REVIEW: “Grover: Case #C09 920, ‘The Most Dangerous Blend'” by Edward Edmonds

Review of Edward Edmonds, “”Grover: Case #C09 920, ‘The Most Dangerous Blend'””, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 159-183 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

A gory opening scene (don’t read if you’re squeamish) segues into what would be a pretty typical detective/mystery story except that within a page we’ve got a suspect and a confession and the only uncertainty left is whether the suspect is telling the truth — and what reason would someone have to lie about negligence-leading-to-death? But Detective Ishani Grover isn’t one to assume the easy answer is the right one, and her investigations continue…until someone else dies.

Detective/mystery stories aren’t really my type, but this one was solid enough to keep me reading, with a plausible resolution and a few twists along the way to it.

REVIEW: “The Heavenly Dreams of Mechanical Trees” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “The Heavenly Dreams of Mechanical Trees”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 141-148 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

What a positively delightful title, and what a perfectly wonderful little story to go with it! I was captivated from the opening line, when we are told:

Trees were never intended to be sentient beings, or God would have created them that way, back in the Garden.

But suppose that they were — how would the course of human history have changed? What would the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil have to say, if it could speak?

The trees in this story that think such thoughts and dream the titular dreams are not descendants of the trees created by God, though; they are mechanical trees, created by man. Machines cannot speak; machines cannot procreate; machines can only dream of these things, and pray to their human creator-gods that a miracle occurs.

REVIEW: “Time and Space” by Laine Perez

Review of Lane Perez, “Time and Space”, Luna Station Quarterly 34 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story starts off with a contradiction:

When Mira sees the library for the first time, it is exactly as she remembers it.

How can one remember what one has never seen before? But such contradictions are to be expected in a story where one character can see the future.

For all that this is a story about pushing the boundaries of time and space, this isn’t SF. Rather, it has a quiet, almost fairy-tale like quality, and what is at the forefront is Mira and Cy and how they navigate a relationship together: Not just how to fit together when one person sees the future and the other moves unexpectedly through space, but how to build a life within those confines that doesn’t end up feeling utterly fatalistic. The lack of free will or free choice that is apparently entailed by foreknowledge of the future — a problem that has been vexing not only science fiction authors but philosophers for millenia — is deftly handled here by Perez in this satisfying story.

REVIEW: “Morph” by Sarah Pfleiderer

Review of Sarah Pfleiderer, “Morph”, Luna Station Quarterly 34 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is in essence a first-contact story; although contact with the Phytomorphs was actually made some 30 years prior to when this story starts, this is the first time that humans and Phytomorphs have attempted to live together. It is also, the further you read, increasingly a horror story.

There was a lot I liked about this story, particularly the clever, educated, older, female protagonist. When we are introduced to Dr. Audra Grissom in the opening paragraphs, I was quite pleased to see what I don’t often see in stories — someone like me!

But there were also a number of things which I didn’t like so much. The way Dr. Grissom was set up to us made me optimistic for both her and the society in which she operated, which is why I felt even more caught out than I might have been when I read this:

She had started graying in her 30s, but had given up trying to dye it back to its original brown once she hit her 40s. She had no husband or children to keep up appearances for anyway.

That second sentence — what a strange justification to add! It just goes to show that no matter how hard we try to write stories centering women and leaving behind the problematic social structures of reality, it’s hard to escape persistent and invasive ideas about how and why women should act the way they do. (Why should it make any difference to her hair color if Dr. Grissom is married or not? I’m married, with a kid, started greying in my 20s, and the only color I dye my hair is purple. I have no need to “keep up appearances” for anyone other than myself.) The upshot of this one single sentence is that I come away from the story pitying Dr. Grissom, knowing that the freedom and authority it seems that she has is only seeming, and not, yet, real.

I also felt vaguely uncomfortable about a lot of the colonial overtones that were present in this story. When Dr. Grissom meets the Phytomorph that she has corresponded with the most, we find out that she doesn’t know their name, but has given them a nickname of her choosing; the Phytomorph, on the other hand, addresses her by name. Why? Why did she give her name to them, at some point in their communication, but never ask theirs? Similarly, when she is confronted with the possibility that this co-habitation is harming the Phytomorphs, her first response is to protect the science, rather than put the objects of her study first.

REVIEW: “The Call of the Wold” by Holly Schofield

Review of Holly Schofield, “The Call of the Wold”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 67-81 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

If you’re looking for a story of a futuristic commune where the role of King Solomon is played by a 70-year-old itinerant on the run from her environmental charity owning brother, this is the story for you! Julie Leung is an engaging and distinctive choice of main character, and I sympathise with how difficult she finds the balancing act of being an introvert in a world built for extroverts.

I enjoyed the story well enough, though it started off quite introspective, with the external events mostly serving to give Julie reason to pause and reflect on her own life, both past and future, and it never quite lost its slow pace.

(And I have to admit, every single time I saw this title in my “to review” queue, I misread it as “The Call of the Wild”. I have no intentional if the Jack London reference was intentional, but it certainly was inescapable, for me.)

REVIEW: “Our Lady of the Wasteland” by Carly Racklin

Review of Carly Racklin, “Our Lady of the Wasteland”, Luna Station Quarterly 34 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story has that chatty, conversational tone between narrator and reader that can work very well if the reader is given enough clues in order to know how to fit themselves into the context, but less well if the reader is left a bit floundering as to the who-what-why. I had enough details to place myself — a hot, dusty place, where shelter is hard to find — but I felt that the story was much more a monologue (and this despite the fact that it is clearly conversational!) than it was a narrative or a story. I felt like the speaker’s words should have moved me at the end, but unfortunately, I was left unmoved.