REVIEW: “The Smile” by Irene Grazzini

Review of Irene Grazzini, Joyce Myerson (trans.), “The Smile”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What I often find frustrating about short stories is that they are just so…well, short. It’s hard to do a lot in not many words. So when I get a story like this, where all it takes is the title, a name, and a few words from the first paragraph to make me go “I know what this is going to be about!”, it makes me very happy.

The story did not live up to this initial rush of happiness as much as I wished it would, though. It takes quite a long time to get started, with the narrator spending a lot of precious words on description. Now, this complaint is squarely situated in my mouth as someone who tends to skip over a lot of purely descriptive scenes. In novels, I don’t mind them as much as they’re easy to skip, but in a short story, it sort of feels like a waste. I want the action, not the descriptions!

This story is translated — I assume from Italian but do not know for certain. If there is one thing harder than writing speculative fiction, I’ve always thought it must be translating it, because you have to be true to the original story and the original voice, and neither of these is a trivial matter. There is an added layer of difficulty when rendering a story in another language that arises from distinguishing what must be translated from what must be not. Names, in particular, must be handled with care. Given that I knew from the start of the second paragraph who the narrator was, the naming of her child as “Andrew” jarred me. Knowing what I know about the narrator, and especially given that her husband is named as “Francesco” a few sentences later on, this makes me wonder if “Andrew” in the original was “Andrea”; a later pair of names had me wondering the same thing, where it felt like one had been translated but not the other. Were I standing in Myerson’s shoes, I would probably have translated either all of the names (Andrew, Catherine, Francis etc.) or none (Andrea, Caterina, Francesco, etc.).

REVIEW: “Wasteland” Stephen R. Smith

Review of Stephen R. Smith, “Wasteland”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 267-268. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The guiding question throughout this story is “Who is Eliot?” Despite being introduced to us in the very first sentence — and indeed being the only character that we meet — this question is not clearly answered until the very end of the story, at which point one lingering question remains — why is he named ‘Eliot’? But that question is never answered because this story is quite short, almost more a vignette than a story, and resolution does not need to be the order of the day here.

REVIEW: “In This Life and the Next” by Katherine Inskip

Review of Katherine Inskip, “In This Life and the Next”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I struggle with second-person POV so much. I can totally understand why an author would choose it — I’ve had my own fair share of writing something that simply need to be written in that voice — but as a reader I find it so often off-putting, because if the “you” is “me”, then the narrator has gotten something totally wrong, this isn’t me, this isn’t my story.

So I always start a second-person POV story with a healthy dose of trepidation. Maybe this one will be the one where the “you” is in fact me.

It wasn’t, oh, it wasn’t. But when I realize who the narrator is, and who she is talking to…I’ll forgive the author pretty much anything, because there is no way this story could’ve been written in anything but second-person POV, and it’s brilliant.

REVIEW: “Cinderevolution” by Shondra Snodderly

Review of Shondra Snodderly, “Cinderevolution”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 307. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

How many sentences does it take to tell a story? In the case of Snodderly’s “Cinderevolution”, if I write one more sentence after this one, my review will be as long as the story itself (which seems a bit backwards), so I’d better stop here.

REVIEW: “Neanderthals” by Gardner Dozois

Review of Gardner Dozois, “Neanderthals”, Fantasy & Science Fiction 134, 1-2 (2018): 39-60 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Michael Johnston.

“Neanderthals” begins with a series of images that quickly and effectively give the reader an idea of where you are in time and space–and then the rest of the story demolishes that security.  What you think is happening isn’t.

It’s a great story, and a very quick read–I read it over lunch, and I didn’t linger.  It’s deceptively simple in that the events of the story aren’t all that complicated, but a day after reading it, I’m still thinking through some of the implications and possibilities.

REVIEW: Flash Fiction Online, ed. Suzanne W. Vincent, November 2017

Review of Flash Fiction Online, ed. Suzanne W. Vincent, November 2017 [Read Online/Purchase Here]. Reviewed by Meryl Stenhouse.

Stories in this issue:
Crater Meet by Brian Trent
Last Long Night by Lina Rather
The Stars and the Rain by Emily McCosh
Baker by Sheila Massie

Crater Meet by Brian Trent

This story is both heart-lifting and heartbreaking. Two sides of a war meet in the middle of no-man’s land for a convivial, makeshift dinner. There’s no personal enmity between these men. They are the same people on different sides of a war. This story beautifully captures the ridiculousness of war and the feeling of being caught up in something that doesn’t touch them, even as it kills them.

