REVIEW: “Everybody and His Mother” by Agrippina Domanski

Review of Agrippina Domanski, “Everybody and His Mother”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I struggled with this one. I struggled with reading the story, to the point where I eventually gave up about half-way through, and then let it sit for another month before coming back to reread it. It’s not that it was poorly written, it’s not that it contained elements I found problematic, I just found it a difficult story to engage with. Part of it is that it seems quite atypical for Luna Station Quarterly‘s usual offerings; it very much felt like an ordinary story, of ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary places and that’s all it was for the first three-quarters of the story or so. In another venue, this wouldn’t have even been worth mentioning; but reading this story in a spec fic journal, I found myself waiting for more, wanting more. So I’m in the strange position of having to say that even if the story itself is good, the venue choice isn’t. It just didn’t work for me, and that ended up affecting my interaction with the story.

The story deals with the permeability of memory, and involves a lot of double-talk; I’m never quite sure what or whom to believe, never quite sure what the truth is. Part of this is because the narrator, Jemima, is not entirely reliable; part of it is simply because many useful pieces of information are omitted from where I would want to have them, or even omitted altogether. For example, both “Jack” and “the kid” play central roles both in the story and in Jemima’s life, but it was unclear for quite awhile what the relationship was between the kid and Jemima, or between the kid and Jack, or between Jack and Jemima. Clues and puzzle pieces were given, but I put them together in the wrong way, only to find a significant portion of the story later that I’d missed the mark. All of these things conspired to my finding this a difficult piece to read.

REVIEW: “Big Mother” by Anya Ow

Review of Anya Ow, “Big Mother”, Strange Horizons 1 Jan. 2018: Read online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

There’s something both horrific and beautiful about the story Anya Ow narrates in “Big Mother.” It effortlessly combines the terror of meeting something strange in the dark with a childhood nostalgia and sense of loss for the wild places of the world.

In “Big Mother,” the narrator recounts an experience she had as a young girl with her brother and three neighbor children. The children go fishing in the dark, searching for a snakehead, and accidentally hook something more dangerous. When the lure proves too strong for the oldest boy, the narrator must lead the other children to his rescue.

The story has something of the feel of Stranger Things to it, in that its climax revolves around one child going missing and his friends searching for him. It’s got a creepy creature too: the eponymous Big Mother, which the children dredge out of the canal. Though it starts a little slow, the horror element pulses strongly in the story’s middle and through the climax. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Our heroine is exactly what you would want in a horror story, bold and brave despite her fear. It is she and she alone that walks into the water to meet Big Mother, and she rescues the oldest boy by talking the monster down. The story concludes with a present-day epilogue, where we see how this childhood event resonated down through the narrator’s life and how sad she is that the modern world is swallowing the spaces where magic once dwelt.

It’s a beautiful tale, well-told and memorable in its execution from start to finish.

REVIEW: “The Birding: A Fairy Tale” by Natalia Theodoridou

Review of Natalia Theodoridou, “The Birding: A Fairy Tale”, Strange Horizons 18 Dec. 2017: Read online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

Fairy tales, when they’re done well, are some of the most exquisite stories to read. Even when they’re set in our world, they have an otherworldly, dreamlike quality that sets them apart. In this regard, “The Birding: A Fairy Tale” lives up to its name.

Set in modern-day Greece in the aftermath of a plague that turns its victims into birds, this short story follows a pregnant woman named Maria as she searches the plague’s wreckage for her husband. It feels like “The Birds,” if the birds were mostly peaceful and the result of humans metamorphosing.

The story is engaging from the beginning; it starts with the classic of post-apocalyptic literature and film, the highway full of empty cars a direct sign to the reader that something is not well with the world. Maria is a sympathetic protagonist, and it’s easy to put ourselves in her shoes. She makes the choices we hope we would make, and the dashes of backstory Theodoridou inserts are just enough to paint a picture of her life and loss.

I had hoped for a different, happier ending – not the “and they lived happily ever after” sort, because that would be trite, but perhaps something that suggested a way for Maria and her child to move forward in this new world of birds. While it wasn’t what I wanted, Theodoridou does deliver a denouement full of poetic lines and beautiful imagery, and in the end, that beauty is what I like most about this modern-day fairytale.

