REVIEW: “Cloth Mother” by Sarah Pauling

Review of Sarah Pauling, “Cloth Mother”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Wow, what a story. It started off so simply: the young girl Mazie asks Vita, her caretaker, for a turtle. A small and simple request.

When it started off, I sort of hated the cloth mother and the way she lived in an uncanny valley. By the end of the story, the cloth mother made me cry. This was a powerful, compelling story.

(First published in Strange Horizons 2015).

REVIEW: "On the Causes and Consequences of Cat Ladies" by Richard A. Lovett

Review of Richard A. Lovett, “On the Causes and Consequences of Cat Ladies”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 143–149 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Growing weary of people’s interference in her life after her husband’s death, Barbara decides to move into an isolated farmhouse in the countryside. She did not only lose her husband, but also their joint research which was shown to increase intelligence in lab animals. Because of FDA interference, all that came of it was specialized cat food. Barbara hopes to leave all that behind and live the rest of her days quietly and alone. Not long after she moves, her presence in her new house attracts a myriad of stray cats demanding food. Barbara indulges, but she soon realizes there’s more to the cats than meets eye.

This was a great story with a great buildup towards a satisfying conclusion. Admittedly, my experience with Lovett’s writing has been mostly through lighthearted and satirical pieces that the author is well known for. This, however, was different. Despite the title suggesting a more humorous tone, this was a relatively serious tale with dark undertones, verging on outright horror towards the end. The beginning is a little exposition heavy, but all of it proves rewarding by the end.

While, of course, it’s unlikely that smarter cats would so easily turn diabolical, the story plays cleverly with the urban myth of their commonly perceived “indifferent” personalities. I do have one hang-up with the plot: it does not seem the smartest action on behalf of the cats to simply kill the person feeding them, and then starve for days till a new tenant moves in (if at all). Considering their heightened intelligence, it is more likely they’d try something else first.

Granted, this is a nitpick, but it nevertheless stands out in what is an otherwise excellent short story.

REVIEW: "War Lily" by Beth Dawkins

Review of Beth Dawkins, “War Lily”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 140–142 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Before dying in combat, Shelby was able to record an imprint of her mind on a device called the “war lily.” The war lily can be used a total of 4 times by her friends and family for a final goodbye. The first three go to her wife, Rosa, their young son, Henry, and Shelby’s dying mother. Years later, a grown-up Henry summons his mother one last time, hoping to make her stay more permanent.

Though it features an abundantly common trope in science fiction, I enjoyed reading this story. One thing science fiction does well is to literalize abstract concepts, and “War Lily” is a perfect example of that, demonstrating a person’s inability to let go. It deals with universal theme that I never get tired of reading about, especially when done well. Here, the prose was evocative enough to bring out the emotion without sipping into melodrama. It’s a simple, yet effective.

Unfortunately, I did not quite buy the ending. We don’t get to know the main character well enough to find her final choice justifiable. Many questions are left unanswered. What was the nature of the war she died in? Why did she fight? I did not see a strong reason for her not to accept the body offered by her son. Perhaps in her quest for brevity, the author left some important exposition out of the story.

REVIEW: "My Sister's Wings Are Red" by Christine Tyler

Review of Christine Tyler, “My Sister’s Wings Are Red”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 298, February 27, 2020: Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

I have mixed feelings about this story. It involves a colony of humans somehow transformed into insects living in the sort of hierarchical hive society commonly associated with ants and bees. It’s a well written story and the hive society is fully realized; yet I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for the tale. The tone of the first-person narration seems so much like that of a “normal” human that I found it jarring each time I remembered that this particular narrator has mandibles, antennae, and wings. This tension between how the narrator sounds and what the narrator is kept undermining the suspension of disbelief necessary for the enjoyment of any fantasy.  

REVIEW: “Black Crocodile” by Rachel Delaney Craft

Review of Rachel Delaney Craft, “Black Crocodile”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Drought and starvation.

Kanokwan’s story starts in drought, in a world where many things are dying and everything else is struggling for food. When a young buffalo gives birth, unexpectedly, and the rains come, the calf is taken as an omen, especially as the weaker the calf grows, the more it rains. But Kanokwan rebels against living a life dictated by omens, a life heavy with “the weight of being born only to die”. The story is a strange blend of fantasy, religion, and re-incarnation, full of sadness, hopelessness, and despondency. It was really interesting, and unexpected, one I’m likely to remember and reflect on in months to come.

REVIEW: “Star Bound” by Devon Widmer

Review of Devon Widmer, “Star Bound”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was a cozy little lesbian SF story, full of sweet romance. Terra may build and maintain spaceships, her wife Dr. Vivian Huang may be a leading expert in astroherpetology, but in this story, they are just two women living their lives, and looking forward to the birth of their daughter. So often I hear pleas for “more stories of people just living out their lives” — well, this one fills that niche exactly. In addition, I appreciated Terra’s ambivalence towards become a mom. Not every mom needs to be amazing. Sometimes being good enough is good enough.

REVIEW: “Ganymede Days” by Victoria Feistner

Review of Victoria Feistner, “Ganymede Days”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The settlements on Ganymede are home to a variety of different people — lifers, born there and ready to live out their lives there; hotsteppers, newly arrived, possibly not staying long; deckherders, (never quite got why they have that name…); motleys, examples “of how the robot-loving government doesn’t do enough to protect real people.” The narrator is one of the former and one of the latter, a motley descendant of immigrants. All she wants is to stand quietly in line and get her painkiller prescription filled. But tempers run high, and drama — and heroism — cannot be avoided.

I’m not sure what I make of this story. It was well-paced and put together, and the ending has some good pathos, but despite this, I’m not sure that it’ll be one that lingers in my memory.

REVIEW: “Freedom in Briers” by Rachel Hailey

Review of Rachel Hailey, “Freedom in Briers”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 275-290 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Thorn, Caleb, and Theresa are each one of the Magic-Touched — people who have special abilities (or “banes”) that set them apart from the rest of humanity. Though it’s not clear to me how or why, their status as magic-touched puts them under the power or control of the non-magic-touched; e.g., Thorn has a keeper named Jasper who dictates her actions. Together, Thorn and the other magic-touched people are all part of an eerie circus, one that is constantly recruiting from amongst their audiences.

It’s clear from the start of the story that there is something complex going on — what isn’t clear, unfortunately, is what that something is. I was never quite sure, even at the end.

REVIEW: “Luminous” by Kel Purcill

Review of Kel Purcill, “Luminous”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Shaz’s modern-day fairy-tale ended with an unhappily ever after, so she got divorced. Now in the freedom of being happily single, she can do whatever she wants — and with whomever she wants.

This is a sweet little story. It’s not really to my taste, but if you like romance and magical realism, then this is a story for you!

REVIEW: “Down in the Kettle Bog, or: Julian and the Frogman” by Josie Nuñez

Review of Josie Nuñez, “Down in the Kettle Bog, or: Julian and the Frogman”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What do you do when a frogman comes to down, settling into the kettle bog and threatening the local kittens and babies?

Why, bring in the witches of course. A coven of them — twelve now, not thirteen as they once had been — including Julian who has been isolated from the rest for the last six months and still in the grip of an active spell that prevents her from speaking. The problem is, the last time the coven had to deal with a frogman, they were twenty witches strong and still barely managed to defeat it; and the other problem is, Julian is an oratory witch, one whose power is strongest when she speaks.

The rest I’ll leave to the reader to find out for themself, but it involves a panoply of witches with different powers and abilities all picked out with humor hunting down the frogman, and an explanation of why Julian placed the silence-spell on herself in the first place.