Last Long Night by Lina Rather

The crew of a spaceship, believing themselves to be the last humans, struggle to reach a half-terraformed planet where they might survive. Along the way they meet a Russian cosmonaut who saves them and gives them hope. I felt on edge every moment of reading this story. Rather paints a picture of people on the edge; of sanity, of survival, of hope, and the most unlikely meeting that surely must be a sign.

The Stars and the Rain by Emily McCosh

This story deals in fear, but it’s the small, daily, family fears. The narrator runs away from home, but she can’t admit to herself that she’s running away for many years. But it’s the sort of unacknowledged running away where you still talk to your family, but you just don’t have the strength to do it face to face. What I really loved about this story was the way the author used snapshots as both communication and story structure. It reads like a succession of freeze frames and is compelling because of the little we actually see.

Baker by Sheila Massie

There’s a grim hopelessness to this story that wasn’t present in the previous tales, and a feeling that things will never change. Rafael, a baker with a touch of magic, bakes bread that helps people, but he never has enough magic for all the people who need help, and you can feel his desperation. Who does he choose? Who can he help? His final choice is intellectual, but you can already feel that it will do no good in the end. However that doesn’t stop him trying.

Overall, I found this edition to be uplifting and heartful. I enjoyed the science fiction stories especially.

REVIEW: “Trich” by Jay Knioum

Review of Jay Knioum, “Trich”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 99-100. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

There are two ways to introduce a 3rd person POV short story — name the character in the first paragraph, and then switch to the relevant pronoun, or refer to the character by pronoun in the first paragraph, and name the character in the second paragraph. Knioum’s story opts for the latter option, which I always find a little bit strange. The use of the pronoun rather than the name distances the reader at the very point when we need to be drawn in. If we’re going to be told the character’s name, why not in the opening paragraph?

When a story is as short as this one, there isn’t much time to get the reader invested. At two pages, I found that things were only just getting going when suddenly they ended, leaving me a bit perplexed. I’ll say this, though — the capping illustration was well-paired with the story, and when I saw it, a lightbulb dawned. “Oh….it’s that story!”

REVIEW: “Goners” by Hannah Sternberg

Review of Hannah Sternberg, “Goners”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One thing that ties a lot of SFF/Spec Fic together is a distinct lack of place. The anonymity of the setting allows the readers to fill in the gaps however they need to to make the story their own. Sternberg’s “Goners” introduces its setting from the very start — and though it’s been nearly 13 years since I left Wisconsin, I always have a little nostalgic soft spot for that state. (I do wonder a bit at why the narrator went from Wisconsin to North Carolina via the Great Plains — or how he knew to put vinegar on a jellyfish sting). But it is precisely the specificity and the namedness of the geography that Sternberg hangs her speculative twist on. That twist, making up the middle third of the story, was where I thought the story shone the most; the beginning was a bit ordinary, and the ending was a bit explanatory, but during the middle I was wholly uncertain as to how things would go, which I love in a story.

REVIEW: “Behind Her, Trailing Like Butterfly Wings” by Daniela Tomova

Review of Daniela Tomova, “Behind Her, Trailing Like Butterfly Wings”, Apex Magazine 103: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Some stories sneak up on you. “Behind Her, Trailing Like Butterfly Wings” is one of them. There are so many tiny details that only have meaning in retrospect, so many moments in the opening that only come together in the final paragraphs. This is a story that makes you work a bit, piecing things together. That’s not a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of in choosing the right moment to read it.

This story takes place in a dying, almost post-apocalyptic, world. The human population has divided into nomads who walk the road, following the mysterious and mostly unseen Wandering Woman, and those who remain in towns, called oases. Anomalies called mouths (which I won’t spoil for you with an explanation) are opening up at random, and their spreading threat is responsible for the breakdown of what we would consider the normal modes of society. Life is in flux, and it’s unclear if a new status quo will ever be achieved, or if this is the end. But there’s also a normalcy to the world. People adapt, they survive, they create relationships and families and tribes. I found it to be surprisingly hopeful, for all that uncertainty.

I must confess, this story did not work for me on my first reading. Too much of the world and the characters were mysterious until the end, and I felt dissatisfied. However, I enjoyed it much more on my second reading, when I was able to fully appreciate the skillful way the author dolled out information.

This is a great choice if you’re in the mood for something cerebral, and well-worth a re-read!

REVIEW: “Baug’s Hollow” by Cathrin Hagey

Review of Cathrin Hagey, “Baug’s Hollow”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The story has many echoes of the traditional Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” which puts me in mind of Edith Pattou’s East, one of my favorite books. So I really enjoyed reading this. I also enjoyed it for the optimistic view it paints of happiness at the end of life, after the death of a spouse. It is a sweet story of how love transcends boundaries, both literal and physical, and Hagey needs only a few words to paint neat pictures of each of the characters.