The Sea Was A Fair Master, by Calvin Demmer is a collection of 23 short stories known as flash fiction, ranging from horror to dark fantasy. The collection, released this year, is a hodgepodge of quality, some with rather predictable endings to stories that are jaw-dropping in their vision and presentation.
I agree with author Gwendolyn Kiste who states in her introduction to Demmer's collection that flash fiction is not easy to write, but I respectfully disagree with her observation that horror is uniquely suited for flash and that, in the horror genre, there are no rules. Horror is not easy to write and has never been. Careless writers only end up with gore fests and in the flash format, it is to easy to end up with a shaggy dog story where the ending becomes contrived and predictable. There are rules that help the writer not to fall into such traps.
There are a few of Demmler's stories that, though not bad, seem rather awkward and would have done well with a serious rewrite and a slightly longer word count, but let me tell you about the stories that are downright magical:
- On The Seventh Day is the collection's opening story about a ship's captain and his crew that cheat the sea of its vengeance. This is a story that stays with you.
- Yara is about an android who is more human than her creator and the ending of the story is perfection and speaks directly to the heart.
- The Sea Was a Fair Master, the title story of the collection, is a hard story to label and it is probably best that way. For this reviewer, it spoke of how war changes us all and not for the better.
- Not Suicide tells a tale about the power of love that transcends death.
- Graves may have a predictable ending, but the journey toward it is worth the trip.
All in all, the collection is a passable way to spend an evening for the horror fan. There is enough blood and gore to satisfy those who like their fiction a little more visceral (Restroom Finds, The One, Trashcan Sam, and Hangman are some of the notable ones), but there are other gems within the collection.
For this reviewer, when Demmler writes simple horror, his prose is passable, but when he writes of the matters of the human heart, even its darker aspects, he comes close to wearing the mantle of a Ray Bradbury.