REVIEW: “How the Girls Came Home” by Eugenia Triantafyllou

Review of Eugenia Triantafyllou, “How the Girls Came Home”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

Amalia has a unique power: every day her feet change to that of a different animal, giving her an otter’s swimming abilities one day, and a cat’s climbing claws the next. Her father sees this as an undesirable curse, and has enlisted the help of the Artisan to make her a pair of magical shoes that will lock her feet into a human form. However, women have been mysteriously disappearing from Amalia’s village, and she seems to be the only one who cares enough to find out what has been happening to them. As she investigates rivers and eavesdrops on conversations from tree branches, she discovers that the orchestrator of these disappearances is more dangerous than she realized, and that he might be coming for her next. 

Amalia has a thorough appreciation for each new form of her feet and a deep empathy for the women around her, despite the opposing viewpoints of both her father and the rest of her community. However, her affection for her father leaves her unable to tell him that she considers her feet to be a fundamental part of who she is, leading her to risk her very identity every time she tries on a new pair of the Artisan’s shoes. So many parent-child relationships in fiction are purely antagonistic or supportive; I found this more complicated dynamic extraordinarily relatable and yet heartbreaking in its own way. This story has its light moments, but it is ultimately haunting, dealing with nuanced themes of identity loss, remembrance, and objectification. Don’t be fooled by the whimsical fairy tale elements: not all slippers are markers of princesses, and not all shapeshifters are capricious and unreliable.

REVIEW: “The Force Exerted on the Mass of a Body” by Bo Balder

Review of Bo Balder, “The Force Exerted on the Mass of a Body”, Clarkesworld Issue 176, May (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A fun yet poignant read about Sifan, and her initial struggles with the much stronger gravitational field of her new short-term home. She’s an inventor, there to help advance space travel. But, it turns out space might be a sentient being. The discoveries are as difficult to shoulder as the exoskeleton she must wear to stay upright. How she deals with the situation and the new revelations make up the bulk of the story. A very interesting approach to space travel for sure.

REVIEW: “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse” by Rachel Swirsky

Review of Rachel Swirsky, “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

In “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse,” an ingenuous and lipstick-obsessed narrator details the whimsical contents of their purse in list format, guiding the reader through their recent interactions with these items. As the story continues, a web of connections grows between each seemingly discrete item, and, improbably and almost unbelievably, the narrator’s strange assumptions about the contents of their purse seem to be confirmed by members of the outside world. It’s a short and easily-digestible story, and it has some humorous twists and turns; it definitely made me smile!

Personally, when I pick up an issue of Uncanny, this is exactly the type of story I expect to find, layered between pages of the unexpected. It slowly adds speculative twists to ubiquitous, mundane aspects of daily existence until the reader ends up in a highly improbable world that, nevertheless, appears perfectly reasonable. An homage to the enigmatic nature of the random collection of items in our purses, it’s delightful, it’s surprising, and it wraps itself up neatly in a nice little bow. While not particularly flashy or action-packed, this story is simply good fun and great imaginative exercise.

REVIEW: “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte

Review of José Pablo Iriarte, “Proof by Induction”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

When Paulie’s father dies, all that remains is his coda: a simulated version of himself at the time of his death, usually used to check up on practicalities like his will or life insurance. But Paulie has unfinished business with his father, so he takes the coda home against the advice of hospital employees. Writing with a dry-erase marker on the walls of his father’s simulated hospital room, Paulie attempts to solve two unsolvable problems: a famous mathematical hypothesis that could secure his tenure, and his complicated feelings about his distant relationship with his father. 

Like all the best science fiction, the focus of “Proof by Induction” isn’t on the new technology itself, (the coda machine,) but on its effects. In this case, these effects are explored on a micro-scale—one family, one discipline, and one esoteric proof waiting to be solved. The magic of this story is in the little, mundane moments: the charged conversations between Paulie and his wife, and the way Paulie interacts with both his father and his daughter. It’s not uncommon to see stories about stoic mathematicians trying to navigate relationships, but the generational component here makes it uniquely fascinating. It allows the story to be both defiant and hopeful, giving Paulie space to acknowledge his past and pursue his future. For someone who loves details, reading between the lines, and probing the soft, emotional edges of a tale, it’s a very satisfying read.

