REVIEW: “Frost” by ‘Nathan Burgoine

Review of ‘Nathan Burgoine, “Frost”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 69-79. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

To have a man like this, a man like his father, and his brothers, who would look at him and respect him and—yes—love him, even though he was small, and narrow, and gentle. What that might be like.

Flipping through the book to pick the next story to read and review, I opened to the page that had this opening quote, and knew immediately that this was the story I wanted to read. So much hope and sadness in those two sentences, and also a hint of something more.

“Frost” is in essence a classic fairy tale, with the clever youngest son hero, magic to mend a broken heart, and what should be a happily ever after. The man Frost is “born of magic and a longing for love,” and though he seems everything that Little Jay, with the gift of magic in his hands, desires and needs, as often happens when magic is involved, not everything is as it seems. Before my eyes I see the happily ever after melts away as the frost melts in the sun, and my heart ached for the unhappiness that threads through the entire story.

But,

Anything broken might never be what it was, but in the right hands, with enough heart, it could always be something else (p. 79).

There is hope at the end of the story, but I’m not quite sure it’s enough to make it a happy story.

(Originally published in 2016 on ‘Nathan Burgoine’s blog.)

REVIEW: “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury

Review of Ray Bradbury, “There Will Come Soft Rains”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 19-25 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I confess that my Bradbury exposure to date has been relatively little. I tried to read Fahrenheit 450 in high school, and never succeeded in finishing it. It’s now sat on my shelf for too long for me to pause in front of it, when I’m looking for something new to read, and think “Oh, I should give that another go.” Reading this story certainly piques my interest to go back and revisit Bradbury.

The theme of abandoned places is at the fore of this story. There are no characters, except for one lonesome dog who is too pathetic to be a true agent, there is only place, the place to which the soft rains will come, a place that used to be full of people but which is now empty and forsaken.

It’s not often that an inanimate object can successfully be the protagonist in a story, but Bradbury makes it work here.

(Originally published in 1950 in Collier’s.)

REVIEW: “Turing Test” by Eric Scheller

Review of Eric Scheller, “Turing Test”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 215-220. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The interior of the case is decorated like a florid setting room, wallpapered, the floor spread with a rug of oriental design. There are three automata and all three are instantly recognizable…

A spec fic story about Alan Turing and automata? Oh, my heart, yes, please! One thing that sometimes frustrates me about science fiction as a genre (painting with very broad brush strokes here), is how narrowly “science” is often interpreted. As a scientist myself, I am often longing to find representation of my kind of science in traditional SF stories. But the laws of logic are desperately hard to play with, almost more so in fiction than in real life, where logicians think nothing of speaking of true contradictions and impossible worlds. So I had high hopes for this story as being “close enough”, not my science but close enough to it.

When one says “automata” in the context of SF, many readers probably think first of dumb robots moving mindlessly — something embodied. The automata that I know and love (and sometimes hate) from my days in grad school are much more abstract: They are (sometimes deterministic, sometimes not) (sometimes finite, sometimes not) state-machines that take as input strings of symbols and after a (possibly unique) computation (or “run”) of the machine either gets into an infinite loop, or accepts or rejects the string (Deterministic finite state-machines will never cycle infinitely, and will always accept or reject the input.) The most general class of automata is the class of Turing machines — and here we circle back to the content of the story as opposed to a mini lesson in computation.

Alan, who “loves permutations and crossword puzzles” (p. 215), enters the Ashmolean Museum and asks to see the automata the curator has in storage. But the automata that he is shown are not Turing machines but the embodied type, three versions of Oscar Wilde each in a different guise and a different pose. I am disappointed that the automata are not the ones I wanted them to be, but this lessens my enjoyment of the story only in passing. Scheller takes us through a story that is both history and fantasy, and captures all of the aching sadness that surrounds Turing and his life. For all that so much of him differs from me, there is so much of him that I can see in myself, and for that, I am satisfied.

(Originally published in Meet Me in the Middle of the Air, Undertow Publications, 2016).

