REVIEW: “A Deal is a Deal is a Deal” by Beth Anderson

Review of Beth Anderson, “A Deal is a Deal is a Deal”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 349-362 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was probably the most hilarious story in the volume. I laughed out loud more than once at this clever take on two people who bargain their first-born child for everything their heart could desire.

REVIEW: “Her Cage of Root and Bone” by Kali Wallace

Review of Kali Wallace, “Her Cage of Root and Bone”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 301 (April 9, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

This is a striking portrait of two bitterly angry sisters. Nell is the ruler of the land, known by many titles, including (ironically, from her sister’s point of view) Queen of Peace and The Warrior Who Has Ended War. What she has not ended, and clearly has no desire to end, is the life-long rivalry, jealousy, and hatred that exists between twin sister Lottie and herself. Nell has magically imprisoned her twin in “a tower set upon rock in the center of a mountain river . . . and the chains that bind me are living wood, growing from my ankles and feet into roots below, from my hands into the branches wending through walls, from my hair into the crown above.” It’s a striking image and apt metaphor for the rage that has long imprisoned both sisters. Though Lottie has clearly gotten the worst of it, having been physically and psychologically tortured for years, it’s hard to believe she wouldn’t have done the same to Nell had the situation been reversed. It’s an all-consuming fury on the part of both sisters, perhaps the only thing that gives life meaning for either of them. 

REVIEW: “Never a Butterfly, Nor a Moth With Moon-Painted Wings” by Aimee Ogden

Review of Aimee Ogden, “Never a Butterfly, Nor a Moth with Moon-Painted Wings”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue 300 (March 26, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

In an earlier review, I said that C.C. Finlay’s “The Hummingbird Temple” might be the best story in this special, 300th issue of BCS. Perhaps it is, but this story is at least a close second. It is told in the form of a never-sent letter, written in code, recalling the life of a mother, Shemi, and the hopes and fears she had—and still has—for her much-loved daughter, Oya. The story begins with an account of how Shemi and her people, wartime refugees, were driven out of their land and forced to settle in a matriarchal, but decidedly puritanical society. There, Shemi’s People of the Butterfly are seen as second-class citizens, at best.  

Interesting though this part of the story is, however, it pales before the account of how Shemi came to accept her daughter for the person she is, something “new and strange and wonderful,” rather than the person Shemi once hoped Oya would become. But it’s not just the story itself that delights. Ogden’s language is beautifully poetic. At one point, for example, she describes her then unborn daughter as “a secret moon riding high in my belly.” At another, Ogden offers a convincing explanation for why Butterflies prefer one-night stands. If that doesn’t get you to read the story, I don’t know what will. 

REVIEW: “To Balance the Weight of Khalem” by R.B. Lemberg

Review of R.B. Lemberg, “To Balance the Weight of Khalem”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 300 (March 26, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Belezal—the name the narrator bestows upon themselves in the course of the story—is a student refugee on the strange world of Khalem, “a carven globe of gold floating in the sky, tethered to the ground with ancient linked chains.” They and their family had been allowed to enter Khalem only because “the government needed more people to balance the weight of the city on its chains.” Balance with their bodies, in other words.  

One evening, Belezal unwittingly discovers “a sidewise market” similar to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, but more fantastic. There he is given a magic onion and begins a journey during which he encounters many strange places and people, including Nayra, the woman who cooks, and most importantly, The Maid of Murur. This is a lovely, poetic story of people adrift and largely unwelcome but who are nevertheless determined to find a place for themselves. 

REVIEW: “Bound by Sorrow” By Maurice Broaddus

Review of Maurice Broaddus, “Bound by Sorrow”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 300 (March 26, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Thematically, this novella is about grief, death, and choices. It is also a story about the power of stories. Its main character, Dinga, and his wise-ass friend, Gerard, are on a quest to deliver Dinga’s dead sister to a city where gods reside, the Dreaming City. Along the way, their journey is interspersed by stories told by Dinga and others they encounter. These narratives give a story-within-a-story feel to the piece that help further illustrate Dinga’s life and mission while building a richly layered history and mythology. You may need to read the story twice to fully grasp all its nuances, but your time will be well spent. 

REVIEW: “Uzimaki of the Lake” by Richard Parks

Review of Richard Parks, “Uzimaki of the Lake”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 300 (March 26, 2020): Listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

I gather Lord Yamada is a popular character who features frequently in Richard Parks’ stories, but this is my first exposure to Yamada. Here, at least, he seems to be a sort of Sherlock Holmes of the supernatural. Along with Kenji, his companion, he is tasked with investigating strange sounds, lights, and ghostly apparitions near a lake whose ownership, though legally settled, is still the source of friction between two rival daimyos. If you’re a fan of the Yamada series, or of Parks’ work generally, you’ll probably like this story. As a newcomer to the series, however, I found it somewhat amusing, but rather slight. 

REVIEW: “Sweet Little Lies” by Lindsey Duncan

Review of Lindsey Duncan, “Sweet Little Lies”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I really loved this story, one of the best in the issue. It was set in a richly, wildly full world (the opening scenes and characters felt like they could easily support a complete novel), and it was full of beautiful language and parts that made me laugh. This is exactly the sort of fantasy I want to read, and I look forward to reading more by Lindsey Duncan!

REVIEW: “What the Gods Left Behind” by Genevieve Gornichec

Review of Genevieve Gornichec, “What the Gods Left Behind”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Death (including death of children and parents; oblique mention of war).

Apocalypse, ghosts, a destructive plague, a lone walker, a talking dog, Norse gods…there’s a lot crammed into this story. I’m always a little wary of stories that open with a single person striking out on their own after an apocalypse, because it’s hard for a single character to carry an entire story, even a short one. But despite Katla being “more or less the last woman on Earth”, there’s a rich cast of characters, and enough interaction for Katla to become sympathetic.

I think I would’ve gotten more out of the story, though, if I knew my Norse myths better.

REVIEW: “A Life in Six Feathers” by Kathryn Yelinek

Review of Kathryn Yelinek, “A Life in Six Feathers”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Oh, I loved this story. It combined intriguing and realistic science with a depth of character and a sweet thread of love and romance, and hope — so much hope. Beautifully constructed, a real joy to read. If you are looking for a “cosy SF” story, this is one for you.

REVIEW: “Mouse, Crow, Cockroach, Valkyrie” by Tiffany Meuret

Review of Tiffany Meuret, “Mouse, Crow, Cockroach, Valkyrie”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is the story of an invasive plant species that kills almost everything it comes in contact with, experienced through the titular characters — a mouse, a crow, and cockroachs.

While I liked the rotating points of views, overall I’m not sure how successful this story was. One the one hand, the experiences of the mouse, the crow, and the cockroach felt too human, too complex, to be believably animal. On the other hand, their experiences and impressions of the “plants” were not enough for me to really understand what they were (were they really plants, or some type of machine?). In the end, the arrival of the valkyries felt strangely out of place.