REVIEW: “Agent of Chaos” by Jack Campbell

Review of Jack Campbell, “Agent of Chaos”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 76-97. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey

This one is dripping with a lot of writer humor, though it’s not so absorbed in the community that it’ll alienate anyone who hasn’t tried to break into the writing world. The story follows Suzanne, a woman who is following her muse, in this case Calliope, an actual, physical muse who leads her into danger, all in the name of adventure and inspiration. After all is said and done it’s going to be a question of if Suzanne even wants to be a writer anymore.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this story dances just between the line of being clever and being groan-inducing, and luckily never falls into the groan side of things. It’s a funny page turner, which is good since it’s one of the longer pieces so far in the anthology. Definitely recommended.

REVIEW: “Sirens” by Britani C. W. Baker

Review of Britani C. W. Baker, “Sirens”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Memories of child abuse.

The titular sirens of this story are not the ones I immediately thought of — tantalising creatures of the watery depths — but ones that strike fear into my childhood midwestern heart: Tornado sirens. The world that Baker populates has been destroyed by tornadoes, everywhere, all at once, and the sirens haven’t stopped since. Through their raging call walk Denver and Isaac.

I found this story left me with more questions than answers — where did the tornadoes come from? What sort of weather could have resulted in that many, all at once, including in places that don’t normally have tornadoes? How is it that vast cities are abandoned and left to scavengers, but the sirens in them are still going off? (This is quite a practical question: I found myself wondering “just how are tornado sirens powered, such that it’s possible for them to still be blaring after two years?”) I also found myself wanting somewhat more than the story had to give — something more speculative than merely a post-apocalyptic setting. However, for anyone who has lived through the sort of abuse that Denver has survived, I can imagine reading this story might be sort of cathartic.

REVIEW: “Tyler the Snot Elemental Scours the Newspaper, Searching for Change” by Zach Shepard

Review of Zach Shepard, “Tyler the Snot Elemental Scours the Newspaper, Searching for Change”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 68-75. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This one is very, very cute and clever. As it would have you guess, it follows Tyler, a snot elemental, who feels lost in life and tries to make a change. Along the way we’re introduced to his friends, each of whom is a fantasy creature of some sort of variety and this is often used to subvert any built up expectations in some way or another. It does have some poignancy to anyone who is feeling particularly lost or wandering in their own life, and may need a bit of a reminder to seek the comfort of friends once in a while.

Highly recommended.

REVIEW: “Cold Iron Comfort” by Hayley Stone

Review of Hayley Stone, “Cold Iron Comfort”, Apex Magazine 117 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Amadis believed their father when they said they could come home any time if things didn’t work out with their fairy lover, Kinnear. So when they start to recognize Kinnear’s manipulations for what they are, they find a portal and catch a bus back to their father’s junkyard. The abuse is slowly revealed through flashbacks, until another character in the present day finally calls it what it is. The author does an amazing job of using the trope of the fairy lover as a way to talk about abusive relationships.

It is worth noting that Amadis is not the main characters given name, but one which they select upon returning to the human world, after struggling with their gender identity for years. Though I lack first hand experience of the same, I thought that Amadis’ struggles with gender were well-described, and nicely integrated into the story. It also adds to the appeal of fairyland – the fae, of course, are much more fluid around gender than the average human.

There’s so much more that I could say about this story, from the pleasure of seeing a latinx narrator in a fairy story, to the way the plot incorporate and subverts common fairy tropes, to the wonderful relationship Amadis builds with the older woman who takes her in, but I’ll leave you to discover some of that for yourselves. Overall, “Cold Iron Comfort” is a lovely, thoughtful story about relationship, identity, and true family.

REVIEW: “The Dead Pirate’s Cave” by Soumya Sundar Mukherjee

Review of Soumya Sundar Mukherjee, “The Dead Pirate’s Cave”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 113-127 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

One thing you don’t expect in an otherwise relatively traditional pirate story — i.e., one with revolvers and cutlasses, deserted islands, buried treasure — is robots. Or attempts to obtain immortality by downloading your consciousness and your memories into said robot…

At times I felt that the different threads of Mukherjee’s story fought against each other, not entirely harmonious. Yet at the very end she managed to turn it into something with a delightful, hopeful, happy ending. So I’d say, read it for that, at the very least.

