REVIEW: “Click” by Brian Evenson

Review of Brian Evenson, “Click”, Nightmare Magazine Issue 61: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

In a word- creepy. What do you do when you can’t trust your own memory- when you have no memories to trust? When we forget something, we search for clues and cues- something to help everything “click”, but what if that thing never comes?

More than just a story of how frightening memory loss can be, Evenson’s story made me reflect on the nature of hospitals, care from doctors, and the ways in which we can be mislead by those we are supposed to trust. The main character has no concrete memories to hold on to; he must accept what those around him are telling him. He is given conflicting information and finds it hard to trust even the things he sees with his own two eyes. The nature of reality is fickle, and our grasp on it even more so.

I enjoyed the ways this story moved. We keep moving even when we have questions and things don’t make sense. There is no space to pause and try and ruminate. What would be the point anyways? The reader has as little information as the main character which forces us to experience things as he does with only the barest glimmer of hope that we will get some answers. But what if we never do?

REVIEW: “Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone

Review of Max Gladstone, “Crispin’s Model”, Tor.com (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

Phrases like “sick galaxies of staring, slitted orbs” and “trails of poison paint” evoke the lush-yet-terrifying quality I associate with H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. So it’s fitting, then, that these phrases are found in Max Gladstone’s Lovecraftian tale of a painter, his model and the twisted things his twisted paintings produce.

Gladstone’s masterful prose gives the story much of its impact. His style evokes Lovecraft’s without cleaving too closely to it, resulting in a story that feels both thoroughly Lovecraftian and yet also thoroughly modern in its presentation.

It’s a simple premise on the surface, yet Gladstone mines it for every ounce of tension, every dram of cosmic horror he can eke from it. The reader knows from the very beginning that something is off, and we discover the source of that strangeness with a slow build that’s always suspenseful and never boring. The climax itself will raise the hairs on your neck, but Gladstone never gives away too much of the monster, preserving the sense of mystery.

A worthy addition to the genre.

REVIEW: “Steadfast” by R. W. W. Greene

Review of R. W. W. Greene, “Steadfast”, Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 111-115 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The pin for this story is stuck in the south of Scandinavia, but neither that nor the story itself was sufficient for me to determine which myth or legend it was a retelling of; it must be one of the more obscure ones.

The SF elements are not very clearly specified, but they — unlike in some stories — are integral to the plot and to the character development. Unfortunately, the story was marred midway through by the introduction of the casual degredation (sexual and otherwise) of women, which was both entirely not cool and entirely unnecessary to the rest of the story. If you’re looking for a story that treats women with respect and avoids demeaning them for no purpose, then don’t read this story.

REVIEW: “All for Beauty and Youth” by Kelly A. Harmon

Review of Kelly A. Harmon, “All for Beauty and Youth”, Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 41-58 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The story being retold here is “Hansel and Gretel”, as is obvious from the opening line. The retelling follows the traditional storyline but lacks some of the iconic elements, such as Hansel leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so that they can find their way back home.

The sci-fi element of the story is more steampunk than sci-fi; the setting is a context where steam trains are a standard mode of transportation, but where there are clockwork men and clockwork birds, and a very detailed description of a particular machine made out of rubber tubes, bellows, pulleys on pp. 47-48. Sometimes the steampunk setting seemed like a rather thin veneer, rather than being integral to the story, though the resolution (a resolution I didn’t quite understand, for it was not made clear why Hansel and Gretel are able to corner the market on their new product) at the end does rely on clockwork. However, one thing I truly enjoyed about the story was that the elements described as magic in original versions of the story are here explicitly described as science — science is truly magical, and this fact should be exploited more!

The above ends the rather “impersonal” review of the story, in which I try to focus on positive and negative aspects of the story that are accessible to most/many readers, and thus most people can stop here. Below, I’m going to permit myself to indulge in a very personal review of a singular aspect of the story which I suspect will cause no problems whatsoever for most readers (which is why they can all stop with the above and not read any further). But…

…I have to comment on the names. The pin for this story was stuck in Hamburg, and Hansel and Gretel are classic Low German forms of the names, appropriate for the north of Germany — -el is the Low German cognate of the High German diminutive suffix -lein (e.g., Fráulein is “little Frau”, and this word is a specifically High German word). Thus when Hansel calls his sister Gret, he is using a less-diminutized form of the name, rather contrary to how I suspect Harmon used “Gret” vs. “Gretel” in the story. And there is a disconnect between these two proper Low German forms, and the names of characters introduced by Harmon. Britta works fine, but both Fritz and Dietrich are distinctly High — not Low — German forms; I would have loved to have seen Frik and Diderik instead.

It’s a small thing, such a small thing, a thing that probably 99.5% of all the people who read this story will never even notice, much less be bothered by. So why am I mentioning it? Because I’m the one who read the story and am reviewing it, and it does bother me. It’s a useful reminder to authors that (a) you never know what will bother certain readers and not others and (b) what does bother certain readers can be very idiosyncratic to them and just because a reviewer says “this bothered me” doesn’t mean that this is a universal truth that holds for all readers. Reading is a personalised experience, and this happens to be a report of mine.

REVIEW: Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege

Review of CB Droege, ed., Starward Tales II (Manawaker Studio, 2017). Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This anthology, the second in Manawaker Studio’s “Starward Tales” series, is a collection of “speculative legends”, retellings of legends, myths, and fairy tales as science fiction stories. Each story is accompanied by a map with a pin on it,

showing the approximate location of the origin of the story that inspired the work. However, many story origins are in dispute, and often an arbitrary line must be drawn to say where in history a story became the story we know today.

