REVIEW: “Vincent Coriolis, Father of the Nation” by Celia Neri

Review of Celia Neri, “Vincent Coriolis, Father of the Nation”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is not the story of Vincent Coriolis, Father of the Nation, but instead the story of “the faithful sidekick went back to being a good mother while the hero of the Revolution started the reforms that changed the colony and galactic commerce”. The explanation Marina Herikis gives is that she needed to devote her time to her disabled child and not to government; but of course there’s way more to it than that.

Neri had the perfect vehicle for conveying back-story: Marina’s occupation is as a tour-guide, and the story opens with her telling her group the history of the city and its monuments — a history that is deeply intertwined with Coriolis. The rawness and immediateness of the history that Marina recounts to her customers is palpable, and the way Neri weaves the past and present into a single narrative is superb. The reflective account of a revolution reminded me nothing so much as Terry Pratchett’s Nightwatch, and this should be taken as high praise.

REVIEW: “The Sea and the Stars” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “The Sea and the Stars”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 11-16 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“The Sea and the Stars” is the classic fairy tale: The poor/lonesome/ugly peasant girl/princess/mermaid is given a wish (or three) and wishes for her heart’s desire — and the wish is granted. Under the sea, the merpeople are celebrating the spring equinox. All around Moonray, everyone is having fun and enjoying themselves, including her friends Shell and Lily, while Moonray herself is stuck feeling like a third wheel and overwhelmed by her introversion. But everything is about to change for her when she wishes upon a falling star…

What I enjoyed about this story was that while it followed the very classic fairy-tale set-up and structure, it incorporated into it unexpected and unusual aspects. I did sometimes feel a bit like I was drowning in the lush, detailed description, but I’ve come to recognise that this is a fairly idiosyncratic complaint: I tend to skip over highly descriptive prose in order to get to the actual movement of the story, so when a piece has a high descriptive prose:actual story ratio, it means I tend to zone out more than I would like. For those who don’t mind a bit of purple prose, this story will probably appeal to you!

REVIEW: “The Plover’s Egg” by Allison Epstein

Review of Allison Epstein, “The Plover’s Egg”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Marya ran away from home to escape her father’s disapproval of her illicit love affair with Sonya, and now works in the count’s castle. When Aleksander the mariner turns up, unexpected, with a mysterious woman that he’s rescued from beneath the ice, Marya moves from laundrymaid to nursemaid to the quiet, icy Elizaveta. Everything from there turns messy and beautiful and sad and dark.

This was such a lovely, delicate story. It’s one part fairy-tale, one part Slavic folk-tale, and one part all its own story. I really enjoyed it.

REVIEW: “Into Nothingness” by T. D. Walker

Review of T. D. Walker, “Into Nothingness”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

My favorite type of science fiction is the sort where it hits close enough to home to be believable. If someone had told me the premise of this story in advance of reading it, I probably would’ve scoffed and said “not really my type”; but the way that Walker drew me in and fed me details, one at a time and not too quickly, I felt like I believed it at every step. So in case you’re like me, I won’t tell you the premise of the story so as not to ruin it for you.

The way the initial premise of the story was developed would alone have won my approval; but the story was further improved by a quadripartite structure that allowed me to see each of the characters from a different perspective. First, we hear Madison’s side of the story, of what happened after her twin sister Mia was in a horrible car accident. Then it is Mia’s turn to give us a lens both into the aftermath of the accident and into their sisterly relation. In the final two parts of the story, it is two outside perspectives that view the sisters — two more versions of what happened. I loved the way the four parts worked together, and the distinctive voices that were present in each.

REVIEW: “Blue Lips and Frozen Lashes” by Alexandra Grunberg

Review of Alexandra Grunberg, “Blue Lips and Frozen Lashes”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Of all the titles in the newest issue of LSQ, this was the one that caught my eye the most, so it’s the one I started with.

Beitris is climbing on Ben Nevis when she discovers a little girl, solitary and separated from anyone else she might have been climbing with. No child should be climbing Ben Nevis alone in winter — this much is clear from Beitris’s reaction upon discovering the little girl, but that same reaction left me wondering what business Beitris herself had being on the mountain too!

Well, dear reader, read and find out — it’s a brief little story, but despite the shortness, it has a nice, satisfying ending.

