REVIEW: “Circles and Salt” by Sara Cleto

Review of Sara Cleto, “Circles in Salt” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 4-14 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A strong opener to the anthology, full of vivid characters and a clear setting, and the existential dread that accompanies the very best of Grimms’ tales. I didn’t recognise the specific fairy tale that was the inspiration for Cleto’s story — it’s not one of the commonly told ones — so I appreciated the author’s note at the end.

REVIEW: Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales edited by Rhonda Parrish

Review of Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection of 18 stories was my first introduction to the subgenres of dieselpunk and decopunk. Parrish in her editorial introduction defines diesel- and decopunk in opposition to steampunk (the characteristic difference between them being time-period), but this approach only works for a reader who already has a comfortable grasp on steampunk — something I’m not sure I yet have. What makes a story “-punk”? I wasn’t sure before I started reading, and I’m not sure I had any better an idea by the time I was done.

Does this mean I felt the anthology failed? No. As a collection of interesting stories with a strong fairy-tale influence (stronger in some stories than others, but overall the inspiration was obvious), overall I enjoyed reading it. I think that there is a lot of “scope for the imagination”, as Anne Shirley would say, in setting stories in the 1915-1945 era, and further that the World Wars, with important roles that Germany played in both, provide a unique perspective on retellings of what are ultimately very German fairy tales. (Not that all the fairy-tale inspirations in the book come from Grimm, but the Grimms’ tales lend themselves well to transposition of setting in this way). That being said, I did feel that the quality of the stories was uneven — some more successful than others in both plot and presentation. Were any of them bad? No. Was the entire collection outstanding? Alas, no also.

As usual, we’ll review each story individually, and link each back here when the review is posted:

REVIEW: “Tyrannocora Regina” by Leonie Skye

Review of Leonie Skye, “Tyrannocora Regina”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 71-83 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

If you’re looking for time-traveling lesbian dinosaurs who do roller derby, have I got a story for you…

That collection of words almost feels like the result of a challenge, like the author pulled them out of a hat and then had to write a story about them. Whether or not that’s the case, the resulting story was moderately successful. Time travel narratives are always difficult, and I had to reread the beginning parts a few times before I figured out how to make sense of them, but the threads came together in the end.

REVIEW: “All Electric Ghosts” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “All Electric Ghosts”, Clarkesworld Issue 157, October (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Right off the bat, the world building is detailed and intense. Benny is a man in grief, taking the help of whatever he can to help him survive his loss. There is mention of drug usage, but in a very matter of fact way, which lent yet another nuance to the story. Make no mistake, this is a very nuanced story already. In fact, it feels like the beginning of a much larger story. I would definitely like to read the larger work this seems to be a part of.

Benny gets involved with some aliens, and he quickly forms a bond with them, because they’re the best way he has found to deal with his grief and survive in a better way. He needs them for his next hit, and they need him for vaguely nefarious purposes. Along the way, he finds a tenuous friendship, which hints at the possibility of it turning into a stronger one.

This story will leave you wanting more.

REVIEW: “Rust and Bone” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Mary Robinette Kowal, “Rust and Bone”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 86-92 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a harsh story of a child caught between two adults — one grandmother, one mother — each of whom thinks (or at least claims) they have the child’s best interests at heart.

For anyone who has been caught in a family feud, or who has watched friends be caught in such a feud, this is not a pleasant story. Even if you have not witnessed first hand this sort of situation, the story leaves you with a deep uncertainty and ambivalence about the outcome: Is this the outcome we should’ve been rooting for? More importantly, is it the one that is best for the child? It just isn’t clear, and for some (I’m one of them) that makes it an unsatisfying story. Others may thrive on the ambivalence, and enjoy it more.

REVIEW: “Standing on the Floodbanks” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Standing on the Floodbnks” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 277-315 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Combat, warfare, blood, nightmares, vomiting, post-traumatic stress, ableism, panic attacks, flashbacks, flooding, racism, objectification, slavery.

The anthology closes with a bang, this nearly-novellette sweeping together all the wonderful disparate skills that Takács has displayed in the rest of the stories in the collection.

There are certain stories that when you read you go “I didn’t know stories could be like that”. This is one of them. I sit here and I struggle to find a way to put into words what made this story so good and why I feel about it the way that I do. I can’t, though, so I will just direct the reader to Aristotle on “katharsis”, and hope that if they read this story too, they will find it as cathartic as I did. It’s gorgeous and painful and almost horrifying and beautiful all at once.

(First published in Gigantosaurus Nov. 2016).

REVIEW: “Lake Mouth” by Casey Hannan

Review of Casey Hannan, “Lake Mouth”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 37-41 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was such a bizarre story. Every single statement is clear and precise, but combined together the result is like a weird fever dream. What is strangest about it is the way that every single statement is said as if it is true and ordinary, with no recognition at all of the strangeness of the amalgamation. Reading it was a fascinating experience.

Equally fascinating was reading the author’s interview at the end, which laid a solid foundation beneath the story and made it that much more believable, weirdness and all.