REVIEW: “Nothing Lasts” by David Estringel

Review of David Estringel, “Nothing Lasts”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 79-80 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

If the hope of this anthology is to engage the wider public with science through the media of fiction and poetry, then the lesson we are to apparently learn from this poem is that “Nothing lasts”, which is both the title and the refrain at the end of each verse. It is a depressing and hopeless message.

REVIEW: “We Feel Autumn in Our Bones” by Joe Butler

Review of Joe Butler, “We Feel Autumn in Our Bones”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 73-78 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Contemplation of abortion.

To my taste, the story was slightly overwritten — I kept feeling like a just a few fewer words in each sentence would’ve tightened and sharpened everything up — but it was premised upon such an intriguing idea that by the end of it, I forgave the overwriting. There are many different ways that authors can contemplate solutions to the every growing population on Earth; Butler’s was a take I’d not seen before, and I enjoyed that.

REVIEW: “Dark Constellations Beneath Electron Microscope” by Carla Durbach

Review of Carla Durbach, “Dark Constellations Beneath Elecron Microscope”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 59-60- — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Lately I’ve been struggling about what makes a poem a good SF poem. Durbach’s poem is just that: It tells an undeniably and intrinsically science fiction story, but in a way that enhances the beauty of the poem rather than distracts.

REVIEW: “Another Heart” by Bryan Arneson

Review of Bryan Arneson, “Another Heart”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 61-71 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the kind of SF that I really like — the science is subtle and in the background, but it emphasizes our most basic questions: What makes us human? What are emotions? These and others were brought to the fore through the lense of the character Rosco, whose own status (robot? enhanced human?) remains uncertain right until the very end.

REVIEW: “Carry On” by Shelby Van Pelt

Review of Shelby Van Pelt, “Carry On”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 49-58 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a story full of paradoxes. It was full of sharp, fine details that made the setting feel intimate and real, and yet I couldn’t tell you where or when it was set. The first-person narrator continually addresses an unnamed “you”, but that “you” is not me, the reader. Instead, it feels like we’re inside the narrator’s head, overhearing her internal monologue, as she recites her history and how she and her friend ended up stranded in a desert when almost everyone else has moved on, made the long trek to the south.

Even in the ending is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. I think I know what happened — but I won’t spoil the surprise by telling it here.

REVIEW: “Hell With Friends” by Emily Deibler

Review of Emily Deibler, “Hell With Friends”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 33-48 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Suicide and contemplation of suicide.

Scout has sold her soul to Satan and is now dead in the ninth circle of hell. There’s certain plusses about being in hell — no more grad school, the chance to hang out with Satan’s three spouses, Naamah, Lilith, and Judas — but hell is also a place that magnifies everything that was wrong with you in life, Scout finds. She’s just as angry, just as sardonic, just as scared in hell as she was on earth, and “she needed every friend she could get” (p. 39). But “Hell with friends was still Hell” (p. 39). Perhaps the worst, though, is that Scout still doesn’t know what she is meant to be, to do, with her “life”, even now that she is dead.

This story, like the preceding one, is much more fantasy than science fiction. I found myself wanting more from it than I got. With a fantasy story, one expects either grand worldbuilding or characters full of depth. Here, I learned almost nothing about the nature of hell, or how Scout was able to make her bargain with Satan. Little details were given, but I never got a sense of the overall place. But the characters felt rather flat, though, with stilted, unnatural dialogue. I wonder what the author could have made of the story with the help of a ruthless editor, because there was definitely a kernal of something interesting in there.

REVIEW: “Petrichor” by Hannah Hulbert

Review of Hannah Hulbert, “Petrichor”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 15-31 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I always expect the opening story of an anthology to typify the entire collection, to set the scene, so to speak. This story does not, however, make good on the expectation set by the foreword and introduction. If what makes a story science fiction is the presence of some sort of science in it, then this story is definitely not science fiction, but instead pure fantasy. The story alternates between two points of view, that of Nolauronomailik, an Earth elemental, and Nol his priestess, who worships him as a god.

But while I found it a perplexing choice to open this collection, I did not dislike the story itself. It had some lovely imagery in it, and some poignant moments as Nolauronomailik must balance his fallibility with Nol’s belief in him.