REVIEW: “Sound and Fury” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Mary Robinette Kowal, “Sound and Fury”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 9-28 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A ship’s engineer gets assigned to a “diplomatic mission” involving a diplomat who won’t do her job, a planet that doesn’t know that this diplomatic mission is going to end in their colonisation, and one giant robot. While the beginning was a little clunky, overall I liked it! It absolutely captured the feeling of working a job that you can’t say no to, and how tedious micromanagers are. We only see the crew in sketches, but what we get is enough to give a good impression of them. It honestly ended in a more hopeful way than I expected – it’s not a story about structural change, but about changing the things that are in your control, and there’s its own hope in that.

REVIEW: “Just Another Love Song” by Kat Howard

Review of Kat Howard, “Just Another Love Song”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 142-153 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A banshee busker tries to sing her first death, that of a gross musician – but it doesn’t work.

I really liked Just Another Love Song! The narrator’s voice was fantastic (… Pun not intended), and the practicalities of the fae living under the masquerade felt plausible, especially for how mundane they all felt to the narrator. The fact that the narrator’s relationship with Sarah, her brownie housemate, is the one the that’s central to the story gives it a nice base to work from and a sweet friendship at the core. I would have liked to see more of them interacting, although I do appreciate that the author might have actually needed all of the space they used to demonstrate how much of a douche the male character was. My favourite part of Just Another Love Song though was that it’s specifically about a woman learning to use her voice – to use the power in her voice – against a man who expects her to use it only as he wants her to. Sounds like a timely story to me.

REVIEW: “Ironheart” by Jonathan Mayberry

Review of Jonathan Mayberry, “Ironheart”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 119-141 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Ironheart is fabulist science-fiction set in a near-future America, where technology has progressed enough that robots can be used to work farms and artificial hearts can be used to keep people alive, but the social and political landscape hasn’t changed at all. The protagonist, Duke, is a veteran in a recent war, whose life-saving artificial heart is bankrupting his family to the point that they can no longer maintain their farming robots. It reminds me a little of Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse by S. B. Divya, in that it follows a disabled character through practicalities as their life starts to collapse.

I’m not sure whether the story is in dialogue with the “good patient” tropes – Duke is angry, especially at the doctors for saving his life, for the fact that he’s expected to be grateful despite the fact that his robot heart is failing – or whether it’s engaging with the present state of social care and the military industrial complex. It’s a story where robots have replaced labourers, but humans are still being recruited as soldiers, I would believe either. I will also accept arguments that what I’m describing as a fabulist element could be pure scifi (nanobots!), but the way that the robot is finally activated feels like something from a fairytale despite the fact that I can see where it was set up earlier in the story.

Ironheart has interesting imagery and a very political core, but I’m not sure it was a story for me. It didn’t bore me, but I admired it more on a technical level than an emotional one.

[Caution warnings: medical bankruptcy, transplant failure]

REVIEW: “Seeing Utopia” by Lisa Fox

Review of Lisa Fox, “Seeing Utopia”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Casual ableism.

As the story opens, we are given an imprisoned queen, betrayed in marriage and now helpless in the face of the destruction of her kingdom, and a ghostly rescuer who comes, formless, to set her free. This isn’t a ghost story, but the “ghost” rescuer, Mollo, strangely has more agency than Queen Aclara ever does. While she does release her kingdom in the end, she first acts under Mollo’s guide and impetus, and then at the behest of Gerard, the Sorcerer King’s valet. Never, it seems to me, does she act on her own behalf as a fully fledged agent. In the end, I’m not sure that she was any more free than when she was married to the traitor Sorcerer King.

In the background behind this, and introduced to us only much later into the story, are the witch sisters Myth and Janin. The role they play in the Sorcerer King’s take-over of the kingdom, and in the freeing of Aclara, turned out to be a much more interesting and absorbing story; I wish that more of their side of things had been told. It’s clear that as readers we’re supposed to favor Myth over Janin, but I found Janin fascinating — she was rich and complex and intriguing.

REVIEW: “Bread and Milk and Salt” by Sarah Gailey

Review of Sarah Gailey, “Bread and Milk and Salt”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 99-118 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Well this was chilling. It’s beautifully written, but it’s grim. It follows a fae who wants to steal a boy, until the boy grows older and decides that he is going to steal the fae instead. The imagery is beautiful and horrifying – the fae has so many plans for what they could do with the boy – but the horror is in what Peter does back, without a shred of conscience. The use of robotics and the fae’s vengeance are both very creepy and very effective, especially the fact that even the (arguably monstrous) fae understands that Peter’s actions are monstrous.

Bread and Milk and Salt is very good, but definitely a horror story for me. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for it.

[Caution warning: abuse, animal cruelty]

REVIEW: “The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto” by Annalee Newitz

Review of Annalee Newitz, “The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 83-98 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

RealBoy is a manufacturing robot in a toy factory, who wakes up one day to find that the titular Blue Fairy is infecting them with malware in an attempt to bring them around to the cause of the robotic revolution. It is an interesting story, and I think I can appreciate what it’s doing – RealBoy, once they have done their research, is in favour of choice, free will, and working with others, while Blue Fairy is a propagandist who wants short cuts to revolution.

(Why put the work in to change minds when you can inject your propaganda directly into your targets and force them to believe as you do? Why take part in incremental progress or the work that other people are doing, when you can just burn it all down overnight and damn the consequences? Why do your research when you can just cherrypick the things that agree with you? … Why does this all sound familiar from arguments on twitter?)

I’d be interested in knowing more about the world setting – all of the robots in the factory appear to have been salvaged from other roles, for example, and there’s very little sense of scale until RealBoy gets out into the real world – but on the whole, I found it to be equal parts fascinating and exhausting as a political allegory.

REVIEW: “The Fire Wife” by Erin McNelis

Review of Erin McNelis, “The Fire Wife”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content: War, refugee experiences, subjugation, bodily harm/torture.

Aruna is a firewife, charged with the knowledge of how to light fires and also, despite her status as a servant in the chief’s household, occupying a position of power and authority amongst the women of her clan: When a question come whose answer will “change the course of [her] people forever”, she is the one that must make it on behalf of the others.

At first, the story confused me — though it was full of lively and distinctive characters, and McNelis conveyed a sense of scale that indicated this was but a small facet of a much larger story, I also found myself struggling to figure out who the characters were and how they were related to each other, not just in terms of family but in terms of how they were located in the various power structures. About 2/3 of the way through, though, I realised why I was so confused: The middle third of the story takes place before the first third.

I think the story structure could have been crafted a little bit better, but the story itself was full of pathos and friendship and love and sadness.