REVIEW: “Rose Briar, Briar Rose” by Miranda Schmidt

Review of Miranda Schmidt, “Rose Briar, Briar Rose”, Luna Station Quarterly 29 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I love fairy tale retellings, especially when the retelling tells a part of the story that the traditional tale omits. The inspiration for Schmidt’s story is Sleeping Beauty, but it is the story of what happened in a period often glossed over — after she fell asleep and before she was awakened. How many princes came and kissed an unconsenting princess before one finally woke her up? Well, in this story, it wasn’t a prince at all that woke her, but woman who loves the princess for her thorns, and not in spite of them.

An unusual twist on a usual tale, I enjoyed Schmidt’s interpretation of Sleeping Beauty very much.

REVIEW: “Dune Song” by Suyi Davies Okungbawa

Review of Suyi Davies Okungbawa, “Dune Song”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Nata intends to leave the safe community of Isiuwa, to go out into the dunes. She has tried once before, been captured and narrowly avoided death at the hands of the chief in punishment, but she is determined to make her escape from this village that she hates. The chief insists that for anyone to go would anger the gods and doom Isiuwa, but Nata does not believe this. Like her mother before her, she is determined to see what lies beyond the walls, and to find freedom.

There is a lot going on in this story. On a political level, this story takes a long, hard look at the type of governance that seeks to protect people by limiting their freedom. Because, of course, the people in charge of Isiuwa are permitted outside the bamboo fence. They say they do it to the protect the people, that it is a burden and not a privilege, but that does not change the fact that they are the only ones who could possibly know what is out there. Everyone else must take their word for it. Most of the citizens seem unbothered by this fact, even if they do not all believe in the religious explanation provided by their chief.

But of course, it is the personal level of the story that most interests me. Nata’s challenging relationship with a mother who left years ago, before Nata was ready to question the truths passed down to her, informs much of the story. Her absence is almost a presence for Nata. I also appreciated her friendship with a younger boy, one whose mother also left for the dunes. So often, when we read about someone defying authority, they have to do it completely alone. I liked seeing Nata with an ally.

This is an engaging first story in Apex’s Afrofurism special issue, which is also the last issue of the magazine.

REVIEW: “My Life” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “My Life”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 51-94 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Many of the characters in the other stories in Walsh’s anthology felt very shadowing and fuzzy, but in “My Life” I felt like I had a chance to see multi-faceted people with names and lives and backgrounds. This was due in part to the length — a good solid story rather than a 1-3 page gossamer bite.

Erickson and Taylor were college roommates, and unlikely — but believable — friends. (They’d be more than friends if Erickson had his way, but Taylor always laughed off his overtures.) But now things are changing — Taylor’s moving out into his own place, Erickson’s getting a new roommate. Neither is quite sure how to begin navigating this new chapter in their lives, so when Taylor finds a name scribbled on the wall underneath some pealing wallpaper, and a notebook in his bedroom with the same name inscribed in it, he assumes it’s Erickson playing some sort of joke, a parting gift (if you like). First Taylor ignores the notebook, then he starts writing in it, imagining what the story behind the name — Nicholas — written in it is.

But of course, Erickson hadn’t give him any notebook. What follows is Taylor’s plunge into the uncanny as he continues to write Nicholas’s story, getting more and more involved in the fantasy he’s creating than in the reality he’s supposed to be inhabiting. As the lines between reality and fiction blur, what really comes to the fore and shines is the relationship between Taylor and Erickson, complex, delicate, full of pathos, and beautiful. It made the ending even more horrifying when it came.

REVIEW: “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “And Then There Were One Hundred and Twenty-Eight”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 33. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story totally wins the “best title” award! It immediately intrigued me. There’s the clash between the familiar “and then there was one” phrase and the unexpected “one hundred and twenty-eight”. Then there’s the “one hundred and twenty-eight what??” Coming in at not even a full page, Walsh doesn’t have much space to play with here, but she uses each word to its fullest potential. From the very first sentence, I know the setting — where it’s at, what time of year. I know what the 128 are, but only that: The question of why there are that many, and how they got there, is still to come.

My only complaint is that one of the main characters, Keegan, gets named, but his wife is only “his wife”. I always feel a little bit let down when the only explicitly female characters in a story are relegated to their relationship status.

REVIEW: “Lurking Status” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Lurking Status”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 39-45 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I love it when a story can take something I usually dislike — in this case, second-person POV — and mould it and adapt it into something brilliant. This story isn’t strictly speaking second-person, because there is a definite “I” telling the story, but the “I” spends its time describing what “you” are doing. Rather than feeling like my actions and my thoughts are being dictated by the narration, I felt like I was lurking along with the “I” who narrated, and thus got to see the ordinary “someone is being plagued by some unnamed, unidentified horror” story-line from a completely different angle. I really enjoyed the result.

(Originally published in Siren’s Call no. 25.)

REVIEW: “Limited Power” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Limited Power”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 27-29 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: This story contains sexual and physical abuse of children by members of the church.

Were it not for the fact that we commit to reading all stories in a venue here at SFFReviews, I would have quit this one after the third paragraph — heck, I was already pretty uncomfortable with the second one, when it became clear that some sort of exorcism was being performed on a young girl in a way that dehumanised her.

But, I did read it through to the end. I feel like the ending was supposed to come across as empowering and triumphant, but to me it felt merely shameful. And while I don’t ever want my negative reaction to a story to be taken as universalisable, this is not a story I could ever recommend someone else to read.

REVIEW: “Footprints” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Footprints”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 17-23 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

One common thread to many of the stories in this anthology is that of someone who is haunted or hunted by something unknown. Sometimes it’s real, sometimes it’s psychological, never is it clearly articulated or identified — either what it is or why it is hunting.

Nick’s hunter leaves footprints in the snow that seems to only fall in his backyard; but how many times it comes and circles his house when the snow is not there, Nick does not know and cannot tell. What he does know is that this is the first time the footprints have lead to his front door, and he cannot bring himself to go inside.

Instead, he runs away, to stay with friends, but even the presence of other people is not enough to protect him from what it is that makes the footprints.

Another common thread in these stories is that the lack of resolution that they have at the end. In a single instance, this can certainly heighten the disquietening feeling one gets reading the story; but when so many stories in the same anthology end in uncertainty, the overall effect is diminished. I think this story would have stood stronger on its own legs than in the anthology.