REVIEW: The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This debut short story collection by Bogi Takács contains twenty-three stories (what a wealth!). Most of the stories included here have previous appeared in various other journals and anthologies. I know some people complain about “double-dipping”, but in my mind, this is precisely what short story collections are about: Bringing together the oeuvre of an author that had been previously disparately scattered, often inaccessibly a few years after publication, into a single accessible source.

If I were to identify an overarching thread or theme that runs through the stories, it is — sadly — not octopuses but rather a paradoxical lack of care for gender entwined with a deep, abiding care for gender. Many of the stories are in 1st person POV, and we can go an entire story without learning the narrator’s name or gender or anything else; but in others, trans and nonbinary characters are strongly represented, in a wonderfully positive and affirming light. I really appreciated how Takács was able to use the medium of fiction as a means to explore both the importance of gender but also how very unimportant it can be.

I also appreciated very much how many of the SF stories were based in actual science, complete with footnotes at the end of the story for further research or to pieces that formed Takács’s inspiration. The very best of SF fiction is, in my opinion, indistinguishable from fact, and I wish more authors would cite their sources in the way that Takács does!

As is usual, we’ll review each of the stories individually, and link the reviews here when published:

  • “This Shall Serve as a Demarcation”
  • “Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus”
  • “A Superordinate Set of Principles”
  • “Forestspirit, Forestspirit”
  • “Given Sufficient Desperation”
  • “Changing Body Templates”
  • “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience”
  • “Increasing Police Visibility”
  • “Good People in a Small Space”
  • “Recordings of a More Personal Nature”
  • “This Secular Technology”
  • “Three Partitions”
  • “Unifications”
  • “The Size of a Barleycorn, Encased in Lead”
  • “To Rebalance the Body”
  • “Shovelware”
  • “The Oracle of DARPA”
  • “Toward the Luminous Towers”
  • “Wind-Lashed Vehicles”
  • “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation”
  • “Spirit Forms of the Sea”
  • “All Talk of Common Sense”
  • “Standing on the Floodbanks”

Detailed content notes for the stories are available — but at the end of the collection, which puts the onus on the reader to seek out the warnings to doublecheck that each story will not be problematic. (As opposed to when the notes are either collected and presented before the stories, or when each story is accompanied by its own note.) Some of the warnings cut across stories: There are quite a lot that are labelled with ‘body horror’. I will label each story review with the content warnings from the book.

Though I’ve been a follower of Takács on twitter for awhile now, this was my first exposure to their fiction. It’s also the first time I’ve actually reached out to request an ARC of a book, and doing so all I could think — and all I could think while reading and reviewing the stories in the anthology — was I hope I do them justice. I sometimes marvel at the fact that I get to live in an age when we have #ownvoices books representing so many different experiences. We are privileged to have these authors and their stories, and I’m privileged to read them. You should read them too!

REVIEW: “Evangelina’s Dream” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “Evangelina’s Dream”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 96-105 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This final story in the anthology, and the last of the space dreams, picks up the story of the titular character of the previous one, “The Cosmic Adventures of Sophie Zetyld”, which, despite the title, was more about River Seung than it was about Sophie Zetyld.

The story is divided into six parts, Negatio (“denial”), Iracundia (“irascibility”), Pacisci (“to bargain or negotiate”), Exanimationes Incidamus (“deaths might happen”), Acceptatio (“acceptance”), Excitatus (“I woke up”). Each is a snapshot of a dream, a dream dreamt by a body that is not used to dreaming, not used to eating, not used to being human. How much is real and how much is merely a dream is not clear, as it is in the truest and most vivid of dreams, but in it we learn much about Sophie’s previous life and her current desires. This one didn’t make me laugh quite as much as the “Cosmic Adventures” did, but I think I appreciated it more.

REVIEW: “Murmured Under the Moon” by Tim Pratt

Review of Tim Pratt, “Murmured Under the Moon”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 58-82 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Oh, I loved this one. Emily is the human librarian of a faerie library(!) and dating a living book of love poetry(!!), until one day fae soldiers turn up and start looting the place(!!!). Cue Emily teaming up with a piratical former fae princess and more living books, and going to retrieve her library. Some of the narrative a bit clunky, and I would have happy to have more about the side-characters, but I love the ideas and the visuals of this story and how Emily resolved her problems. It was sweet and exactly my sort of thing.

