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.