In addition to stories, the collection also features poetry and artwork, some newly commissioned pieces, some out-of-copyright pieces from the previous centuries, all wrapped up in a cover beautifully illustrated by Monica Rose Song. If I have one complaint about the production of the book, it is the use of straight quotes rather than “smart” quotes throughout. It’s a minor point to raise, but it detracts from the aesthetic of reading the stories, and given contemporary typesetting tools, it is not difficult to avoid. There are also a handful of places throughout where the book could have benefited from more thorough proof-reading — a missing period on p. 113, the misspelling of “pseudo” as “psuedo” on p. 114, the wrong type of dash on p. 136, extraneous capitalization on p. 241, some incorrect page references in the table of contents. Any one of these is minor, but too many of them and the result becomes less professional.

Below is a list of the contents; I will review each story individually and when the reviews are published, link to them from this post.

Fiction

  • “Drop”, by D. A. D’Amico
  • “All for Beauty and Youth”, by Kelly A. Harmon
  • “Ashes”, by Mike Lewis
  • “Hills Like Teeth”, by Michael Harris Cohen
  • “The Fall of Tyros”, by Eddie D. Moore
  • “Goldilocks and the Three Empty Cryopods”, by Dianne Williams
  • “Steadfast”, by R. W. W. Green
  • “The Siege of Battle-Station Camelot”, by Patrick S. Baker
  • “The Signal”, by Halli Lilburn
  • “Poison_apple.exe”, by Chanel Earl
  • “Doorways to Death”, by Dick Yaeger
  • “Seeds of Discord”, by Tod McCoy
  • “The Boy with the Golden Scales”, by Ashleigh Gauch
  • “The Suited Prince”, by CB Droege
  • “Failsafe”, by Karen Bovenmyer

Poetry

  • “Chained”, by Vonnie Winslow Crist
  • “Girl in the Red Hood”, by Richard King Perkins II
  • “Icarus”, by María Castro Domínguez
  • “Penelope Longing for Odysseus”, by Vonnie Winslow Crist
  • “Beauty, Sleeping”, by Marsheila Rockwell

REVIEW: “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Review of Vina Jie Min Prasad’s, “Fandom for Robots”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 18 (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

“Fandom for Robots” is a sweet story about a robot finding a friend, and a voice, in the fandom community. It’s often a funny story, and its humour will resonate with anyone who has ever been really into a TV show:

‘Computron feels no emotion towards the animated television show titled Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード). After all, Computron does not have any emotion circuits installed, and is thus constitutionally incapable of experiencing “excitement,” “hatred,” or “frustration.” It is completely impossible for Computron to experience emotions such as “excitement about the seventh episode of HyperWarp,” “hatred of the anime’s short episode length” or “frustration that Friday is so far away.”’

Computron, ‘The only known sentient robot’, resides in the Simak Robotics Museum. While considered a marvel when originally built in 1954, Computron’s design is now regarded as outdated. He is brought out as ‘a quaint artefact’ in the Museum’s Then And Now show, but no one really engages with him as a sentient being.

One day, a girl asks whether Computron has ever watched Hyperdimension Warp Record, and this launches Computron on a journey of discovery about fandom, friendship, and his own life. As Computron learns more about the anime show, and meets bjornruffian (a fellow fan, robot enthusiast, and fandom illustrator) on fanficarchive.org he begins to develop a wider sense of self.

“Fandom for Robots” is a great look at how empowering fanwork can be. In the museum, Computron is told not to talk too much but fandom allows him to have a voice. Computron provides helpful criticism of bjornruffian’s drawings of Cyro; the robot character on the show, and he writes his own fanfic.

Computron is also able to assert his identity through fanwork by helping to shape the robot bodies and storylines that appear in fanfic. Hyperdimension Warp Record gives him a way to process difficult memories. His friendship with bjornruffian gives Computron a reason to make his own decisions, and determine his own path, when he has so far lived quite a passive life. He makes a real connection with bjornruffian, and he ‘goes into sleep mode less’ which sounds a lot like a robot escaping from depression. It’s really lovely to go on this journey of personal development with Computron, and to see fans enjoying his and bjornruffians slash comic collab.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “Fandom for Robots” is perfect for fans of Merc A. Rustard’s “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps”, Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please”, and Martha Wells All Systems Red. If you like robots, fandom, internet culture, or if you got emotional about that XCDC Mars rover comic, then this is the story for you.

REVIEW: “The Names of the Sky” by Matthew Claxton

Review of Matthew Claxton, “The Names of the Sky”, Podcastle: 490 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

It may seem odd that the first description that comes to me for a story set in wartime is “lovely” but the language of this one just flowed over me. It hit my exposition sweet spot in laying out the setting with casual description and character interaction, rather than feeling the need to tell the listener where they are and what’s going on. (But I’ll tell you anyway, so the review makes sense.) Zoya, a Russian fighter pilot in WWII has come down in a rural area behind the front and needs to survive, find shelter, and figure out how to get her plane in the air again, in that order. An encounter in a nearly-deserted village leaves her saddled with a responsibility that threatens those goals, but the seemingly senile old woman isn’t what she seems. A familiarity with Russian folklore will aid the listener in keeping up, given the aforementioned oblique approach to exposition. I loved the casually feminist (or maybe woman-centered is a better term) underlayer of the story that grew organically out of the themes and the historic-folklore roots. (Though now I find myself hungry for a story of “Grandma” and her sisters in their youth–and I wonder how much of that reference is based on the original folklore as opposed to being invention.)