REVIEW: “One Hundred Years” by Jennifer R. Donohue

Review of Jennifer R. Donohue, “One Hundred Years” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 275-287 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Lew, Marek, and Iga escaped the burning of their farm and managed to find and join the resistance. Now, a year later, they are on a quest, to convince the gunsmith to make them a magic gun, something that they can use in their fight for freedom.

The weight of the quest has proper fairy tale feel to it, and so too the mysteries that they find when they finally meet the gunsmith. The quiet events of the week in which the gunsmith made the gun for Iga were full of warmth and compassion, which provided a sharp contrast to the unexpected, sudden, and deadly ending.

REVIEW: “Make This Water No Deeper” by Blake Jessop

Review of Blake Jessop, “Make This Water No Deeper” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 257-274 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The setting of this story is the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, which I enjoyed reading up on before getting mired in the story itself; having some knowledge of the dam’s history and strategic importance helped me appreciate the role that it played in the story. I enjoyed the way Jessop wove impossible creatures — “there are no such things as girls who live forever and drown unfaithful men” // “there are no such things as women engineers, either” (p. 264) — in his story, and the way in which Yulia and Maritchka came alive in each other’s presence.

REVIEW: “As the Spindle Burns” by Nellie K. Neves

Review of Nellie K. Neves, “As the Spindle Burns” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 234-256 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Science is often portrayed as the great saviour, in SF. Science will save us from climate change (either telling us how to reverse it, or getting us off this planet for another one), science will stop wars because of the new weapons it builds, science will overcome illness, science will do and be all. So what I really loved about this evocative retelling of The Twelve Huntsman was the way in which science was cast as the antagonist — not in an anti-elite/anti-science sort of way, but in a “we may have opened Pandora’s box” way. Science has brought so much to the world of this story, but that doesn’t leave the characters from wallowing in a deep uncertainty as to whether this is a good thing. There was quite a bit more ambivalence threaded through this story than some in the anthology, and I enjoy a story that shows just how complex and difficult life really is.

REVIEW: “Ramps and Rockets” by Alicia K. Anderson

Review of Alicia K. Anderson, “Ramps and Rockets” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 220-233 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a lovely queer retelling of Rapunzel (with disabled Prince(ss) Charming!), sticking close to many of the details of the original story, but picking carefully which details to change. In the end, it was Rapunzel who saved herself, who let her hair down and walked through the door out of the cage that trapped her.

REVIEW: “Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky” by Brian Trent

Review of Brian Trent, “Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 201-219 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Trent sets his story of military intrigue and treachery, filled with floating cities and qilin (I was never sure whether the qilin were fantastic beasts or mechanical contraptions, but the ambiguity contributed to the story rather than frustrating me.), in the Sino-Japanese war. The story focuses on Li Yan, a steel dragon the Luminous Sky, fighting for Chinese nationalism, and his American mercenary compatriot, Eva Eagels.

There were a few aspects about the story that tripped me up — Li Yan was called ‘Li’ throughout, but his brother was Qimei, and I couldn’t figure out how to square this with the Chinese naming practice of putting surname, not given name, first. (Shouldn’t he be Yan? Or both he and his brother be Li?); the fact that this detail was got wrong made me worried about what other details might also be wrong. And while I love reading more SFF set in non-western settings, it sometimes felt like the story hadn’t gotten past its western-centric gaze — when a qilin delivers a young woman to Li, he describes her as “a young Chinese woman”; but while it made sense for him to describe Eva Eagels as American, because that is not the default, shouldn’t the default in China be Chinese? But despite these quibbles, I found Li a sympathetic character told in a distinctive voice, both strong and gentle, dedicated but caring, someone who has managed to keep the promise he ‘d made to his brother before the war — to not let it kill his spirit.

The actual ending seemed a bit out of left-field; but there was a page break a few paragraphs before the end that I almost expect to have been the end. If it had ended “All Under Heaven” (bottom of p. 217), I think it might have been a stronger story, with a strange sense of loss and failure threading through a success greater than what Li and Xin had spoken of achieving.

REVIEW: “A Princess, a Spy, and a Dwarf Walk Into a Bar Full of Nazis” by Patrick Bollivar

Review of Patrick Bollivar, “A Princess, a Spy, and a Dwarf Walked Into a Bar Full of Nazis” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 184-200 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Casual ableism, homophobia. And more Nazis.

I’m not entirely sure I needed back-to-back Nazis stories. Look, I get that there is a certain power in stories which cast them as the villains which they are and which show different ways that they can be overcome and defeated. But there is also something to be said for letting them slip slowing into darkness, never forgotten but never mentioned. In a world where we have to deal with current Nazis, I’m not entirely sure of the merit of providing more stories for them to feature in — even if it is as unmistakable villains, there will always be someone who reads such stories and thinks “actually, maybe they were on the side of the right”.

All that being said…the Nazis got punched by the third page, and I can hardly complain about that. Also, the ending made me laugh.

REVIEW: “Accidents Are Not Possible” by Sarah Van Goethem

Review of Sarah Van Goethem, “Accidents Are Not Possible” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 160-183 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Nazis. Like, actual Nazis. And eugenics.

It takes a certain sort of hubris to write a story in which Eva Braun is a central character and Hitler a minor character. It takes another sort to write such a story where Eva, at least, is presented sympathetically. I had a lot of ambivalent feelings reading the story, but also quite a bit of marvel, at the delicacy with which Van Goethem walked the line of credible and incredible. The ambivalence I felt reading the story was reflected in the moral ambivalence of the characters. In the end, I wasn’t entirely comfortable reading this story, but I thought it was one of the better written stories in the anthology.