REVIEW: “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” by LaShawn M. Wanak

Review of LaShawn M. Wanak, “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Originally published July 2018, FIYAH Magazine. Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

In this alternate history, taking place shortly after WWII, strange “stumps” in the shape of the recently deceased have begun to appear, formed from spores that have deadly effects on anybody around them when they mature. Curiously, certain people have the power to effect the stumps and facilitate their safe removal, through song. These people are employed by a government agency, the SPC (Stump Prevention Control), paired with handlers who deal with the actual stump removal, and worked for long hours to keep their communities safe. The catch is, these individuals are forbidden from singing in any other context, as they might bring a stump to maturity and thus endanger the people around them. This story follows the only two black women employed as exterminators in Chicago – a brash blues singer by the name of Memphis Minnie, and a meek church girl called Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

This story has so many of the themes that I love: strong relationships between women, the triumph of individuals over a controlling organization, and the healing power of self-expression. It even includes a bit of LGBTQ representation, which is always nice to see in a period piece. The friendship between these two black woman is richly developed, the way they look out for each other, manage their differences, and ultimately discover something the SPC does not want known, was a joy to witness. This is a longer story, coming in at almost 15,000 words, but it is well worth finding the time to sit down and savor it.

REVIEW: “Princess Snow White” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “Princess Snow White”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 3-10 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The first of Townsend’s fairy tale retellings is the classic Snow White. The twist that Townsend introduces is that Snow White is the adopted daughter of the Queen of the Northern Lands, and the wicked step-mother role is played by her aunt instead; when Snow White’s adopted mother dies, her aunt is left as queen-regent. Snow White herself was born in the Southern lands, where people’s skin are dark as earth, “cinnamon, umber, cedar, carob, onyx” (p. 3), which makes her name ironic rather than descriptive.

Apart from these changes, Townsend follows the traditional story quite closely — the mirror, the hunter, the substitute heart, the little cottage in the woods where seven dwarves live (seven dwarves who upon seeing evidence of Snow White’s arrival sound a little bit like the Three Bears after Goldilock’s visit, alas), the little woodland animals, the poisoned apple, the glass coffin. I would have liked to have seen the twists that the story started off with incorporated into the retelling in a way that gave me a new reading of the old story.

REVIEW: Fairy Tales and Space Dreams by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I’ve been a big fan of Jasmine Shea Townsend’s Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-Fi ever since the Facebook page launched last year, so when I heard that she was publishing a collection of her stories, I was super excited to have the opportunity to read and review them. This is exactly the sort of stuff I want to see supported and promoted on SFFReviews!

This collection is split in half, with three fairy tales and three space dreams, and as is usual we’ll review each in turn and link the reviews back here when they are posted:

The fairy tales are three classics, retold fairly closely to the originals. The space dreams branched out a bit further, presenting new tales, and as a result, I found the latter half stronger than the first half — good fairy tale retellings are tough to do well, I am finding out while reviewing for this site! But there’s a reason fairy tales have the longevity they have, and even middle-of-the-road retellings are still enjoyable.

REVIEW: “When We Dream We Are Our God” by Wole Talabi

Review of Wole Talabi, “When We Dream We Are Our God”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A man explains his decision to join his mind with others in a network seeking to connect and learn, inspired by the birth of the first true artificial intelligence. It’s a fairly intellectual story, driven by science and philosophy, but uses that as a vehicle to explore matters of the heart.

In my experience, stories about the singularity tend to posit that AI will either seek to destroy us, or else want to become our friends. This story find a nice middle path between those reactions, though the AI is actually only a small part of this tale. Still, I felt like it did something different with a the concept, which is noteworthy.

I believe that this is, above all, a story about potential, and about hope. Humanity’s potential to overcome our problems. Hope that the universe will be friendly, or can be made so, and hope that sentience can win out over hatred and fear and divisions.

REVIEW: “N-Coin” by Tobias Buckell

Review of Tobias Buckell, “N-Coin”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A stockbroker is about to end his life, after losing one billion dollars of his firm’s money money (not to mention his own) on a new crypocurrency: Negrocoin, or N-coin, as he prefers to call it.

This is a unique take on both the volatility of the stock market, and on the complete lack of reparations ever made to African American after slavery was abolished. I did not really understand the details of how this crypocurrency worked, but I had no trouble at all following the historical anecdotes about how former slave owners were compensated for their “lost property,” but the 40 acres and a mule promised by General Sherman never materialized for those freed slaves to make a start at live, how how that has never been rectified, leading to huge differences in generational wealth over time.

This story is short and sweet, getting straight to the point without any meandering. The first person narration works perfectly, capturing the stockbroker’s desperation and lending a personal voice to all of the lessons on history and economics.

This is a good, quick read for anyone interested in a bit of a revenge fantasy for structural inequality, based very closely in reality.