So a day after getting back home to Manila from KL, I find out that Brit Mandelo – THE Brit Mandelo! – has reviewed my story “Waiting with Mortals.”
Something definitely got into my eye and made things a little blurry after this discovery. 🙂 Very honored. The review is part of her Short Fiction Spotlight series with Niall Alexander up at Tor.com, focusing on The Apex Book of World SF 3, where my story is reprinted.
Brit Mandelo’s full article can be found here and her review of my story below:
The first, “Waiting with Mortals” by Crystal Koo, struck me as an unfamiliar rendition of a familiar set of tropes—something I tend to appreciate. The grit and grimness of much contemporary urban fantasy is here, and the story itself takes place in a world where ghosts are a part of life—in particular the city life of Hong Kong. The protagonist himself is a ghost; his relationship with his also-ghostly father is still as much of a mess as it was in life, and so is his relationship with the girl he loves but who seems to have mostly been using him throughout his life/death.
It’s a dark little piece, unforgiving in the way that many stories like it are: the characters have trouble interacting with each other, there’s jealousy and greed and broken people interacting with other broken people. In the end, however, what won me over most was the shift in relationships that allows the protagonist to move on: his father’s willingness to sacrifice for him and try to make him happy, the girl’s unwillingness to see him or care about him enough to change her patterns of behavior. The realizations that he cannot change her into someone different and also that maybe he hasn’t been seeing his father through true eyes for a long time compound to make for a solid ending, one that’s satisfying in the confines of the world-building.
As for that world-building, while the story is a little hard to find one’s feet in at first—it took me a bit to sort out the mechanics of the host/ghost conversions, and that the father was also a ghost—once it gets the ball rolling, it’s solid. Koo’s city feels alive, drenched in neon and fog and fluttering with humans alive and otherwise; her use of detail is sparse enough to not overwhelm while also rich enough to give a good sense of place, time, and person. I generally found it to be a compelling piece about love and loss and connection—one that stuck with me for a bit after finishing.
There have been other reviews as well, largely positive. 🙂 (Most of them are available in the Amazon page but I’m linking to the reviewer’s original sites as much as possible). One from The Little Red Reviewer:
“Waiting With Mortals” by Crystal Koo will lure you in in the few first paragraphs, and then oh so gently it’ll break your heart. It’s easy for ghosts to inhabit a mortal’s body, but it’s polite to get the mortal’s consent first. Ghosts don’t eat, can’t taste anything, can’t feel another person, can’t get their earthly business conducted, but once they inhabit a mortal, they can do all those things and more. Ben met J.G. before he died, and he’s still trying to get up the nerve to tell her how he feels about her. It’s a little more difficult now, he’s got to climb into someone else’s body, and talk with their voice to even get her attention. But she always knows it’s him, even as her newest occupation is slowly killing her. I loved the tender interactions between Ben and his dad and Ben and J.G. How do relationships change once you’re dead? Of course this is a sad story, as populated by ghosts as it is, but it’s a heartwarming love story too. Everyone here is searching for acceptance, for love, for release.
From Ricky E. Betts:
Waiting with Mortals – Ghosts come to be when a mortal dies unfulfilled. It’s an old legend: to remove a ghost, you have to bring its soul to rest. You have to right the wrong done to it or help it finish a task that it never got to complete while alive. Only then will the ghost “cross over” into the next world, life, whatever. Another tale, lest often told, is that ghosts can possess mortals. These two legends blend together to make the premise of “Waiting with Mortals,” the story of a boy who died at 16 and has been around ever since. It’s a story about accepting your flaws and about realizing that you can’t let others control your life (or afterlife). I’m giving it 4/5 for presenting a rather unique look into the world of ghosts and for the lesson that it tells, if you care to listen.
From Rob Weber:
Two stories in this collection deal with ghosts. Waiting with Mortals by Philippine author Crystal Koo is the one that had the most impact on me. Like many ghost stories it revolves around unfinished business and the deceased not being able to fully experience mortal life. In this story the dead have the means to influence the living however. It is invasive and profoundly unethical but obsession drives some ghosts to do it anyway. The psychological pressure on the main character builds to the point where he has to face his situation and his own motivations head on. The tension in the story is very well built up although some readers may find the resolution a bit predictable.
From Michelle R. Wood:
“Waiting with Mortals” (The World SF Blog) was hauntingly beautiful in its description of how ghosts might long for real life. Both the mundane and the sublime needs of living were explored, anchored by the narrator’s opposing personal connections. The story neatly turned the concept of “crossing over” on its head, subverting the opening act with a great conclusion.