[Caution warning: mind control]

REVIEW: “Quality Time” by Ken Liu

Review of Ken Liu, “Quality Time”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 29-57 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Quality Time follows a young folklore graduate as they get their first job in a Silicon Valley robot manufacturer and try to come up with the next greatest idea in consumer robotics. … It didn’t work for me at all. To the point that I ended up skimming through the last third of the story to make it go faster. The protagonist was unbearable, mainly for how self-important they were and the way that they treated Amy and ignored their family until they had the chance to use them. I understand that it’s a narrative about thinking through the consequences of your actions and needing to put in the time, but it wasn’t my sort of thing, and while I appreciated the protagonist getting their come-uppance, getting to it was a slog.

REVIEW: “Build Me A Wonderland” by Seanan McGuire

Review of Seanan McGuire “Build Me A Wonderland”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 9-28 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A man with big dreams and a bigger budget is funding a faerie-themed amusement part, and Build Me A Wonderland follows one of the Definitely Human engineers behind this marvel as she attempts to fend off an Efficiency Assessor trying to shut them down. The mix of magic and technology, the humour, the wonder, the way that the park is shaped expressly to their needs, the low-key horror in the background (those poor security guards) – I’m not gonna lie, I kinda expected this to turn into the fae equivalent of Jurassic Park, but I really liked the story it was telling, and how uncanny it all was.

REVIEW: Robots vs Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

Review of Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, eds., Robots Vs. Fairies, (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T.

Robots vs. Fairies is exactly what it says on the tin: an anthology of stories that alternate between stories from Team Robot and Team Fairy – sometimes both fairies and robots appear in the same story, but the stories always centre whichever option the author thinks is most awesome. There’s quite a variety of approaches – the stories draw on Shakespeare, the history of the Old West, Norwegian folklore, shady tech practises, and American health insurance, amongst other things – but for the most part, the stories tend towards the bleaker end of the spectrum, as you might expect from authors exploring humanity through two of the most popular examples of inhumanity. The endings are consistently bittersweet at best, which means that the stories that are mostly positive can feel a little out of place, although there is enough fridge horror in them to satisfy anyone.

The anthology contains:

  • “Build Me a Wonderland” by Seanan McGuire
  • Quality Time” by Ken Liu
  • Murmured Under the Moon” by Tim Pratt
  • The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto by Annalee Newitz
  • Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey
  • Ironheart by Jonathan Maberry
  • Just Another Love Song by Kat Howard
  • Sound and Fury by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Bookcase Expedition by Jeffrey Ford
  • Work Shadow/Shadow Work by Madeline Ashby
  • Second to the Left, and Straight On by Jim C. Hines
  • The Buried Giant by Lavie Tidhar
  • Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Era of Humans for the First Time by John Scalzi
  • Ostentation of Peacocks by Delilah S. Dawson (writing as Lila Bowen)
  • All the Time We’ve Left to Spend by Alyssa Wong
  • Adriftica by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • To a Cloven Pine by Max Gladstone
  • A Fall Counts Anywhere by Catherynne M. Valente

(Reviews will be linked to as they go live, and caution warnings will be on each individual story!)

On the whole, it’s a very good collection! If you’re in the mood to see how authors explore the intersection of magic and science, it’s not a bad place to start.

REVIEW: “The Cosmic Adventures of Sophie Zetyld” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “The Cosmic Adventures of Sophie Zetyld”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 64-95 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

There was a depth to this story that the others in this volume did not quite achieve — and not just due to its length, as it’s roughly as long as the Rapunzel retelling — more depth of character, more depth of scene. The humor in it is more subtle, and yet more ever present. (“Don’t lie, River.” Short Mrs. Valentine croaked from the back. “I know your parents!” (p. 70).)

Pros: One MC is Korean and the other is the “glitzy, lavender woman…complete with a bodaciously huge halo-like afro of prismatic hues and an aquamarine alicorn protruding from her forehead” (p. 67) who graces the cover of the book.

Cons: Flippant usage of ableist language (specifically concerning mental diseases), as well as casual invocations of lynching.