REVIEW: “The Fire Wife” by Erin McNelis

Review of Erin McNelis, “The Fire Wife”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content: War, refugee experiences, subjugation, bodily harm/torture.

Aruna is a firewife, charged with the knowledge of how to light fires and also, despite her status as a servant in the chief’s household, occupying a position of power and authority amongst the women of her clan: When a question come whose answer will “change the course of [her] people forever”, she is the one that must make it on behalf of the others.

At first, the story confused me — though it was full of lively and distinctive characters, and McNelis conveyed a sense of scale that indicated this was but a small facet of a much larger story, I also found myself struggling to figure out who the characters were and how they were related to each other, not just in terms of family but in terms of how they were located in the various power structures. About 2/3 of the way through, though, I realised why I was so confused: The middle third of the story takes place before the first third.

I think the story structure could have been crafted a little bit better, but the story itself was full of pathos and friendship and love and sadness.

REVIEW: “This Secular Technology” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “This Secular Technology” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 137-153 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Blood, injury, cutting, body horror, vomiting,
suffocation, mentions of slavery and death.

Ah, this story…first, I started reading it and then got interrupted and by the time I could get back to it, I had to reread it from the beginning. Then, I wrote up a lovely review of it late one night, only to find in the morning an errant copy/paste had lost it all.

Normally reviewing isn’t quite such a struggle. But in this case, I found it beneficial to reread the beginning parts of it. Takács’s stories are so full of detail that sometimes it can be hard to pick out, on the first go, which ones are important for the story and which are just part of the rich world-building. This one is no exception. In particular, what I really enjoyed about this story was the strong Jewish cultural elements threaded throughout: Many were catalysts for the story, but many were also just part of the background world. So much contemporary SFF is set against a generic Christian background — even generic pagan backdrops are constructed in opposition to Christianity as the dominant religion — and I think this is a such a shame. We need more stories like this one, which remind the reader that the dominant paradigm is not the only one.

(First appeared in Mirror Shards, ed. T. K. Carpenter, 2012).

REVIEW: “Flower, Feather, Hare and Snow” by Nadia Attia

Review of Nadia Attia, “Flower, Feather, Hare and Snow”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The title puts me in the mood for a fairy tale. Attia’s story delivered on that, but faltered somewhat in the execution: I found the language sometimes lyrical and sometimes just too blunt, so as to be at odds with the story itself. I don’t often feel this way, but I felt like this story could’ve used a few more drafts and some editing.

REVIEW: “Recordings of a More Personal Nature” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Recordings of a More Personal Nature” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 125-136 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Mind control, drug use, self-harm, cutting, torture, dissociation, allusions to suicide.

So many things I love about this story:

1. Great background metaphysics — unlike any world building I’ve come across before.
2. The importance of the formation of the self via memories, something I’ve explored quite a bit in my own writing!
3. The way the story combines those two with the way it dwells more on the horror of being cut off from one’s sense of self than on the mechanics of how the archive works.

And I loved the twist at the end, when the reason why this culture depends so on their archive is revealed. This was just an all round very satisfying story.

(Originally published in Apex Magazine November 2013).

REVIEW: “Good People in a Small Space” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Good People in a Small Space” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 117-123 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Sadism, masochism, cheerful body horror, blood.

A strange little story, with a lot of very distinct and distinctive characters — truly weird and unfamiliar aliens, truly weird and unfamiliar humans. This story really showcases Takács’s exceptional ability at depicting the unknown.

(Originally published on Patreon, 2016.)

REVIEW: “Increasing Police Visibility” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Increasing Police Visibility”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 111-115 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Policing.

In this story, Takács plays on the different ways “alien” can be interpreted in a way that chills this immigrant’s heart. Although first published in 2015, the story holds even more resonance now, given the increasing hatred and xenopobia of countries like the USA and the UK.

(Originally published in Lightspeed June 2015.)

REVIEW: “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 103-109. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Sports accident, physical pain.

This was a quiet, almost meditative piece, alternating between Amira’s solo hookboarding flight and the guidelines, or perhaps rules, to guarantee the titular optimal experience. Amira’s last hookboarding experience was not optimal, but this story feels like a chance for her to exorcise the memories of it. There is little in terms of plot; a lot in terms of beauty of language.

(First appeared in Lackington’s Summer 2014).