REVIEW: “The Future of Hunger in the Age of Programmable Matter” by Sam J. Miller

Review of Sam J. Miller, “The Future of Hunger in the Age of Programmable Matter”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 155-171 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: drug addiction and abuse.

Reading this story put me through the ringer. It is raw, and hard, and harsh, and dark. It is so masterfully put together that as a writer myself, I read it and despaired of ever writing anything ever again, because it was so good, and I could never do anything that good. At the same time, reading it made me want to write, because it was so good, and that means people can write things so good, and maybe I could too, someday.

But what amazed me most about it was not its depths, not the quality of the writing, but the way in which Miller took such a sad story that could have been sordid and turned it into something beautifully redemptive. The moment of hope at the end left me in tears.

(Originally published on Tor.com, 2017.)

REVIEW: “Bone Song” by Aja McCullough

Review of Aja McCullough, “Bone Song”, Apex Magazine 116 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Featuring a miller, a dead woman, and a macabre violin, this story has all the pieces of a dark fairy tale. In fact, I recognized aspects of “The Two Sisters,” a murderous folk song with many variants. However, picking up on that reference is not necessary to enjoy the story.

Bone Song” packs a surprising amount of heartbreak into less than 800 words, but also a lot of beauty. The crux of this story is communication – what the dead woman wants to say from beyond the grave, and what the miller hears, and the vast chasm between the two. It’s a subtle story, as is befitting its brevity.

REVIEW: “The Exile” by Cathal Ó Sándair

Review of Cathal Ó Sándair, “The Exile” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 253-260 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The final story in this anthology was originally published 123 years after the first one — so far into the future of the early 19th C as to be almost unimaginable (though that didn’t prevent the early authors from trying!). The contrast between this story and the previous ones was marked: This one felt modern. This is in part because, although it was written in 1960, it is set in what is still the future of 2019. (Although it’s not our timeline, that’s for sure; we did not make contact with the Selenites, those who live on the moon, in 2007 as happened in this story.)

Seán Murphy was a young man when he first read an advertisement in the paper calling for young men to emigrate to the Moon. Despite his mother’s desires, and promising to come back within 5 years, Seán went. But when his mother died before the five years was up, there was — for many years at least — no reason for him to return home, no reason, until he himself was old and grown, his wife dead, his children scattered. Then it seemed to Seán that his life on the Moon was an exile, and he desired to return to Ireland, to die there.

The joy in this story is the way it pokes sly fun at the loyalty that the Irish have for Ireland — “the nicest place under the sun” (p. 257) — in the face of the width and breadth of the solar system for comparison. But the grass is always greener on the other side, and what Seán finds when he returns to Ireland is not quite what he bargained on.

(Originally published in 1960; this translation by the present editor.)

REVIEW: “The Chronotron” by Tarlach Ó hUid

Review of Tarlach Ó hUid, “The Chronotron” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 241-249 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: contemplation of self-harm and suicide.

Ó hUid’s tale is a cautionary tale of time-travel gone wrong. Seosamh, the narrator, is the friend of one Professor Ó Neill, who has long been working on “a contraption that could travel through Time” (p. 242). When the machine, the Chronotron, is finally complete, the Professor invites Seosamh over for dinner, one night in 1985, and to join him in testing the contraption.

This story is perhaps the most Irish of all the ones I’ve read in the anthology so far. The Professor interrogates Seosamh on “which event from Irish history is most to blame for the hideous state of the country today?” (p. 246); Seosamh is at no loss for options, including the Norman invasion, the Famine, or the Civil War. What better use for a time machine than to attempt to avert one of these crises? But never forget the consequences of meddling with history…

(Originally published in 1946; translated by the editor in 2018).

REVIEW: “Twenty-Nine Responses to Inquiries About My CraigsList Post: Alien Spaceship for Sale. $200, you Haul.” by Tina Connolly

Review of Tina Connolly, “Twenty-Nine Responses to Inquiries About my CraigsList Post: Alien Spaceship for Sale. $200, you Haul.”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 64-67. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This one is pretty funny overall. Personally stories have a high chance of growing old quickly when it’s a clever/funny epistolary story, especially in the form of a quippy instruction manual or the like. But this one developed fairly well, pulled some genuine laughs from me, and didn’t overstay its welcome.

With Tina Connolly having the pedigree she does, I’m not surprised she pulled this one off so well. Recommended.

REVIEW: “A Vision” by Art Ó Riain

Review of Art Ó Riain, “A Vision” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 233-237 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This story, originally written in Irish and newly translated by the editor, is ostensibly a story of the Professor and a new-fangled device that he has modified so that “you can see anything you want” through it now. His friend, the narrator, is the first to see the results.

But the story is less about the technology and more about…I guess I’d describe it as being about the futility of life. That no matter how far we move forward, we always come back to where we began. It’s the circle of life, but not in an uplifting, positive, Lion-King sort of way.

(Originally published in 1927.)

REVIEW: “With These Hands” by LH Moore

Review of LH Moore, “With These Hands”, Apex Magazine 116 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Simeon, a free black man, is working on the construction of the White House, as a bricklayer. While he daydreams about a quiet life after this job, perhaps meeting a nice woman and settling down to have children, his friends Eugene and Clifford are not so lucky. They are slaves, on loan from their master, and will have to return to Virginia when this project is over. The speculative element of this story comes from what they decide to do to avoid that fate.

Simeon is a quietly perceptive narrator, but he can not see everything. Because the story is told through his point-of-view, we never find out exactly what Eugene and Clifford did or who they struck their bargain with. That uncertainty provides the impetus for Simeon to write down this story.

Juxtaposing the White House – symbol and seat of the U.S. government – with the reality of slavery, is a bold and decisive move. It forces the reader to confront just whose labor built so many of our monuments, all while telling an emotionally compelling story.