REVIEW: “Phalium arium ssp. anam” by Victoria Sandbrook

Review of Victoria Sandbrook, “Phalium arium ssp. anam”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Nora Sullivan, “the strange one”, will take any justification she can to go see the sideshow, even if it means accompanying John Reidy (“a nice young man from a nice family”, for all that he seems uninterested in the company of the woman he invited to come with him). Much of what is at the show are disappointing fakes, but some…some of them were real, and magic, and crying out to Nora to be rescued.

This rather quick and quiet story reminded me of Mommy Fortuna’s Carnival in Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. But here, things end hopefully, rather than in chaos.

REVIEW: “The Firefly Beast” by Tony Pi

Review of Tony Pi, “The Firefly Beast”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 115-122. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The City God of Chengdu outsources his city’s security needs to demons “seeking atonement for past wrongs by defending the city” (p. 116). But what happens when the demon defending the city becomes the demon that the city must be defended from? Pi’s story pits the turncoat Firefly Beast against the White-Gold Guest, who defends the city with a flute rather than a sword.

For the White-Gold Guest, poetry is not a means of destruction; it’s not a weapon at all, but rather the first step on her path to atonement, and, later on in that path, a shield of protection for her adopted city.

I read this story on a night when I needed something good, something supportive, something that focuses on strength and hope and things like that. This story delivered that. I loved how the White-Gold Guest turned her power to battle against her own inner appetites, used it to seek to better herself, and later on another, rather than to destroy. And I was absolutely delighted to find out, reading Pi’s author’s note, that the White-Gold Guest’s poetess mentor, Xue Tao, is a real, historical poet. I look forward to reading more of her poems.

REVIEW: “Coyote Now Wears a Suit” by Ani Fox

Review of Ani Fox, “Coyote Now Wears a Suit”, Apex Magazine 112 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Kupua is not thrilled when her family asks her to come down to the courthouse to get somebody she didn’t even know out of jail, but when the person in question turns out to be Coyote, things get downright weird. For starters, what is Coyote even doing in Hawaii?

This is one of the best takes on Coyote I’ve seen in ages. He (or is it she? Tricksters are so hard to pin down, much like our narrator) breaks Kapua’s life open with chaos that is anything but innocent. Sometimes, depictions of Coyote lack bite, but not here. This Coyote isn’t concerned about pain, or a bit of collateral damage. He isn’t being cruel without reason – everything he destroys, from Kupua’s relationships to her secrets, needed to end for her to move forward – but I got the sense that this was a test as much as a kindness. If Kupua hadn’t risen to the challenge, Coyote would shrug and walk away.

This story is jam-packed. It not only has one of the most popular trickster figures in literature, this story takes a cold, hard look at the discrimination faced by native Hawaiians, stares down issues of gender and sexual orientation, and pulls no punches. All that, and the story is a roller coaster of excitement from start to finish.

REVIEW: “The Mothership” by K. Bannerman

Review of K. Bannerman, “The Mothership”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Miscarriage/stillbirth, violent labor.

Fifty sleeping women set off for Titan, populating a mothership whose purpose is both figurative and literal. The problem is that only one of the women managed to become, and stay, pregnant. For all the other forty-nine, either the procedure didn’t work or they awoke before the end of nine months, miscarrying. Now Kyana is awake…and the news is not good.

It’s a rather horrific story, not because it is gruesome or gory or particularly vivid, but just because of the strength of the sadness that comes with that much loss of life and hope. It’s much easier to deal with the abstract notion of the end of the human race, when the last adult dies and there are no new babies left to be born. It’s another when those babies die before they have even had a chance to live. There is a twist of hope at the end, but it’s hardly enough to offset all the bleakness.

REVIEW: “Checkmate” by J. S. Veter

Review of J. S. Veter, “Checkmate”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Attempted suicide, assisted suicide.

Umam Preth is stuck at the end of the world with his dead wife’s AI and a shriveled apple. Everything else is gone, and he’s got 5 more minutes left before he is gone too. It’s every scientist’s dream, isn’t it? To be the one who gets to see the end of the world, to record it, to make notes, to see exactly how all things go out. But it’s also every scientist’s nightmare, to be the one who caused the nothing that is swallowing up galaxies. No wonder Umam Preth wants to kill himself.

