REVIEW: “All Votes Will Be Counted (We Promise)” by Paul Crenshaw

Review of Paul Crenshaw, “All Votes Will Be Counted (We Promise)”, Apex Magazine 119 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Take one part 1950’s aesthetic and one part friendly totalitarian government, mix them well, and you’ll get something similar to this wholesome American dystopia, reminiscent of “The Lottery.” Mr. Clausen is sick of being called to vote almost every evening after work, but this is the price of living in a direct democracy – the people must vote on every issue, from whether to launch more laser satellites, to issuing more war bonds. Mr. Clausen suspects that these votes do not really matter – after all, who could tally them so quickly? – and he’s about to learn the truth.

What struck me was how nobody takes the voting seriously. It’s mostly a social occasion, with the teens flirting and giggling, the women gossiping in the corner, and the men ribbing each other about their work days. Something that is ostensibly supposed to make people more engaged in the political process actually makes them less engaged. One person actually says that he just votes for everything. When Mr. Clausen starts to question what is going on, everyone keeps asking him why he can’t just go along with it like everybody else, as if voting doesn’t really matter.

The world and the government grow steadily more and more creepy as the story progresses, and as we and Mr. Clausen both learn more about what is happening. Eventually, he is forced to confront the worst of what can happen when “the will of people” is honored in word, but not deed, and conformity is all that matters. The conclusion is open-ended, but it is hard to imagine any resolution to the situation that could be described as happy. It’s a haunting picture, and one that I’m sure will stick with me.

REVIEW: “Two Monsters Down in the Dark” by E. H. Mann

Review of E. H. Mann, “Two Monsters Down in the Dark”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Ellie and Benji are ransacking a dragon’s lair, hoping for gold and money that will “keep us for years, if we’re careful.” Clever, quick-witted, little Benji is convinced the dragon is dead and the lair is empty of everything except treasure there for the taking. But “trollblood” Ellie, “big and strong and slow of thought and speech”, for the first time in her life refuses her brother.

What follows is a tense, tough, awkward, horribly sad story of the highs and lows of sibling relationships and familial ties, of greed and betrayal, of the monsters that live in the dark, a story that brought me to tears.

REVIEW: “Professor Strong and the Brass Boys” by Amal Singh

Review of Amal Singh, “Professor Strong and the Brass Boys”, Apex Magazine 119 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Lispector Strong seems fairly content with ris life as a history professor, until one of ris students ask what rhe does for leisure. Under the rules of their society, droids like Professor Strong are not allowed leisure. This leads rhim to a lot of soul searching, and eventually to music, and an understanding that droids are perhaps not treated fairly under the current laws.

This story deals with art and justice, two concepts that the people within it would argue apply only to humans. It is a surprisingly gentle story, because Professor Strong is, at heart, a gentle being. Logical, kind, yet determined, rhe senses that there must be a better way, and is determined to do what rhe can to get humans to see the other droids as something other than servants. Rhe does not go about this through battle, either verbal or physical, but through music.

The end is more ambiguous than I would have preferred, but I don’t know that any other ending would have felt genuine. This story is asking big questions, and a neat ending might imply an easy solution. I respect the emotional honesty of the ending, which leaves the consequences of Professor Strong’s actions still unknown. What matters – what makes the ending work – is that Professor Strong acted. Rhe made a decision, and accepted the risks.

REVIEW: “A Song for Hardy Connelly” by K. Noel Moore

Review of K. Noel Moore, “A Song for Hardy Connelly”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Moore’s “Song” is divided into three parts, telling the stories of Hardy, Saraid, and Moïra, all linked to each other through blood but separated by their experiences.

Hardy Connelly was born Deaf, and a childhood bout with Guillain-Barré Syndrome left her legs weak and in need of artificial support. Those who don’t know her pity her:

Poor thing, they said. Cursed she must be. That’s no worthwhile life she’s living.

But if Hardy is cursed, it’s not because of either her Deafness or her weak legs. It’s because she’s a Connelly, a descendent of the Ò Conghalaighs who

had meddled with something from the Other Place that wasn’t meant to be meddled with,

and as a result, both Hardy and her aunt, Moïra, have the same golden eyes that herald the second sight.

I found this story hard to follow and a bit disjointed. Saraid’s relationship with Hardy and Moïra is never made clear, and I didn’t understand how her central section related to the bookending sections of Hardy and Moïra. It was also not clear to me what the titular song was — whether it was a component of the stories, or whether the three rather prosaic sections were to be understood as being a song.

I liked the way the story engaged with Deafness, particularly the different communicative valences that came into play. I did find it a bit strange how the speech via sign language was depicted, though: Both Hardy’s (who is fluent in sign language) and Moïra’s (who is not) signed speech is rendered into written speech with an a-grammaticality and unexpected sentence structure. I wish I knew more about sign language to know if this is a mirroring of the syntax of sign language, or if Moore was trying to indicate something else with this technique.

REVIEW: “For Whatever We Lose” by Jennifer R. Donohue

Review of Jennifer R. Donohue, “For Whatever We Lose”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Ostensibly, this is a story of an astronaut orbiting one of Mars’s moons, who’s gotten into trouble and who knows how her ending will be. But, really, this is a story of reflection and contemplation, family bonds, and dreams, of courage in the face of impossibility, and how little moments — like a little lie, saying that Suzanne was eight when she was in fact only six — can shape and direct a person’s future profoundly.

Overall, I found this story well constructed and written with lovely language but I felt the ending was a bit abrupt, and would have liked to have seen more story, and less flashing back.

REVIEW: “The Mare of the Meuse” by Janna Layton

Review of Janna Layton, “The Mare of the Meuse”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The first third of this story is straight-up historical fiction, tracing the lives of two young men caught up in the French Revolution, with little speculative about it (it is, however, gorgeously, shamelessly queer!). About a third of the way in, though, René and Armand pause in a field and encounter the titular mare, who is not at all what she seems.

The threads of René, Armand, and the mare weave together throughout the French countryside, as the two men seek to find a way to Armand’s mother’s village, and thence to Germany and safety and security away from the blood of revolution. No path can be straight or easy where the Mare of Meuse travels, but when Armand and René’s hopes are dashed, she is there to find a new way into the future for them.

This was a lovely and emotional story.

REVIEW: “Auger” by Sarah Pauling

Review of Sarah Pauling, “Auger”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I hardly know where to begin with this story. It is full of familial love and strong friendships; it is full of wild beauty; it is laced with horror and sadness. I can’t summarise it without giving it away, and I can’t articulate how it touched me; I can only say that it did. Highly recommended.