REVIEW: “Rust and Bone” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Mary Robinette Kowal, “Rust and Bone”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 86-92 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a harsh story of a child caught between two adults — one grandmother, one mother — each of whom thinks (or at least claims) they have the child’s best interests at heart.

For anyone who has been caught in a family feud, or who has watched friends be caught in such a feud, this is not a pleasant story. Even if you have not witnessed first hand this sort of situation, the story leaves you with a deep uncertainty and ambivalence about the outcome: Is this the outcome we should’ve been rooting for? More importantly, is it the one that is best for the child? It just isn’t clear, and for some (I’m one of them) that makes it an unsatisfying story. Others may thrive on the ambivalence, and enjoy it more.

REVIEW: “Standing on the Floodbanks” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Standing on the Floodbnks” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 277-315 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Combat, warfare, blood, nightmares, vomiting, post-traumatic stress, ableism, panic attacks, flashbacks, flooding, racism, objectification, slavery.

The anthology closes with a bang, this nearly-novellette sweeping together all the wonderful disparate skills that Takács has displayed in the rest of the stories in the collection.

There are certain stories that when you read you go “I didn’t know stories could be like that”. This is one of them. I sit here and I struggle to find a way to put into words what made this story so good and why I feel about it the way that I do. I can’t, though, so I will just direct the reader to Aristotle on “katharsis”, and hope that if they read this story too, they will find it as cathartic as I did. It’s gorgeous and painful and almost horrifying and beautiful all at once.

(First published in Gigantosaurus Nov. 2016).

REVIEW: “Lake Mouth” by Casey Hannan

Review of Casey Hannan, “Lake Mouth”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 37-41 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was such a bizarre story. Every single statement is clear and precise, but combined together the result is like a weird fever dream. What is strangest about it is the way that every single statement is said as if it is true and ordinary, with no recognition at all of the strangeness of the amalgamation. Reading it was a fascinating experience.

Equally fascinating was reading the author’s interview at the end, which laid a solid foundation beneath the story and made it that much more believable, weirdness and all.

REVIEW: “Spirit Forms of the Sea” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Spirit Forms of the Sea” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 257-271 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Death, being eaten, death of animals, vomiting.

This story surprised me by being set squarely in our own world — or at least, in a world where there are Croats, where there is a place called Venice. Takács blended the unreal and the real so carefully together in this story I found myself constantly pausing to look up the foreign words — is a ‘táltos’ an imaginary thing or a real? What about the turul? (Real, both). How much of this story is myth, how much is folk tale, and how much is pure fantasy? (So much harder to answer). I love stories like this, where the lines are blurred and where nothing is certain.

(First published in Sword and Mythos, 2014).

REVIEW: “All Talk of Common Sense” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “All Talk of Common Sense” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 273-276 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Ableism, mention of warfare, vomiting.

This story was full of so many vivid visuals — as someone who is mildly afantasiac, I often tend to skip description because it just doesn’t do anything for me; but Takács’s skill makes even a few words come alive in a mental picture, no mean feat! And there’s quite a bit packed into this short little story beyond just vivid mental images: Detailed characterisations, a sufficiency of backstory, and a neat resolution. This is the sort of story you’d give to beginning writers as an example of how to do short stories well.

REVIEW: “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 241-256 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: blood, injury, masochism, kinkshaming, misgendering, warfare, mention of slavery.

Take the content note seriously: We are dropped immediately into the midst of blood and destruction when an unexpected visitor arrives on the narrator’s doorstep, begging their assistance.

There are so many aspects of this story that I could highlight, but I will pick out just one, and that is how intensely physical it is, deeply, gut-wrenchingly, in a way that is entire unerotic and unsexual. It hit me at a very visceral level, touched me in a way that no other story in this volume did — as much as I enjoyed all of them — and I have a hard time articulating just how good this story is — one of the best I’ve read this year — in the context of a review. My words fail. I loved it.

(First published in Capricious 2015).

REVIEW: “Wind-Lashed Vehicles of Bone” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Wind-Lashed Vehicles of Bone” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 235-239 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Pain exchange, scarification, mention of death and suicide.

Araana is a dreamer, who dreams distant and unknown futures. He’s not sure why — is it magic? Or is it a much more mundane explanation? — but the glimpses he sees appeal to the engineer inside him. Maybe, with the help of Ujabir the town mage, maybe he can make that distant future become present.

This story had almost a steam-punk feel to it, atypical for the other stories in this collection, but entirely suited to this story. The story is full of fierce joy and hope, and I really enjoyed it.

(First published in 2017 on Patreon.)