REVIEW: “The Size of a Barleycorn, Encased in Lead” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “The Size of a Barleycorn, Encased in Lead” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 195-198 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Mentions of nuclear warfare.

The story itself reflects its title, being small, compact, and feeling almost as if it is made up out of little kernels itself. Much of the story is constructed out of quotes drawn from other sources, primarily from the Old Testament and the Talmud, translated by Takács and then woven together into a beautiful whole. It’s just so well-crafted and constructed, there is aesthetic pleasure alone from that level, on top of the enjoyment deriving from the actual story. I just loved this one, possibly my favorite of the volume.

(First published in Uncanny Magazine 15, 2017).

REVIEW: “Unifications” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Unifications” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 181-193 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

As much as I enjoyed reading the collected published oeuvre of Takács, this story, original to this volume, excited me quite a bit. It’s the only one in the volume to not have a content warning, too.

It’s a story of a holy place, a hidden place, a place bound by rules that must not be broken, which Sára finds, and which she takes her friend Judit to see. But then Sára breaks the rules…

I found this to be quite a scary story, in that creeps-up-on-you-behind-your-back sort of unsettling terror. I loved it.

REVIEW: “Three Partitions” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Three Partitions” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 155-180 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Cis- and intersexism, vomiting, body horror, shunning, death, self-injury, injury, blood.

This story fulfills my desire to see religion incorporated into SF — not just as an incidental, but as fully and strongly as the science itself. (Why do so many SF authors seem to forget the central role that religion plays in human lives?) It opens on Chani attending service, which is at once both chaotic — where is the kohen? A levi must read the prayers instead — and closely constricted — “Men below, women above, and…those who were neither in the right corner of the balcony” (p. 156). In that third partition is Chani’s friend Adira.

It’s an intimate story, full of monstrous details and quiet exclusions, tightly focused on Chani and Adira, but also on a bigger question of who can be Jewish, and what it means to be Jewish, and woven in with little gems of humor. I really am in awe of the way Takács is able to combine the unfamiliar and the familiar, the grotesque and the ordinary, in such powerful ways.

(Originally published in Gigantosaurus April 2014.)

REVIEW: “The Bookcase Expedition” by Jeffrey Ford

Review of Jeffrey Ford, “The Bookcase Expedition”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 169-181 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The narrator of the story watches fairies climb a bookcase in his office for purposes unknown, slowly working out more about them as they climb. It was surprisingly dull! I was curious about the fairies, but the narrative voice left me cold. I think the story is supposed to be a meta-text, where the story that the protagonist is finishing when the fairies distract him is The Bookcase Expedition itself, but there wasn’t really enough of that to carry my interest. I would much rather the story have been straight fantasy, focusing on the fairies themselves, because as written it bored me.

REVIEW: “Sound and Fury” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Mary Robinette Kowal, “Sound and Fury”, 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 ship’s engineer gets assigned to a “diplomatic mission” involving a diplomat who won’t do her job, a planet that doesn’t know that this diplomatic mission is going to end in their colonisation, and one giant robot. While the beginning was a little clunky, overall I liked it! It absolutely captured the feeling of working a job that you can’t say no to, and how tedious micromanagers are. We only see the crew in sketches, but what we get is enough to give a good impression of them. It honestly ended in a more hopeful way than I expected – it’s not a story about structural change, but about changing the things that are in your control, and there’s its own hope in that.

REVIEW: “Just Another Love Song” by Kat Howard

Review of Kat Howard, “Just Another Love Song”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 142-153 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A banshee busker tries to sing her first death, that of a gross musician – but it doesn’t work.

I really liked Just Another Love Song! The narrator’s voice was fantastic (… Pun not intended), and the practicalities of the fae living under the masquerade felt plausible, especially for how mundane they all felt to the narrator. The fact that the narrator’s relationship with Sarah, her brownie housemate, is the one the that’s central to the story gives it a nice base to work from and a sweet friendship at the core. I would have liked to see more of them interacting, although I do appreciate that the author might have actually needed all of the space they used to demonstrate how much of a douche the male character was. My favourite part of Just Another Love Song though was that it’s specifically about a woman learning to use her voice – to use the power in her voice – against a man who expects her to use it only as he wants her to. Sounds like a timely story to me.

REVIEW: “Ironheart” by Jonathan Mayberry

Review of Jonathan Mayberry, “Ironheart”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 119-141 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Ironheart is fabulist science-fiction set in a near-future America, where technology has progressed enough that robots can be used to work farms and artificial hearts can be used to keep people alive, but the social and political landscape hasn’t changed at all. The protagonist, Duke, is a veteran in a recent war, whose life-saving artificial heart is bankrupting his family to the point that they can no longer maintain their farming robots. It reminds me a little of Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse by S. B. Divya, in that it follows a disabled character through practicalities as their life starts to collapse.

I’m not sure whether the story is in dialogue with the “good patient” tropes – Duke is angry, especially at the doctors for saving his life, for the fact that he’s expected to be grateful despite the fact that his robot heart is failing – or whether it’s engaging with the present state of social care and the military industrial complex. It’s a story where robots have replaced labourers, but humans are still being recruited as soldiers, I would believe either. I will also accept arguments that what I’m describing as a fabulist element could be pure scifi (nanobots!), but the way that the robot is finally activated feels like something from a fairytale despite the fact that I can see where it was set up earlier in the story.

Ironheart has interesting imagery and a very political core, but I’m not sure it was a story for me. It didn’t bore me, but I admired it more on a technical level than an emotional one.

[Caution warnings: medical bankruptcy, transplant failure]