REVIEW: “You Can Adapt to Anything” by John Wiswell

Review of John Wiswell, “You Can Adapt to Anything”, Daily Science Fiction, Sept 15, 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

They say that people are endlessly adaptable. Sometimes that is a blessing; but, perhaps it is sometimes a curse. “You Can Adapt to Anything” follows two scientists, Miguel and Juniper, as they develop trans-dimensional travel. The two are the ultimate pair, united in love, purpose, and excitement. But after their portal breaks down, Juniper finds herself stuck in a different dimension – with a different Miguel.

Wiswell takes us on a technology-filled exploration of the nature of love. Alternately sweet, scientific, and sad, this story is an exquisite orchestration of emotions that never becomes sappy or trite. You’ll have to re-read this one to pick apart the layered questions of love and identity.

This is my favorite Daily Science Fiction story from this week because of the detailed relationship between Juniper and Miguel, paralleled by Juniper’s exploration of her own identity. The ending perfectly highlights the emotions of the piece and wraps up the story while opening the door for the characters to continue on.

REVIEW: “The Waiting Room” by Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin

Review of Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin, “The Waiting Room”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When I was young, all the SFF protagonists were young, and I never even noticed, because I was young, and thus the world was young and their stories could be my stories and my stories could be theirs.

But then I grew older (and 35 is hardly old), and they all stayed young, they did not age, and I found myself becoming increasingly irritated by this. Young heros and heroines often do such stupid things, things that only seem stupid in hindsight. But more than that, there was this implicit assumption that to be a hero or heroine was to be young; once you’d reached my age, my stories were no longer their stories, and their stories could no longer be mine.

Once I realised this, I started making a point of seeking out stories where the heroine was not a young slip of a girl, but someone older, someone with a history, someone with a family, someone with a past. But I know that I am still young and will grow yet older, and that is where stories like Melkin’s “The Waiting Room” come into the fore: When was the last time that you read a story where the heroine was an old, dying woman? That long ago? Well, now is the time to fix it. Go on, click the link above. Read the story. You won’t regret it.

REVIEW: “Ten Thousand Sleeping Beauties” by Jocelyn Koehler

Review of Jocelyn Koehler, “Ten Thousand Sleeping Beauties”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

My first reaction was that I straight up love the title, with its evocation of both European fairy tales and 1001 nights. And while the story itself is not a fairy tale, it certainly involves one, albeit a darker, scarier one than we normally tell our children (even in Grimms’ grim tales, there is always a prince’s kiss to awaken the sleeper).

My second reaction was “how am I going to explain what is so poignant in this story without spoilers?” Let me try: Despite evidence to the contrary, despite the perennial moans throughout the ages that youth aren’t what they were like in our day, humanity as a whole is remarkably optimistic: We persist in thinking that, eventually, things will get better, they have to get better; or at least that they won’t get worse, not really. For example, the entire industry of cryogenics is based on the idea that the future will be better than the present.

But one day, the future will be the present. What then?

My third reaction was that the ending made me cry.

REVIEW: “The Man in the Crimson Coat” by Andrea Tang

Review of Andrea Tang, “The Man in the Crimson Coat”, Apex Magazine 100 (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

The story opens in a bar, where a woman named Jo watches a piano man with a shiny cybernetic hand, so we know right away that we’re reading some sci-fi noir. That could go in the direction of parody, but instead takes itself just seriously enough to tell a great story. The world is both futuristic and retro, but never campy. It suggests that even in a future with advanced technology, society will still need seedy bars and cheap motels. People will still be people. It’s an appropriate mood for a story about the importance of human connection.

The narrative interweaves a present-day adventure with back story that eventually makes a seamless whole. I found the flashbacks hard to get into at first, but they eventually yield some of the most touching material, particularly on a second reading. They’re not extra, but necessary to the plot, and I admire the way Tang structures them, concealing and revealing in just the right amounts.

The ending is perfect – both surprising and inevitable – and illuminated the whole story that preceded it.

REVIEW: “Salamander Six-Guns” by Martin Cahill

Review of Martin Cahill, “Salamander Six-Guns”, Shimmer 38: Read online. Reviewed by Sarah Grace Liu.

What do you say when a story’s not really your jam, but it’s so well written? In “Salamander Six-Guns” Cahill presents a detailed world, where creatures of the marshes and swamps have received a sentient boost from Momma Scales, a lizard lord (at least, I think that’s how some of the biologics of this world work—humans can also be turned to scale-folk through a bite or an injury). The scale-folk comprise croc-folk, gator-kin, pyth-people, snake-touched, “iggies,” and more. As the Scaled Nation, they are slowly encroaching on the dry lands. The story opens in “Sunblooder’s Stand…the last living border town abutting the Scaled Nation.”