The story opens with an attempted suicide, and yet, the entire thing was more amusing than anything, reminding me of Douglas Adams.

REVIEW: “River Street” by S.R. Mandel

Review of S.R. Mandel, “River Street”, Apex Magazine 112 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

You stumble upon River Street while looking for something else, but it draws you in, and soon you are strolling along its hills, drawn inexorably onward by curiosity and frank enjoyment.

This is a weird little piece, the sort that makes me wonder if I’m missing something. But the description of a meandering street that pulls you in and then pushes you to an unknown destination stuck with me long after I’d finished reading. Is the street good or bad, is this about being trapped or being freed? Maybe those are the wrong questions.

If you don’t consider plots and protagonists to be critical parts of a story and are in the mood for something a bit more experimental, give this bite-sized story a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.

REVIEW: “Winter Flowers” by Alessia Galatini

Review of Alessia Galatini, “Winter Flowers”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I love new tellings of old stories, and even more when the retelling makes the story itself become now. “Winter Flowers” is the story of Demeter and Persephone, not just transposed into the 20th century, but reincarnated. For Demeter and Persephone are goddesses, never dying; why should their stories be limited to ancient Greece?

The story is in four parts, one for each of the seasons, two for Demeter, two for Persephone. It’s San Francisco in the summer of 1967, and Persephone has returned to Demeter to enjoy summer, while Hades is busy in Vietnam, for “somebody has to take care of the bodies in Vietnam”. But it’s also the fall of 1929, and depression has hit, spiralling towards sadness and darkness. And it’s winter of 1943, in the bleakness of Auschwitz; there cannot be any better symbol of death than that. And then it is spring again, at the turn of a millennia, and Demeter and Persephone return to the Greece they once knew, where “Staring at the world from the ruins of our old empire, we are back to the gods we once were.”

Neither Demeter’s nor Persephone’s story is an easy one, to tell or retell; but I enjoyed Galatini’s very much.

REVIEW: “Field Biology of the Wee Fairies” by Naomi Kritzer

Review of Naomi Kritzer, “Field Biology of the Wee Fairies”, Apex Magazine 112 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

The scene is 1960’s America, the protagonist a 14 year old girl who is more interested in her science project than in hair, makeup, and boys. Her parents assure her that will all change when she catches a fairy and becomes pretty (as is the normal series of events in this version of the world), but Amelia is skeptical.

First of all, I have to admit how much I love alternate history and fantasy, so this story had an easy time winning me over. The sexism and societal pressure to conform fit with my understanding of the period (and honestly varies from my own, much later, adolescent experience by detail and degree), and adding in twee fairies who allow girls to blossom from awkwardness to beauty is such a perfect way to externalize the process of learning to perform femininity and beauty.

The character of Amelia could very easily have turned into a “not like other girls” trope, but thankfully, the story stops itself from going there. Yes, Amelia is not interested in being beautiful and getting boys to pay attention to her. She’d rather do science. But her neighbor, Betty, who caught her fairy at age nine and is said to be absolutely gorgeous, turns out to be a well-rounded, believable character who is both kind to Amelia and also actually interested in science. I appreciated that the story didn’t pit the two girls against each other, but let them subtly join forces, allowing for the option for a girl to care about her appearance and also her mind.

When Amelia does catch her fairy, it obviously does not go the way her parents or Betty expect it to. But Amelia manages to get what she wants out of the experience regardless. This was a fun story about sexism and adolescence, that I think will speak to people of any gender, wherever and whenever they grew up.

REVIEW: “Better You Than Me” by Natalia Yanchek

Review of Natalia Yanchek, “Better You Than Me”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Death is final, death is permanent, death cannot be changed or escaped. It seems easy and natural to feel that death is the worst possible outcome, to be avoided at all costs.

But death is quick, it is easy, it is momentary, while “sadness is ongoing.” Is it better to die and be wholly extinguished, or to be left behind alive, to mourn the one who has died forever?

In this story, who is dead, who is dying, and who is being killed isn’t always clear. Unfortunately, I felt like it needed to be more clear than it was to really follow what was going on, so in the end I think I missed out on a key piece of the story. This may be one worth rereading, since it was intriguing enough that I would like to know exactly what was going on.