REVIEW: “Dangerous Orbit” by M. T. Reiten

Review of M. T. Reiten, “Dangerous Orbit”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2021): – (Kindle) 8–17 Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

As a result of a past space war, Earth’s orbit has been rendered impassable due to a large amount of debris, prompting a concerted effort in the present to clean up Earth’s orbital space. One day, Neela discovers that one of her drones is not responding and decides to go on an EVA to investigate. There she discovers one of the unpleasant remnants of the war.

This is a well-written story packed with tension and excellent world-building. The author provides just enough setup to establish the dangers that the characters face, and then proceeds to focus on the conflict at hand. Since it’s focused mostly on plot, the characters end up mostly archetypal and shallow placeholders serving the story.

All in all, this is one of the best stories in this issue.

REVIEW: “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” by Fran Wilde

Review of Fran Wilde, “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 40 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

Fashion design student Sara Sebastian has grown up listening to conflicting stories about the elaborate ball gowns designed by the Unseelie Brothers; her mother and aunt both wore one of these mysterious gowns on the fateful night when they met their husbands. When the Unseelie Brothers atelier reappears in New York City shortly before the Fête Noir Charity Ball, Sara and her cousin Rie are pulled from their final graduation projects to find the shop immediately. Once inside, Sara receives the opportunity of a lifetime: a paid contract to work at Unseelie Brothers and learn their trade. But as the ball inches closer, she discovers that the dresses she helps design may have more power than she realized, and a price with dangerous ramifications that stretch into her past.

This colorful, sparkling coming-of-age story filled my mind with whirling zoomorphic dress fabric and the giddy confidence of a young, talented artist surrounded by the best in her trade. The juxtaposition of a grounded New York college student with the messy next-generation aftermath of a cinderella-esque matchmaking ball was delightfully complex and riveting. I highly recommend it to any connoisseur of the modern fairy tale. 

REVIEW: “Spore” by Tang Fei

Review of Tang Fei, “Spore”, Clarkesworld Issue 176, May (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A story of hurt, legacy, and the legacy of hurt. The protagonist has inherited loss and pain from their father, but not his sense of being wronged or passionate need for justice. It sheds light on the fact that we can only sympathize and commiserate; we can empathize, at most. The feeling of having experienced something, however, is not something one can pass on. Nor can you transfer a need for retribution or validation.

You can, however, pass on trauma, opinions and traits, which comes across in this story in a strangely haunting way. Our protagonist’s decisions and choices are affected by this, as well as their father’s attempts at passing on that need for justice. Worth a read for the lovely imagery as well.

REVIEW: “Proverbs of Hell for Writers” by Ian McDonald

Review of Ian McDonald, “Proverbs of Hell for Writers”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 181-188 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

McDonald closes off the anthology by giving us 94 pithy proverbs about reading, writing, and being a writer. Some obvious, some insightful, some humorous, some inspirational, this was a good way to end the collection. Having devoured the entire book over the course of four days, I now feel like maybe, just maybe, I can tackle again that glorious pain which is attempting to put words of fiction onto paper.

REVIEW: “Matters of Life and Death” by Susan Palwick

Review of Susan Palwick, “Matters of Life and Death”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 175-179 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Palwick in her essay extols the virtues of what she calls “slow writing”, and compares the process of writing to that of learning how to spin and weave cloth — not as a metaphor, but as an actual explication of practice, talking about what she learned about how to write while she was learning how to spin: In neither case should you draft too fast.

REVIEW: “*Take As Needed” by Hiromi Goto

Review of Hiromi Goto, “*Take As Needed”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 171-174 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

When Goto asks, “What if you not only lose your imagination, but you also lose faith in your imagination?” (p. 171), it feels as if he’s exactly addressing me. I read this essay with great hunger and hope. More than anything, living through a pandemic has been exhausting, and it’s useful to read yet another reminder (so many of them in this anthology, and yet every one is worthwhile) that it exhaustion isn’t just physical, and it takes time to recover from, and “solace is necessary when you lose faith” (p. 172). What I didn’t expect, and which made the essay all the more impactful, was to find that it was not written by someone who has been through the dry patch and come out the other side; it was written by someone who is in the middle of it.