REVIEW: “A Smuggler’s Pact” by Su Haddrell

Review of Su Haddrell, “A Smuggler’s Pact”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 102-112 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m not sure whether “depressing patriarchy” needs a content warning or not, but the harassment first mate Maeve suffers at the hands of her captain, Captain Stuart, is so ordinary and normal, probably no woman would be taken off guard reading it. But Maeve and Captain Stuart have a deal and she’s willing to put up with a lot in hopes of eventually commanding a ship of her own. As it is, she’s often the de facto captain of Stuart’s ship, as he spends his time too drunk, and besides, it’s much more convenient that he sends her into danger than go himself.

Some men transporting cargo through the swamps of Arcadia disappeared a few nights ago, and Maeve goes with the next cargo transport — as much as to reassure the crews as to protect them. Little does she know that again she’ll be bargaining, not with her captain, but with the witch of the swamp…a bargain that will get her all she and her future crew could desire.

This story had a lovely hints at the worldbuilding, giving the feeling of the story being a part of something larger, without belabouring the matter or info-dumping, and a satisfying come-uppance at the end.

REVIEW: “Rib of Man” by Geonn Cannon

Review of Geonn Cannon, “Rib of Man”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 90-101 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Henriette Talmadge captains the Rib of Man, a former slave trader ship that she captured and made her own. It’s a suitable name for a ship that is captained by a woman and whose crew contains many other women. On the one hand, the rib of man from which woman was created (according to one story, at least), is

curved and sharp, like a sword. A man’s rib is a weapon, crafted while he lay naked and exposed…The women standing before you are descendants of that brutal moment. We are weapons who have been taught we are weak, fragile, helpless. The weaker sex (p. 93)

But on the other hand,

ribs are also protection: a shield that is always with you, protecting your most vital organ, your heart (p. 100)

Henriette Talmadge captains her ship as both a weapon and a shield. While some pirates prefer to ransack for treasure, she’s happy to capture slave ships and free the slaves, for no profit of her own. But sometimes profit comes in unexpected quarters, as happens when the Rib of Man encounters the Rebecca and comes away with a new navigator. Genevalisse knows not only how to pilot the ship safely through treacherous waters, but she also know navigate the careful passageways into Henriette’s heart.

REVIEW: “Andromache’s War” by Elliott Dunstan

Review of Elliott Dunstan, “Andromache’s War”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 77-89 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Warning: Minor spoilers.

Oh, how I loved this story! The Trojan war is over. Hector is dead. Astyanax his heir is dead. The house of Priam is dead — at least, so says Neoptolemos. But that’s because he’s forgotten that the house of Priam is made up of more than just its men. He’s forgotten about Cassandra, and Hecuba, and, most importantly, Andromache herself, his slave and concubine, and now his murderer.

In shoving Neoptolemos off his ship, Andromache finds herself queen of a wholly new empire. She never planned for this, nor did she plan to raid Diomedes’ ship when it crosses her path. But the women of the house of Priam are nothing if not resourceful, and soon she is no longer Andromache the doomed princess, Andromache the slave concubine, but Andromache the Warlord, ruler of the seas.

There is so much history and myth packed into this story, plus plenty of pirating and a good dose of strong female leadership. What more could you want?

REVIEW: “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” by Megan Arkenberg

Review of Megan Arkenberg, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 65-76 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Shamrock (not “Miss Sham”, thank you very much!) rides the seas as part of Captain Cat’s crew, with the boys even if she’s not one of the boys, and has done so ever since she escaped from the clutches of the Queen of the Sea, Anny Pryce. But Anny isn’t about to forget that Sham was the one who killed her Dragonfly, and when Captain Cat and his crew undertake to escort a dead duke’s pregnant mistress to a place of safety, Anny Pryce allies with the duke’s nephew and heir to hunt down both Sham and Golden. Soon, Shamrock is in Anny Pryce’s clutches again…

This was a fun, rollicking story, filled with detailed and distinctive characters. Lots of fun.

REVIEW: “Serpent’s Tail” by Mharie West

Review of Mharie West, “Serpent’s Tale”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 52-64 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Looking for a story about polyamorous Viking pirates with strong familial bonds and a disabled MC? Look no further, have I got the story for you!!

I loved this story; from the description given above, you might thinking cynically to yourself “looks like someone was playing ‘diversity bingo'”, but you would be totally wrong to do so. Yes, the cast of characters is more diverse than in your usual pirate story, but each of the characters is so beautifully crafted, and their interactions with each other are so real. Each facet is integral to the story, and yet none of these aspects (except perhaps Thorgest and Makarios’s relationship being treated as illicit) is a “plot point”. Authors take note: This is how you do diversity well. If this story is representative of West’s other writing, then I’m definitely going to have to find more stories by her.