REVIEW: “Down Among the Fireweed” by Sarah McGill

Review of Sarah McGill, “Down Among the Fireweed”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story of Jack, born to a mother who could not care for him and so made a compact with Tom Scratch, an exchange of her child’s future for his life, and of Marjorie Hart, the only one who could remove the chains that bound Jack, is told in a “forsoothly” sort of voice to enhance its old-fashioned, old-world, old-timey feel. At times this works for me, while at other times it simply ends up either over-written (too many words for too little feeling or action) or under-written (leaving me uncertain what just happened).

The story is quite complex, so having the narrative style interfere with it, as it did for me, meant I got to the end still unsure quite how it hung together, and wishing that I had understood it better. This might be one to reread.

REVIEW: “Bog Witch” by Maya Dworsky

Review of Maya Dworsky, “Bog Witch”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

In the opening paragraphs we are introduced to Taterra, who joined the Lioness Project in her sixties and who is careful to remind herself that she chose to be here on “this horrible backwards moon”. With quick, skilful sentences Dworsky fills us in on Taterra’s character and background, and by the time she drops the line “Taterra was not his girl. She was not anyone’s girl; Taterra had tenure”, I am utterly sold. Taterra might not be anyone’s girl, but I’m totally Taterra’s girl. (Later on I find out she likes Argentinian malbecs, and I am further convinced that Taterra is who I want to be when I grow up.)

Taterra’s assignment on Hecate III, an old prison moon, isn’t exactly first-contact, but it is “first-in-a-long-time contact”, and Taterra is there to observe and gather data, as any good anthropologist and social scientist would. But of course she cannot only observe, and the way in which Taterra gets sucked into the court life on Hecate III, how her guise as mystic and seer shapes and changes the future of the royal family and the entire colony, how her prophesies come true, is gripping and fascinating. It’s not just a story of science and magic, it’s a story of how wanting something can make it happen, how belief in magic creates magic itself, and how the birth of a girl-prince can change everything. I loved it.

One warning for those who wish to avoid it: The story features underage marriage, and death in childbirth.

REVIEW: “Crone, Chronos” by Cathrin Hagey

Review of Cathrin Hagey, “Crone, Chronos”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

“Your kid’s weird!” Lilianna’s mother is told, and Lilianna knows it’s true: She is weird. But her weirdness is nothing compared to the weirdness of finding a cottage near an old ravine where previously there had been no cottage — and finding inside the cottage someone who knows her name. And not only does the old woman who greets her know her name, she knows a lot more about Lilianna than she should, and a lot more than she lets on.

Despite the uncertainty of Lilianna’s fate, as she questions the rationality of accepting an invitation into a stranger’s house simply on the promise of ice cream, this is a simple, straightforward story, wearing its genre (time-travel) on its sleeve in such a way that you know what the resolution is long before it is reached.

REVIEW: “On the Day You Spend Forever with Your Dog” by Adam R. Shannon

Review of Adam R. Shannon, “On the Day You Spend Forever with Your Dog”, Apex Magazine 115 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This is a story about love and loss and time travel. What if a physicist had to put their beloved dog to sleep? What if they already had theories about time travel? What if they wanted to just one more day with their pet?

I appreciate that this story never descends into the saccharine, despite the sentimental subject matter. This could easily devolve into something sickly sweet, and while there is certainly a place for rainbow bridges and pets looking down on us from above, this story is not that. Instead, it evokes feelings of loss and hopelessness and desperation, finally focusing in on what it really means to love someone who you are destined to lose.

But don’t think this is all emotion – the specifics of time travel within this story are both unique and detailed. While time travel is definitely used as a metaphor, the story also works as science fiction, with a well thought out explanation of how it works and why.

I think this story will speak to anyone who has ever loved an animal, but be warned, it may make you cry.

REVIEW: “Under Her White Stars” by Jacob Budenz

Review of Jacob Budenz, “Under Her White Stars”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 106-126 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

I was very glad that this, the final story in the anthology, was one of the longer ones, because it meant that the time I’d be finished with the anthology would be put off. All of the stories in this book have captured so well the desired goal/theme of the anthology, and this capping story didn’t disappoint either.

I loved this story of a freelance witch who cobbles together his living by sometimes working as a healer, sometimes as a seller of spells, and sometimes a witch-hunter. We never learn his name, but his target is Amarande, a witch down south who runs a convenience store and is conning his customers into giving them their souls so that he can be immortal, and he’s got it all planned out…except what he didn’t plan for was his fiancé Lionel coming along with him.

