REVIEW: “Kaitlin’s Unicorns” by L. L. Asher

Review of L. L. Asher, “Kaitlin’s Unicorns”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 211-220 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: death of a child, death of a disabled person, cruelty to animals, contemplation of suicide, ableism.

I kept adding new items to the content note while reading the story — never a very good sign. In a nutshell, Margret is mourning the recent-ish death of her daughter, Kaitlin, by escaping into the nearby forest that Kaitlin always imagined one day she’d meet a unicorn in. Well, Margret meets the unicorn, and what happens afterwards is not pleasant. I get that Margret is hurting, but despite the obvious pain she’s in, she is not a sympathetic character: Pain and sorrow is never an excuse for violence. Add to this the “twist” that after Kaitlin’s death the “unicorn fixed everything” (p. 220) — i.e., Kaitlin is alive and no longer wheelchair bound — and, well, there was just so much about this story I didn’t like, unfortunately. This is not the disability rep I want to be seeing.

REVIEW: “Gliese 581g” by John C. Mannone

Review of John C. Mannone, “Gliese 581g”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 191-193 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This poem comes with an informative note! “The exoplanet, Gliese 581g is a highly contested planet about twice Earth’s mass in the middle of the habitable zone” (p. 193), and it is also the subject of the poem…or rather, it’s the objective of the space crew that are en route to colonise it. But of course, we never know what might greet us when we finally do make it to another planet…

The poem itself is written with a repetitive structure — not quite a rondelle, not quite a villanelle, but picking up a phrase from one stanza and reusing or adapting it in the next. I love this sort of poetry, but I felt that this one would have benefited from have a slightly more defined structure — the repetitions felt repetitive, rather than structured, at times. Still, Mannone’s poems remain one of the highlights of the volume.

REVIEW: “Haven” by Victoria Kochan

Review of Victoria Kochan, “Haven”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 177-189 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Apothecary Issabelle and her apprentice Prudence live in a post-apocalyptic world where their role as the sole purveyors of medicine and treatment place them near the top of the food chain — but not quite at the top, as that’s reserved for the Lords and Ladies who rule the rest of humanity with a rather nauseating sense of class privilege. (It is not clear how the Lords and Ladies get to be the Lords and Ladies, or whether they have any special powers or skills that make them better placed to run the world beyond just the fact that they are Lords and Ladies.) So when one of the Ladies becomes ill and Issabelle is sent for, she runs when called.

There’s a strange thread running through the story connected with death — or fear of death — or an inability to die — something I never quite got. Unfortunately, because it was never quite explicit enough, I think I missed out on the significance of the ending. All in all, not a story that worked for me.

REVIEW: “A Different Kind of Death” by A. K. Alliss

Review of A. K. Alliss, “A Different Kind of Death”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 129-144 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Mischa Sullen-Eye has stolen a magic, glowing orb, and is now on the run, from soldiers of the Perditionist Republic and from rogue magi.

It felt like we went a long time being told of this theft and escape, without being given much context to situation it. There was a lot of name-dropping — the Empire of Sighs, the City of Ghosts, Kottu, the Field of Skulls, Mischa’s erstwhile teacher Coi who was the one who convinced her to go to De’Zhun rather than to Triffid. But none of these names are given any meaning or context, which makes it hard to get invested what is, in the end, just a young girl running, and still being trapped.

REVIEW: “Do We Build A House to Stand Forever” by Katie Conrad

Review of Katie Conrad, “Do We Build a House To Stand Forever”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 89-106 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Saira and Tuija are the last two survivors of an exploratory mission sent out by the human colony on Io, intended to see what lay beyond the edges of human exploration and knowledge. They have each been in their ships for three years, and have at least five years left before they will return home. The thing about exploratory missions is that you never know what you will find; but even so, neither Saira nor Tuija nor the command center back at Io had any idea that Tuija would find what she found…

I enjoyed this story a lot – the pacing was good, the story was interesting, Saira and Tuija were sympathetic, and I had no idea how things would resolve until they did. Thumbs up!

REVIEW: “Star Tipping” by Jonathan Coolidge

Review of Jonathan Coolidge, “Star Tipping”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 163-176 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Contemplation of suicide, explicit descriptions of pain and injury.

This story starts in media res with a crash and a bang — literally: Church, the first-person present-tense narrator is in a pretty gruesomely described car crash. What follows isn’t much more pleasant, as we’re taken on a trip down Church’s memory lane, filled with unhappiness and hurt.

Just at the point where I was wondering “what is speculative about this?” the story takes a sharp turn into superhero-land as Church discovers — via unexpectedly using them — he has achieved superpowers.

This story wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I can still appreciate the quality of its crafting.

REVIEW: “Kankydip & the Kcheevitz” by Taylor Cook

Review of Taylor Cook, “Kankydip & the Kcheevitz”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 149-161 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The prose of this story has a very biblical — or perhaps children’s-story is a better way to describe it — rhythm to it, which unfortunately jars constantly with the names of the main characters, Kankydip and her sidekick Dooble. The story was peppered throughout with characters that sound like they’d be at home in Dr. Seuss — in addition to the titular Kcheevitz, we encounter spantz, blottlebugs, Vorgos, and a Doolyworm.

It was a very strange story.