REVIEW: “A Taste of Freedom” by Thomas Webb

Review of Thomas Webb, “A Taste of Freedom”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 375-378. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Warning: Probably not the story you want to read if you’ve suffered from abuse.

This story is told in shadows and secrecy, the story of She and of what He did to her. We never know who either of them are; this is because She doesn’t have enough sense of who she is in order to tell us more than what she does.

It’s not a pleasant story, and, to be honest, not the sort of story that I enjoy at all. I tend to think one must have a very good reason before choosing to write a story of abuse — to have some sense of what will be gained from doing so, and that this gain will outweigh any harm done by perpetuating, almost normalising, such behavior. If there was a gain in telling this story, I’m not sure I was able to see what it was.

REVIEW: “Aliens and Old Gods” by Kimber Camacho

Review of Kimber Camacho, “Aliens and Old Gods”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 360-374. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I find I enjoy the longer stories in this anthology more than the shorter ones, in part because the length means there’s more meat to the story — and there’s plenty of meat in this one.

The story is constructed out of four different vignettes, of seemingly disparate events, happening in different places and different times to different people, with — at first — no clear connecting thread running through them. But by the time we finish the second one, it is clear that the titular aliens and old gods are the red thread that connects all the different events together.

A second thread that ties each of the scenes together is the narrative voice that tells them all, a voice that is clinical and almost journalistic. These scenes are told by someone who appears to be watching the events at arm’s length, almost always uninvolved and dispassionate (only sometimes turning passionate and interpretative), and who is someone who clearly knows a lot more than anyone experiencing the events. One of the aliens? One of the old gods? We won’t ever know…

REVIEW: “Timewalking” by Michael Cassutt

Review of Michael Cassutt, “Timewalking”, Asimov’s Science Fiction November/December (2017): 86-99 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley. 

He, James this year, this month, this week, is not only signalling 1962 and 1974 and possibly 1988 James… he is signalling James This Week. 

A different take on a time travel story. James has begun to sleepwalk and, in an attempt to figure out what’s going on contacts an experimental company called Ikelos who attempt to cure him. Instead, they tell him that he is not in fact sleepwalking, but walking through time. This allows James to send future information back to his past self and access information in the past that his future self has left for him there. James’ future self is trying to tell him something about the decisions he makes about his start up company May Cay and their ramifications for the future. 

I enjoyed how the two intertwined storylines echoed one another thematically – the timewalking web and the ‘vineware’ plant-machine hybrid product James is creating with his start up – and how both deal with changing up current methods of passing information along. Watching the information pass between the two as the story progressed was compelling and a good use of both ideas. 

I found James’ final decision a little unsatisfying, though, it didn’t quite derive from his previous thinking and experiences enough to follow on logically for me. 

REVIEW: “Island of Skulls” by Matt Spencer

Review of Matt Spencer, “Island of Skulls”, Broadswords and Blasters 1 (2017): 52-67 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Yana Shepard.

Where do I start? Well, first off, I should mention the language. Personally, it doesn’t bother me, but I know plenty of people that don’t enjoy heavy use of harsh words. This heads up is for those people who would do better skipping “Island of Skulls” for that reason.

On to the main characters.

The twins are young and it shows. Ketz is easily distracted by curves and Tia is disrespectful in both her speech and behavior towards others. Granted, Ketz was being pulled into the plot by what seemed like lust filled magic, but that isn’t answered as this is a two part story. (The second half being continued in issue 2 of Broadswords and Blasters.) I think if I had gotten the chance to learn more about the twins I could have grown to like them. As a short story, however, I couldn’t get behind their attitudes. Ketz seemed more level headed than his sister, not so eager to kill, unlike Tia.

The world building was interesting. I would like to see more of that, but the twins made the story a slower read than it needed to be.

As far as story goes, I’m unsure why Tia brought Ketz along with her to check on the Island of Skulls. If he was being manipulated with sex appeal (which may or may not have been solely through magic) wouldn’t he be a threat to their mission?

Unfortunately, my question won’t get an answer until issue 2.