REVIEW: “The Pet Owner’s Guide to Reptilian Hauntings” by Jerica Taylor

Review of Jerica Taylor, “The Pet Owner’s Guide to Reptilian Hauntings”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I love a good title, and as an erstwhile pet owner of reptiles, this is a very good title. This was a fun rollicking story with a moral — never underestimate the importance of a funeral! It’s also a rather painful reflection on the difficulties of parenting, especially when one parent is deployed or otherwise absent. Funny, real, sometimes pathetic — the story lives up to the promise of the title and I really enjoyed it. My favorite of the issue!

REVIEW: “Three Partitions” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Three Partitions” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 155-180 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Cis- and intersexism, vomiting, body horror, shunning, death, self-injury, injury, blood.

This story fulfills my desire to see religion incorporated into SF — not just as an incidental, but as fully and strongly as the science itself. (Why do so many SF authors seem to forget the central role that religion plays in human lives?) It opens on Chani attending service, which is at once both chaotic — where is the kohen? A levi must read the prayers instead — and closely constricted — “Men below, women above, and…those who were neither in the right corner of the balcony” (p. 156). In that third partition is Chani’s friend Adira.

It’s an intimate story, full of monstrous details and quiet exclusions, tightly focused on Chani and Adira, but also on a bigger question of who can be Jewish, and what it means to be Jewish, and woven in with little gems of humor. I really am in awe of the way Takács is able to combine the unfamiliar and the familiar, the grotesque and the ordinary, in such powerful ways.

(Originally published in Gigantosaurus April 2014.)

REVIEW: “Seeing Utopia” by Lisa Fox

Review of Lisa Fox, “Seeing Utopia”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Casual ableism.

As the story opens, we are given an imprisoned queen, betrayed in marriage and now helpless in the face of the destruction of her kingdom, and a ghostly rescuer who comes, formless, to set her free. This isn’t a ghost story, but the “ghost” rescuer, Mollo, strangely has more agency than Queen Aclara ever does. While she does release her kingdom in the end, she first acts under Mollo’s guide and impetus, and then at the behest of Gerard, the Sorcerer King’s valet. Never, it seems to me, does she act on her own behalf as a fully fledged agent. In the end, I’m not sure that she was any more free than when she was married to the traitor Sorcerer King.

In the background behind this, and introduced to us only much later into the story, are the witch sisters Myth and Janin. The role they play in the Sorcerer King’s take-over of the kingdom, and in the freeing of Aclara, turned out to be a much more interesting and absorbing story; I wish that more of their side of things had been told. It’s clear that as readers we’re supposed to favor Myth over Janin, but I found Janin fascinating — she was rich and complex and intriguing.

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).