snyder due to be published later this year.

[Kestrell Rath]

HW Press is here with Lucy A. Snyder's Home Page thisaway. Your Corporate Network and the Forces of Darkness can be found hiding over here. And the rather odd article called "Installing Linux on a Dead Badger: User's Notes" is here.