REVIEW: “Memento Mori” by Charlotte Frankel

Review of Charlotte Frankel, “Memento Mori”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 316-319. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

If you ever want to spend a macabre half an hour or so, read up on Victorian death photography. Or, read this story — a creepy little story of competing utilities. Sure, epidemics are terrible things — but not if you are an undertaker, or a doctor…or a photographer of the dead.

It’s a quick little story, so if you don’t have half an hour to spare, you can still get your dose of the macabre here.

REVIEW: Wilde Stories 2017 edited by Steve Berman

Review of Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, (Lethe Press, 2017) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

As a cis woman who is in a happily monogamous het relationship, I am probably the least qualified person to review this collection of stories. But, oh, it has a story about Turing in it, and as a logician who sometimes flirts with computer science and AI, I feel eminently qualified to read about Turing, and for that story alone I bought the book.

As a “best of” collection, it draws upon stories published the previous year, so all of these first came out — in various venues — in 2016. Many are thus things I would not have otherwise come across, which is one of the advantages that collected volumes have — they provide a different type of exposure for the stories and the authors that wrote them. And this particular volume is a physically lovely one — beautiful cover art by Dmitry Vorsin, attractive typesetting, and a suppleness to the pages which reminds me, as if I needed a reminder, of why I love print books so much more than electronic ones.

Each story is prefaced by a short quote from the story, bound to spark the reader’s interest. The tales included are the following:

  • “The Tale of the Costume Maker” by Steve Carr
  • “Das Steingeschöpf” by G. V. Anderson
  • “Where’s the Rest of Me?” by Matthew Cheney
  • “The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad
  • “Frost” by ‘Nathan Burgoine
  • “Bull of Heaven” by Gabriel Murray
  • “The Sound a Raven Makes” by Mathew Scaletta
  • “Angel, Monster, Man” by Sam J. Miller
  • “Most Holy Ghost” by Martin Pousson
  • “Ratcatcher” by Amy Griswold
  • “The Drowning Line” by Haralambi Markov
  • “My Heart’s Own Desire” by Robert Levy
  • “Turing Test” by Eric Schaller
  • “Of All Possible Worlds” by Eneasz Brodski
  • “Carnivores” by Rich Larson
  • It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by A. C. Wise
  • “The Death of Paul Bunyon” by Charles Payseur

Each of the stories will be reviewed individually, and linked back to this post when the review is posted.

Overall, the collection is powerful, beautiful, and sad. Every single story is steeped in emotion, and lovingly crafted.

REVIEW: “The Sphinx” by Petter Skult

Review of Petter Skult, “The Sphinx”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 334-336. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Classical myths and stories provide such ripe fruit for the contemporary western author because so many of the characters and the details are already known, and the author can therefore depend upon many of the readers filling in the gaps for themselves. That’s certainly the case with this story, which starts from the assumption that the reader knows who Oedipus is, who the sphinx is, what riddle it is that she is said to have told. While I think that this story would still work even if you didn’t know any of these, the pacing of the story certainly benefits from knowing how it will end.

REVIEW: “Cardinal Skin” by Bo Balder

Review of Bo Balder, “Cardinal Skin”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 5-17 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The opening story of Galuschak and Cornell’s anthology dumps us immediately into an empty plain of glass, across which Teio and her brother and father are skating to reach the mountains on the other side, the mountains on top of which

they hoped to find the sanctum where the Cardinal Skins were hidden. Many heroes had tried to acquire a Skin, trying to save the world from its ruined state after the Cataclysms.

Teio’s mother, Haio, had been such a hero, but she had failed. Now her family come, hoping both to succeed where she had not, and to find her body and bury it.

The story has all the elements of a classic quest tale, but it is more than that: It is a ghost story. It is a story of family bonds and family places. It is a story of learning that everything you knew is wrong, and a story of a place that is not quite as abandoned as everyone thought.

Balder’s writing was quick paced and precise. An unfortunate quirk of typesetting marred the story throughout, however. In a number of places, quoted material coming after another sentence lacks the space after the preceding period, meaning the quotation marks end up curled the wrong way.