The greatest part of the story is some of the beauty of the lines. Cahill is clearly a writer who is as much in love with the sound of language as the story it tells.

For example:

How does a body run as slow as it can?

Or, the pop, pop, pop of the meter in this line:

We pulled out our pikes and our steel and our guns.

Or the beauty of the opening line:

He descended on the town like a saint sent from Dark Heaven.

What pulled me out of the story, however, was not the overall masterful construct or the lyrical narrative, but the lingo (dark heaven, bright hell, sunblooders, new dark) and the dialogue: “Even Momma didn’t have such a title and you all looked to her like she was Shadow Matron come High Dark to bless!” It felt…disingenuous, affected. It felt channeled, like some syntax and diction patched together from various colorful pockets of culture. It felt a little bit like appropriation. I find it hard to describe the fact that I felt a little wrong reading this.

Then again, it’s no small feat to create a completely new culture with their own slang and their own way of speaking, and yet give it a feel of familiarity, the feel of a shootout in the west. To that end, Cahill accomplished a lot. I’m just not the person for this story. I’m sure all of these atmospheric touches and details make the story great romping fun for the right reader. There are some GREAT lines in here, and despite myself, I did become thoroughly engrossed in the story.

REVIEW: “Corpus Grace” by William Broom

Review of William Broom’s “Corpus Grace,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #234, September 14, 2017: Read online. Reviewed by Elora Gatts.

After years spent in hiding, a fugitive priest journeys into the heart of danger to preserve the interred form of an apocryphal saint marked for destruction. Deemed an apostate, he is fiercely pursued by an agent of the church and her party.

Reverberating with echoes of Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory,” William Broom’s “Corpus Grace” is a paean to the persistence of faith. Told in three parts—each named for its respective innominate protagonist—we move from one perspective to the next, seeking insight into this world we are thrust into, and since religion seems so central to it, the impact of belief systems as well.

Unfortunately, these details are kept purposefully vague. We learn of an empire and its state-sanctioned religion, intent on violently stamping out anything that veers outside its prescribed canon. We spend time with tribesmen and women on the fringe of empire, who secretly revere apocryphal saints and observe ancient traditions from a time in which they worshipped spirits instead. Nothing is named or defined; they are simply “the empire,” “the church,” “the steppe-people.” What little we are given often feels like shorthand references to real-world institutions—for instance, with its focus on saints, the dominant religion seems to suggest Catholic roots. Despite the speculative element (the priests welcome the consciousness of the saints into themselves to perform blessings), it’s a little disappointing to see Christianity again set as the default.

I would have also liked to have seen more done with the steppe-people, whom we learn little about. It seems clear that they are the victims of colonization, but this aspect is left frustratingly unexplored. They are universally looked upon with pity and condescension by the POV characters, like children who need firm guidance, and they are brutally punished if/when they deviate. At the end, when they are bestowed with the priest’s secrets, they even assume a role traditionally played by children once they are grown: that of an inheritor. This, I think, is problematic, considering the controversial legacy of Christian missionaries.

Of the main cast, the priest is most compelling. Described in the text as worn and weary, he nevertheless abides. Much like the nameless priest in “The Power and the Glory,” he continues to perform rites and blessings for the adherents who choose to shield him. He offers comfort to the persecuted, a comfort that he denies himself, and eventually risks his own safety in an attempt to defend the barrow of his saint, Mirabina. However, because we jump into the heads of other characters, we do not spend the time we need to fully feel his sacrifice. The second section, which follows the inquisitor, is perhaps the weakest of the piece; it provides quick forward motion and action, but to the detriment of the priest’s arc. Here, we learn the most about the world, yet it also introduces concepts that are only briefly alighted on—interesting concepts, but perhaps ultimately superfluous.

Despite its issues, “Corpus Grace” is an ambitious piece that draws on literary traditions. There are real moments of beauty in the prose, and it approaches its complex central themes with clarity and sincerity, which is sometimes difficult to achieve.

REVIEW: “Far, Far From Land” by Jude-Marie Green

Review of Jude-Marie Green, “Far, Far From Land”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of the hardest parts about short SF stories is conveying everything that is distinctive about the fictional world in which the story takes places without spending all of the words doing so. It is hard to balance between explaining enough so that the reader gets a sense of what is science and what is fiction, but not so much that the reader gets no story, nor so little that the jargon seems mere window dressing and not deeply integrated.

Green’s story starts off too much on the “too little” side; a lot of technical terms and phrases are peppered throughout the opening paragraphs, but there is not enough context to know what an “xyz grid” is or how fractals can bounce, or be juicy.

That being said, I love the idea of big vessels trawling through space fishing for instantiations of mathematical concepts, and the casual ease the crewmates clearly display in their conversation with each other makes it easy to become invested in them, to hope for what they hope for and to mourn when they mourn as well.