REVIEW: “To Go West” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Review of Laura VanArendonk Baugh, “To Go West” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 52-76 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Oblique reference to suicide.

This was a story of delicious creepiness. It was filled with deep mythology and entirely unlike any other story in the anthology. I spent much of the story trying to pick out what the underlying tale was — were the four men the horsemen of the apocalypse? who were the two women in the abandoned farm? No, no… — and coming up utterly flummoxed. It turns out, per VanArendonk Baugh’s authorial note, to be based on one I was not only not familiar with, but had never even heard of before. I love a story that teaches me something and gives me reason to go off and read more. Thumbs up!

REVIEW: “Evening Chorus” by Lizz Donnelly

Review of Lizz Donnelly, “Evening Chorus” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 42-51 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Following quick on the heels of the previous story we have another story wherein women are predominantly in the story to be treated as things to be owned and manipulated — and in the case of Jenny, this gets taken quite literally. As with Alejandra’s story (read the review), I sort of felt like I wanted more out of this one — not just a retelling of the original tale, but a questioning and a subverting of it. What would it have been like, if women were not merely objects?

On the other hand, before this story I was not familiar with the tale it was based on, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale”, and the story made me curious to read it, so that’s definitely a point in its favor.

REVIEW: “The Loch” by Zannier Alejandra

Review of Zannier Alejandra, “The Loch” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 20-41 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: mention of concentration camps

Parts of this retelling of the story of “Swan Lake” I really loved — the secondary characters were strongly developed and interesting, especially Miss Haddock (who entirely won me over) and Reggie. Unfortunately, it felt they were allowed to develop as fully fledged characters because they were not a part of the original fairy tale, while those characters that followed the original story more closely were flatter and more fairy-tale-archetypical — so, a story in which the fairy tale foundation unfortunately detracted overall than supported.

There were also a few places where the story raised questions that were never answered (why was Odette, a picture of Aryan perfection, in Auschwitz in the first place? Why was Auschwitz chosen as the locus of her transformation, rather than another camp? Why does the spell run from midnight to dawn instead of dusk to dawn or midnight to noon?) as well as questions that were not asked that perhaps could have been — the “white = pure = good” and “dark = defiled = evil” trope was adopted without any skepticism, and that rather bothered me. I came away from this story feeling like it could’ve been so much more (what if Odette was not a perfect flawless Aryan beauty, but, say, a Jew?).

REVIEW: “Salvage” by A. A. Medina

Review of A. A. Medina, “Salvage” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 15-19 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The best of retellings take familiar characters or stories and give us something new — a side of the character we’d never seen before, a hint of their history or their future, or the same story viewed in a new light. But there are limits to how much a story or a character can be changed and still result in a successful retelling. Unfortunately, this story of Geppetto and Jiminy went too far beyond Collodi for my own taste: Pretty much the only resemblance was the names of the characters and the fact that Medina’s Geppetto is also a creator. I can’t help but wonder if this story would have been stronger with wholly new characters.

REVIEW: “Circles and Salt” by Sara Cleto

Review of Sara Cleto, “Circles in Salt” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 4-14 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A strong opener to the anthology, full of vivid characters and a clear setting, and the existential dread that accompanies the very best of Grimms’ tales. I didn’t recognise the specific fairy tale that was the inspiration for Cleto’s story — it’s not one of the commonly told ones — so I appreciated the author’s note at the end.

REVIEW: Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales edited by Rhonda Parrish

Review of Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection of 18 stories was my first introduction to the subgenres of dieselpunk and decopunk. Parrish in her editorial introduction defines diesel- and decopunk in opposition to steampunk (the characteristic difference between them being time-period), but this approach only works for a reader who already has a comfortable grasp on steampunk — something I’m not sure I yet have. What makes a story “-punk”? I wasn’t sure before I started reading, and I’m not sure I had any better an idea by the time I was done.

Does this mean I felt the anthology failed? No. As a collection of interesting stories with a strong fairy-tale influence (stronger in some stories than others, but overall the inspiration was obvious), overall I enjoyed reading it. I think that there is a lot of “scope for the imagination”, as Anne Shirley would say, in setting stories in the 1915-1945 era, and further that the World Wars, with important roles that Germany played in both, provide a unique perspective on retellings of what are ultimately very German fairy tales. (Not that all the fairy-tale inspirations in the book come from Grimm, but the Grimms’ tales lend themselves well to transposition of setting in this way). That being said, I did feel that the quality of the stories was uneven — some more successful than others in both plot and presentation. Were any of them bad? No. Was the entire collection outstanding? Alas, no also.

As usual, we’ll review each story individually, and link each back here when the review is posted:

  • “Circles and Salt” by Sara Cleto
  • “Salvage” by A. A. Medina
  • “The Loch” by Zannier Alejandra
  • “Evening Chorus” by Lizz Donnelly
  • “To Go West” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
  • “Bonne Chance Confidential” by Jack Bates
  • “늑대 – The Neugdae” by Juliet Harper
  • “The Rescue of Tresses Malone” by Alena Van Arendonk
  • “Daughters of Earth and Air” by Robert E. Vardeman
  • “Easy as Eating Pie” by Amanda C. Davis
  • “Accidents are Not Possible” by Sarah Van Goethem
  • “A Princess, a Spy, and a Dwarf Walked into a Bar Full of Nazis” by Patrick Bollivar
  • “Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky” by Brian Trent
  • “Ramps and Rocket” by Alicia K Anderson
  • “As The Spindle Burns” by Nellie K. Neves
  • “Make This Water No Deeper” by Blake Jessop
  • “One Hundred Years” by Jennifer R. Donohue
  • “Things Forgotten on the Cliffs of Avevig” by Wendy Nikel

REVIEW: “Standing on the Floodbanks” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Standing on the Floodbnks” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 277-315 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Combat, warfare, blood, nightmares, vomiting, post-traumatic stress, ableism, panic attacks, flashbacks, flooding, racism, objectification, slavery.

The anthology closes with a bang, this nearly-novellette sweeping together all the wonderful disparate skills that Takács has displayed in the rest of the stories in the collection.

There are certain stories that when you read you go “I didn’t know stories could be like that”. This is one of them. I sit here and I struggle to find a way to put into words what made this story so good and why I feel about it the way that I do. I can’t, though, so I will just direct the reader to Aristotle on “katharsis”, and hope that if they read this story too, they will find it as cathartic as I did. It’s gorgeous and painful and almost horrifying and beautiful all at once.

(First published in Gigantosaurus Nov. 2016).