REVIEW: “Pulling Secrets from Stones” by Beth Goder

Review of Beth Goder, “Pulling Secrets from stones”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Rachel has too many memories, and “when the secret memories rubbed up against the regular ones…the magic became duller”. So she stored her memories in stones, locking each secret up in a rock, and hiding the rocks in a lake where the touch of water meant she could still access them when needed. But then drought came and now her memories are lost. Rachel cannot find them again until she can master her fear of what they contain.

This story weaves the speculative and the ordinary together in a marvelously seamless way, very enjoyable.

REVIEW: “One Last Ride on the Horse With Purple Roses” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Review of Jennifer Lee Rossman, “One Last Ride on the Horse With Purple Roses”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Death of a child.

This story of Eleanor and the little green monster Gidget starts off bright and cheerful. It’s a bit confusing at first because of the lack of context, but the more context we are given, the sadder the story becomes. Really, really sad. By the end, I was crying. If you’re a parent, don’t read this story without having your kid nearby to hug when you’re done.

REVIEW: “Escape” by K. G. Anderson

Review of K. G. Anderson, “Escape”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Shulamit Pelz is on her way from New York to Santa Fe, golem in tow. Ahead of her is a fiancé she’s never met; behind her, two “crazed Kabbalists” tracking her golem. When robbers set upon her carriage, Shulamit is forced into the company of Billy McCarty, “a city boy’s dream of a New Mexico cowboy” for all that he, too, was born in New York, not far from where Shulamit lived. Can she keep the secret of the golem from Billly? What secrets is Billy keeping from her?

Half-way through the story, we find out at least one of Billy’s secrets, and the revelation had me grinning until the end. I very much enjoyed this Jewish speculative Western — the first I’ve ever read of such a genre. One thing that has really become impressed upon me, the more diversely I read, is just how boring lack of diversity is, what a distinct lack of imagination it shows. I’m really glad we have stories like this and journals like Luna Station Quarterly to make it easy for everyone to read diversely.

REVIEW: “To Walk For the First Time” by Erin K. Wagner

Review of Erin K. Wagner, “To Walk For the First Time”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It takes great skill to be able to provide a fully developed fantasy world in the confines of a short story. Wagner has that skill in spades in “To Walk For the First Time”, feeding the reader one detail at a time with such precision — enough detail that we can see the whole world, enough detail that we are left with so many questions. At first, the story seems to be a fantasy; then more details come and it morphs into strange and unsettling science fiction; then another shift, and is it fantasy that we are back at?

A brilliantly told tale, highly recommended.

REVIEW: “Necromance” by Alyssa Striplin

Review of Alyssa Striplin, “Necromance”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Death, animal sacrifice.

I’m not a big fan of second-person narration, so I didn’t enjoy this story as much as some. This story also leans more towards the “horror” than many stories in Luna Station Quarterly, another count against it, in my book.

But these two complaints are very personal ones, and if you don’t mind second-person narratives or a bit of gore, then you may enjoy this story of the mortician’s daughter-turned-necromancer.

REVIEW: “Space Witch” by Richaundra Thursday

Review of Richaundra Thursday, “Space Witch”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I was having a bad day at work when I took a break to read and review this story, and what a good decision that was. From the opening sentence — “All the best hexes are specific, ya float me?” — rollicking through to the end, the story was a fast-paced, quick, enjoyable read, with a nice balance of story, voice, and science.

REVIEW: “Old Habits” by Nalo Hopkinson

Review of Nalo Hopkinson’s, “Old Habits”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 21 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

Like many classic ghost stories, “Old Habits” is a study in futility, stasis, and regret. There’s nothing the dead in Nalo Hopkinson’s story can do about their situation. Trapped in the mall where they died, they have almost no agency, and are forced to regularly relive their own deaths. There are no heroes in Nalo Hopkinson’s ghost mall; no magic bullets, no tantalising opportunities to rejoin the living. And the mall they haunt isn’t exactly Valhalla.  

The mundane, slightly sordid, nature of the afterlife Hopkinson has created, and the powerlessness of her characters, could have made this story a frustrating experience for a living, breathing reader. This story rejects well-worn fantasy plot structures that focus on active questing characters changing, or finding, their fates through sheer force of will. It also centres the experience of a group of powerless ghosts instead of, as so many ghost stories do, concentrating on the living, or giving the ghosts powers. And finally, this story pushes readers to face the banal ways in which mortality can be brutally stripped away. “Old Habits” is not a comfortable read, and that’s before the reader finds out that these ghosts can be hungry, and vicious, when provoked by their own kind.

However, out of all this difficult material, I think Hopkinson has created an affecting, quiet story about the pettiness of loss. Partly that’s because its conception of death is so rooted in the mundane, and everyday; presenting, like much apocalyptic media, enticing details of a world which, at least for these ghosts, cannot be regained. And that central concentration on the powerless is a theme carried through to great effect. The story opens with the death of a disenfranchised woman, crushed by corporate security, in a nod to many real life deaths in custody. While it’s not a story I’m in a rush to read again (facing this vision of an afterlife is a hard ask) it’s certainly a well-crafted piece that plays on my mind. “Old Habits” is a reminder that ghost stories can be just as inventive as every other part of the SFF and horror genres.