REVIEW: “Every Tiny Tooth and Claw (or: Letters From the First Month of the new directorate)” by Marissa Lingen

Review of Marissa Lingen, “Every Tiny Tooth And Claw (Or: Letters From The First Month Of The New Directorate)”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 295, January 16, 2020, Read Online, Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

This is an excellent story, but not one to be read casually. On a superficial level, it is a series of letters between two lovers, Aranth and Pippa, separated for reasons that become more apparent as the story progresses. Read more closely, however, the letters are written in a sort of code that reveals far more about the lives of these lovers, and the society they inhabit, than is apparent on first reading. Saying more about this story would give too much away, so I’ll close with this. You may need to read this story twice, but you’ll thank yourself for doing so.

REVIEW: “N” by Majd Kayyal

Review of Majd Kayyal, Thoraya El-Rayyes (trans.), “N”, in Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine+100, (Comma Press, 2019): 43-63 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story was a series of half-conversations, where we as the reader are only party to one side, needing to fill in the gaps in between. It’s another fairly critical view about Palestine’s future — even though the revolution has ended and an Agreement has been reached, it’s an Agreement that divided family and friends, wrought barriers rather than building bridges, and still, many years later, has long-felt consequences. I know the stories in this anthology are speculative in the sense that they speculate about possible future and options, but that doesn’t prevent individual stories, like this one, feeling much more like dim realism. But this story was sweet amidst its sadness, and full of love.

REVIEW: “Sleep It Off, Dr Schott” by Selma Dabbagh

Review of Selma Dabbagh, “Sleep It Off, Dr Schott”, in Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine+100, (Comma Press, 2019): 21-42 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: sexual harassment, sexual assault, alcoholism.

What an uncomfortable story to read, of a female scientist, Dr. Mona Kamal, trying to work in partnership with a male technician, Dr. Eyal Schott, to get a new piece of equipment up and running before the deadline, but instead getting serially harassed by him. I felt a lot of sympathy for Dr. Kamal, her outrage, her patience, her resignation, and I bet many women, especially fellow scientists, will sympathise with her plight too. I guess it’s too much to hope that misogyny will no longer be rampant in the 2050s.

The focal point of the story, though, is not actually either Dr. Kamal or Dr. Schott (despite the title), but Layla Wattan, a Recorder who “would’ve sold [her] kidneys for a job in the Enclave” (p. 22) where the two doctors work. She provides the framing and narration for Mona and Eyal’s interactions, and the story works in such a way that I got to the end, immediately went back and reread the first few pages, and got infinitely more out of it than I’d gotten the first time I read them.

REVIEW: “Song of the Birds” by Saleem Haddad

Review of Saleem Haddad, “Song of the Birds”, in Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine+100, (Comma Press, 2019): 1-19 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Suicide.

This was a tough, raw, harsh story to open up the anthology with. At first, the future that Haddad imagines for Palestine doesn’t feel that much different from the present it is currently embroiled in, but as the story progresses, and we, like Aya the main character, learn more about what is actually going on, it gets even worse. This is not a hopeful story, not an uplifting story, but one weighed down by the burden of the inescapability of collective memory. Tough stuff.

REVIEW: Palestine+100, edited by Basma Ghalayini

Review of Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine+100, (Comma Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection, similar to another of Comma Press’s anthologies that we reviewed back when this site was brand-new, is predicated on answering a single question, asked of twelve Palestinian authors: “What might your country look like in the year 2048 — a century after the tragedies and trauma of what has come to be called the Nakba?”

Science fiction is not a popular Palestinian genre (“The cruel present (and the traumatic past) have too firm a grip on Palestinian writers’ imaginations for fanciful ventures into possible futures”, p. x), which makes this collection of specially-commissioned stories all the more intriguing and important. Basma Ghalayini’s editorial introduction traces the bare bones of the history of Palestine after the introduction of the Israeli state in 1948, in a calm, factual, and deeply uncomfortable way. Given the way that Jews across Europe were treated by the Nazis, it is hard to stomach reading how Israelis have treated Palestinians over the last 70 years. “Palestinian refugees,” Ghalayini tells us, are “nomads travelling across a landscape of memory” (p. viii). This collection is woven together by the thread of memory, but it is also future facing: What are the memories that may possibly be to come?

