REVIEW: “Perihelia” by Elizabeth McEntee

Review of Elizabeth McEntee, “Perihelia”, Luna Station Quarterly 46 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It’s not often I read a human-meets-alien story that’s successfully told from the alien’s point of view. Too often, the aliens still feel all too familiar, too like-us. Not so with McEntee’s narrator, living alone on her comet, who is such that when a human arrives, the invader is so foreign, so different, that they are truly the alien. The ending was a bit trite, but the core of the story was solid.

REVIEW: “A Star for Every Word Unspoken” by Kai Hudson

Review of Kai Hudson, “A Star for Every Word Unspoken”, Clarkesworld Issue 176, May (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A neurodivergent protagonist with sweet and strong scientist / researcher parents would have made for a wonderful story, irrespective of plot. This one takes a great premise and elevates it. This is my favorite story from the May issue.

Love crosses all boundaries, even the fabric of space-time. Scientific inquiry into wormholes and portal turn from curiosity into a way to reach loved ones. Research tainted with grief and longing is still research, and achievements are still to be lauded as achievements. But the reason behind the single-minded devotion changes. The goal towards which progress was made also changes.

And this change makes Na-Yeong throw away all regard for her own safety; her only goal is to be with her mother once again. Her mother – the person who made the world a more understandable place for little Na-Yeong. Neurodivergent children have a tough go of trying to parse the world, and Omma made it a better place for the likely autistic Na-Yeong. An easier place. A place with a little less self-harm.

Now, Na-Yeong wants her Omma back. A very well-written and insightful story. If you read only one story from this issue, make it this one. I loved it immensely.

REVIEW: “Heart Shine” by Shveta Thakrar

Review of Shveta Thakrar, “Heart Shine”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

Kamal is lonely, so she turns to research on the Faerie, a mystical otherworld guarded by a tiny black kitten and green-glowing fireflies. She tries to sacrifice her entire history of memories to Faerie in order to become one of its denizens, but something goes wrong, and she finds herself wandering its borders, memories frustratingly intact, hopeless. A year later she finds a boy with a glowing peridot heart, and finally she experiences recognition and learns to appreciate her own inner worth. 

This piece revels in its description, eschewing the stripped narrative style that so many short stories use to build suspense and keep a plot moving. While it seemed a little decadent at times, I generally found it refreshing; Thakrar builds a magical border realm full of hidden meaning out of Komal’s house and haunts. 

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this piece, though, is its depiction of Komal’s invisibility: the way her parents ignore her and the way that she feels, perpetually, that her dreams and creations matter to no-one else (and therefore matter to no-one at all). It’s a devastating theme, and one that I suspect more of us can relate to than ever before, after such a long period in pandemic isolation. What Komal needs is not necessarily friends to validate her, but the ability to believe that she herself is worthy, and that her creations are worthy of attention. It’s a confidence that you can only find within yourself, and personally I found Komal’s path to finding her inner magic very heartwarming. 

REVIEW: “We Who Are Left On This Dying Earth” by Hesper Leveret

Review of Hesper Leveret, “We Who are Left On This Dying Earth”, Luna Station Quarterly 46 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Reading recent climate news, it’s hard to escape the fact that we are already living on a dying earth; Leveret’s story is timely, then, in the sense that it could easily happen in our near future, maybe a generation from now — enough time for people on earth to figured out how to get off it.

Of course, even if that happens, we all know that not everyone is going to get to go, and “We Who Are Left On This Dying Earth” is the story of two who won’t be, one because she is too old, the other because he is too sick. Because of course it is the old and the weak and the poor who will get left behind.

You might think that this story would be an angry, unhappy story; but instead, there was just enough hope to make it happy, but not too much to make it unrealistic.

REVIEW: “Dancing with Ereshkigal” by Sameem Siddiqui

Review of Sameem Siddiqui, “Dancing with Ereshkigal”, Clarkesworld Issue 176, May (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A poignant story that goes all over our solar system and spans goddesses, non-binary characters, low-gravity art forms, and dance. Our protagonist narrates the story as if they are speaking to Pyn, their spouse. The narrator has created, or rather been swept into, a different sort of life since they met Pyn. As we learn more about them, both individually as well as as a couple, we see things are different from what the narrator had initially believed. A moment of clarity reshapes much, so that the dance of the goddess makes more sense.

A lovely story, and I don’t say this just because I already have a weakness for goddesses in fiction.

REVIEW: “The Hungry Ones” by Emma Törzs

Review of Emma Törzs, “The Hungry Ones”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

When Aey (a now-unemployed logger struggling with his self-confidence) finds his wife sleeping with another man, he resolves to kill her lover immediately. But to find the resolve to do so he breaks a religious taboo and seeks out the magic of powerful women called the Hungry Ones. Their magic works in unexpected ways and Aey must deal with the consequences, all while regretting his actions and trying to find the courage to remedy them. 