As soon as Lionel wormed his way into the plan, ready to play the role of bait so that the witch could capture Amarande, I read the rest of the story on tenterhooks: Would it have a happy ending? Would it have a sad ending?

It’d be spoilers to tell you, so I’ll just say this: It had exactly the right ending that both the story and the anthology needed.

REVIEW: “Dissonance, Part I” by D. M. Rice

Review of D. M. Rice, “Dissonance, Part I”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 94-105 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

What a strange story! Rice’s piece straddles the boundary between experimental prose and long-form poetry, combining non-standard typesetting, plenty of capitals, italics, and bold, broken and incomplete words, and disjointed/uncertain narration and yet still ending up with a clear voice and distinctive characters — Sir Talon, the narrator; Alfa Behn, whom he asks out on a date; Maestro Belfast, Ezra Gentle, the Elemental Countess of Norwooq, others.

Because of the presentation of the story, it was hard work to read; I had to concentrate on every single individual word, in a way that I don’t ordinarily when reading blocks of prose, when I can take in phrases at a time. I’m still uncertain whether I think the experimental format benefited the story or detracted from it; I suspect that’s something best left to each reader to decide for themself! But if this is Part I, I definitely want to read Part II!

REVIEW: “Riding the Signal” by Gary Kloster

Review of Gary Kloster, “Riding the Signal”, Apex Magazine 114 (2018): Read Online. Originally published in InterGalactic Medicine Show, 29 (2012). Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Alec Chu is a member of an elite squad of remote control mercenaries, who pilot bots to carry out private battles in relative safety. He’s good at the work, and it’s a solid paycheck, until one day his base comes under attack.

This is a solid story about the difference between a soldier and someone who simply fights for a living. Alec (as well as his team leader, a true veteran) struggles with the fact that his team, while highly competent, lacks the unity, trust, and focus that true soldiers possess. As the story goes on, he has to see if he can find that kind of dedication within himself.

This is a more action-heavy story than I usually find in Apex, which I’m sure will please some people, and disappoint others. It’s well-written, so if lengthy action sequences appeal to you, then you will likely enjoy this departure from their usual fare.

REVIEW: “Your Heart in My Teeth” by V. Medina

Review of V. Medina, “Your Heart in My Teeth”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 82-93 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

A city is made of its people. It only make sense that [its heart] would be human (p. 92)

“You,” we are told in the opening sentence, “find yourself going to the street corner where he died” (p. 82). And yet, though the whole story is told in 2nd person POV, it doesn’t feel — like so many 2nd person POV stories do — to me like some external/omniscient narrator is telling me what I am doing, thinking, feeling. Instead, it feels much more like the narrator is narrating the story to himself, that he is trying to fit the broken pieces of his life back together into a pattern that makes sense.

There’s really no cues indicating how this POV should be read here, but it’s certainly possible to read the story this way, and that’s how I read it, as a story between a narrator and his dead lover, who died in a car crash on that corner, where a little grocer sits. This is the first of the stories in this anthology that has a rather creepy undertone of horror to it, and there is an ambiguity to the ending that I liked a lot. I am also continually impressed at how each of the stories fits into the theme of the anthology as a whole, even when they contain grand statements about the nature of the city itself.

REVIEW: “The Plague-Eater” by Caspian Gray

Review of Caspian Gray, “The Plague-Eater”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 65-81 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

From the start of the story, a few things are clear: Todd, Miguel, and Pills have the comfortable rapport of the best of friends, and Pills is very ill.

What do two friends do when a third is sick? Anything they can to help, it turns out, and for Miguel, that “anything” includes seeking out a night nurse to help care for her — and not any old night nurse, but a plague-eater. (The fact that he can invite Todd along on a not-a-date is an added bonus.)

This was a wonderfully done story — there’s fantasy, with Miguel’s pursuit of the plague eater; there’s romance, between Miguel and Todd; but the central themes that run through the story are deeper, sadder. Pills’ slow succumbing to cancer. The importance of chosen-families. The isolation of blood-family rejection. — which keeps the reader on the edge of uncertainty concerning the outcome, right all the way up until the very end.

REVIEW: “Familiar” by kx carys

Review of kx carys, “Familiar”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 63-64 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Another vignette-type piece, “Familiar” is a brief slice in the live of Margaux and Cassia, witches and lovers. Cassia needs a familiar, and she wants a raven; Margaux thinks that’s gauche. Cassia doesn’t want another cat, and eventually she brings Margaux around.

Because the story was so short, there was little character development or anything else to give me a sense of why the resolution came about the way that it did. I would have liked to have seen more, to have this turned into a rounder, deeper story. But I’m glad Cassia got her raven in the end.