Why does exploring the future through science fiction matter? Because, as Isaam tells Rahel in Abu Shawish’s story “Final Warning”, “The history of science fiction tells us: Nobody comes this far without either a fight that they never win or to teach us something about ourselves that we desperately need to learn” (p. 166). At the end of her introduction, Ghalayini expresses a desire that readers in the West never experience the kind of oppression and occupation that Palestine has seen over the last seventy years. On the other hand, such readers cannot isolate themselves from these experiences if there is to be any hope of stopping or preventing these events in the future. Reading gives us a way of doing this: To experience without really experiencing, to learn, to empathise, to feel.

As is usual, we will review each story individually, and link the reviews back here when they are available. As disparate as the stories are, there are also many similarities — the idea of virtual reality as a means of escaping actual reality shows up in more than one story. As a whole, the stories in this volume are rich with pain, memory, hope, and uncertainty. They are, for the most part, dark, not hopeful.

REVIEW: “Perisher” by Crystal Frasier

Review of Crystal Frasier, “Perisher” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 134-148 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Murder.

Aggie is a Perisher, someone who, through the violent killing of another person, is connected to the ghost of the person they murdered. Fuchs is a German soldier who refuses to learn to speak any English or Spanish — Aggie’s fluent languages as she lives and works in Florida — but he can speak to other ghosts, and in this unlikely pairing the two of them hiring out their services to people who need answers only ghosts can give.

The tenor of this story was quite different from the much-more-fantasy oriented ones of the rest of the anthology. It felt much more like a crime drama than a fairy tale. I enjoyed the contrast that it provided, and the idea of Perishers in the first place — not like anything I’d read before.

REVIEW: “Failure” by Casey Plett

Review of Casey Plett, “Failure” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 127-134 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The first-person narrator is a reviver, traveling from place to place, always on her own. Revivers rarely ever stay long in one place, or spend much time with other revivers (which makes me wonder how a reviver gets trained in the first place). Along the way, she (all revivers “grow from boys to women” p. 130) meets a stranger unlike any she’s ever met before, and they force the reviver to contemplate an awful decision.

I think many people reading this story can sympathise with the idea of never doing, never being, enough. It’s hard to practice self-care when there is always someone else that could be helped, something more that could be improved. (If you don’t sympathise with this, then you are very lucky or very privileged or both.) In the end, I think the reviver made the right decision.

REVIEW: “Dreamborn” by Kylie Ariel Bemis

Review of Kylie Ariel Bemis, “Dreamborn” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 108-126 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Misgendering, kidnap, allusions to child rape.

This was a harsh story of invasion, colonisation, betrayal, lies, and loss. But it was also a story of deep, abiding love. It’s a tough story to read, but good.

REVIEW: “i shall remain” by Kai Cheng Thom

Review of Kai Cheng Thom, “i shall remain” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 97-107 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a rich, sensual story full of old myth and modern realism, and threaded through with a gruesome interpretation of Christianity (I don’t know if this was intended or not, but it certainly read that way to me). It was distinctly different from the rest of the stories in the anthology, not only in content and in choice of trans characters, but also in its literary style, with a systemic eschewing of capitals except for proper names and phrases, and sometimes (but not always) “I”. I think this was my favorite story of the volume.

REVIEW: “Undoing Vampirism” by Lilah Sturges

Review of Lilah Sturges, “Undoing Vampirism” in Gwen Benaway, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone, (Bedside Press, 2019): 92-96 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Vampire stories have been so overdone in recent years that whenever I come across another one, I admit, I sigh a bit.

But there were NO SIGHS whatsoever in this hilarious (“but I realized even then that the desires to be a girl and to eat them are unconnected” p. 94), unpredictable, unexpected take on modern-day vampires. I absolutely loved it.