In this story, rage, love, and sex combine to create a remarkably bleak portrait of a relationship in which a man refuses to support his wife and allow her equality. While nuanced and intriguing, the story offers little hope in the way of resolution or character development. I found the seemingly irreparable power imbalance in Aey’s relationship frustrating; perhaps it is naive, but I like to think that women today have enough rights and freedoms that Aey’s unconscious bigotry would be unacceptable and unthinkable. I can’t help but think that there are more pressing and original inequalities to illustrate so incontrovertibly. 

However, beyond the prevalence of misogyny, the piece is a fascinating character study and does not shy away from details. The worldbuilding gives a visceral sense of the religious and cultural beliefs of Aey’s community, and the description of the Hungry One that Aey visits provides a counterpoint to the idea that all the women in this world are seen as lesser and powerless. I found the story’s greatest strength to be its rare focus on women’s sexual pleasure and needs; I still don’t see enough of that in speculative fiction and to look at it from a man’s perspective was certainly innovative.

REVIEW: “How the Girls Came Home” by Eugenia Triantafyllou

Review of Eugenia Triantafyllou, “How the Girls Came Home”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

Amalia has a unique power: every day her feet change to that of a different animal, giving her an otter’s swimming abilities one day, and a cat’s climbing claws the next. Her father sees this as an undesirable curse, and has enlisted the help of the Artisan to make her a pair of magical shoes that will lock her feet into a human form. However, women have been mysteriously disappearing from Amalia’s village, and she seems to be the only one who cares enough to find out what has been happening to them. As she investigates rivers and eavesdrops on conversations from tree branches, she discovers that the orchestrator of these disappearances is more dangerous than she realized, and that he might be coming for her next. 

Amalia has a thorough appreciation for each new form of her feet and a deep empathy for the women around her, despite the opposing viewpoints of both her father and the rest of her community. However, her affection for her father leaves her unable to tell him that she considers her feet to be a fundamental part of who she is, leading her to risk her very identity every time she tries on a new pair of the Artisan’s shoes. So many parent-child relationships in fiction are purely antagonistic or supportive; I found this more complicated dynamic extraordinarily relatable and yet heartbreaking in its own way. This story has its light moments, but it is ultimately haunting, dealing with nuanced themes of identity loss, remembrance, and objectification. Don’t be fooled by the whimsical fairy tale elements: not all slippers are markers of princesses, and not all shapeshifters are capricious and unreliable.

REVIEW: “The Force Exerted on the Mass of a Body” by Bo Balder

Review of Bo Balder, “The Force Exerted on the Mass of a Body”, Clarkesworld Issue 176, May (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A fun yet poignant read about Sifan, and her initial struggles with the much stronger gravitational field of her new short-term home. She’s an inventor, there to help advance space travel. But, it turns out space might be a sentient being. The discoveries are as difficult to shoulder as the exoskeleton she must wear to stay upright. How she deals with the situation and the new revelations make up the bulk of the story. A very interesting approach to space travel for sure.

REVIEW: “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse” by Rachel Swirsky

Review of Rachel Swirsky, “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

In “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse,” an ingenuous and lipstick-obsessed narrator details the whimsical contents of their purse in list format, guiding the reader through their recent interactions with these items. As the story continues, a web of connections grows between each seemingly discrete item, and, improbably and almost unbelievably, the narrator’s strange assumptions about the contents of their purse seem to be confirmed by members of the outside world. It’s a short and easily-digestible story, and it has some humorous twists and turns; it definitely made me smile!

Personally, when I pick up an issue of Uncanny, this is exactly the type of story I expect to find, layered between pages of the unexpected. It slowly adds speculative twists to ubiquitous, mundane aspects of daily existence until the reader ends up in a highly improbable world that, nevertheless, appears perfectly reasonable. An homage to the enigmatic nature of the random collection of items in our purses, it’s delightful, it’s surprising, and it wraps itself up neatly in a nice little bow. While not particularly flashy or action-packed, this story is simply good fun and great imaginative exercise.

REVIEW: “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte

Review of José Pablo Iriarte, “Proof by Induction”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

When Paulie’s father dies, all that remains is his coda: a simulated version of himself at the time of his death, usually used to check up on practicalities like his will or life insurance. But Paulie has unfinished business with his father, so he takes the coda home against the advice of hospital employees. Writing with a dry-erase marker on the walls of his father’s simulated hospital room, Paulie attempts to solve two unsolvable problems: a famous mathematical hypothesis that could secure his tenure, and his complicated feelings about his distant relationship with his father. 

Like all the best science fiction, the focus of “Proof by Induction” isn’t on the new technology itself, (the coda machine,) but on its effects. In this case, these effects are explored on a micro-scale—one family, one discipline, and one esoteric proof waiting to be solved. The magic of this story is in the little, mundane moments: the charged conversations between Paulie and his wife, and the way Paulie interacts with both his father and his daughter. It’s not uncommon to see stories about stoic mathematicians trying to navigate relationships, but the generational component here makes it uniquely fascinating. It allows the story to be both defiant and hopeful, giving Paulie space to acknowledge his past and pursue his future. For someone who loves details, reading between the lines, and probing the soft, emotional edges of a tale, it’s a very satisfying read.