REVIEW: “The Save” by Nicole Robb

Review of Nicole Robb, “The Save”, Luna Station Quarterly 26 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The premise of this story is simple: Everyone gets one Save, to use as they will (though of course it’s easier to know how and when to use it if you have proper training, hence you practice Saving in elementary school; and of course many people will judge you if you Save the wrong person, or even for Saving anyone at all.) The execution is likewise simple: Janice has long known whom her Save would be for, until she is confronted with a situation where she must make a choice.

Simple, but by no means ineffective.

REVIEW: “Where the Hollow Tree Waits” by John Langan

Review of John Langan, “Where the Hollow Tree Waits”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 70-73 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

For such a short story (one of the shortest in the issue), there was a lot of description — it’s pretty much all description as Martin narrates to his father, Les, a dream he’d had the night before. It wasn’t too far into the dream-recitation that I had an inkling of what was going to happen, which meant that if I was right, almost none of the description was actually necessary to read. I feel like the tension leading up to the ending in this one could have been handled a bit better, but there was a bittersweetness in the sharp, swift ending that I really loved.

REVIEW: “You Can’t Save Them All” by Ian Rogers

Review of Ian Rogers, “You Can’t Save Them All”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 51-61 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story made me uncomfortable, and not in a “I’m scared/this is good horror” sort of way but rather in a “I don’t really like the way purported child abuse is being portrayed” way. I can’t really articulate what precisely bothered me, beyond that I did not think the author handled the subject matter with care or sensitivity. So: This was not the story for me.

REVIEW: “Her Voice, Unmasked” by Suzan Palumbo

Review of Suzan Palumbo, “Her Voice, Unmasked”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 42-49 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What an absolutely stonking story. It carried me along, gulping for more, with its utterly entrancing Justine, an automaton built to sing opera like no human could ever sing, against a panoply of background characters — the Maestro, the Ballet Mistress, the dancers, and, most importantly of all, Lise, who gives Justine the final secret she needs. It’s the sort of story that telegraphs one ending from the start, but leaves the reader desperately hoping that that is not the actual ending. Really, really enjoyed this one.

REVIEW: “Rest Stop” by MJ Gardner

Review of MJ Gardner, “Rest Stop”, Luna Station Quarterly 27 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

“If you had a problem you couldn’t fix, you moved on and left it behind.” This is a lesson Marcy learned from her parents, and she’s put it to good use more than once. Right now, the problem she can’t fix is Lenny, and the story opens with her moving on from him, leaving him behind without any reason or notice. Everything seems so very ordinary, up until the point at which nothing is ordinary at all and everything is extraordinary and weird.

I enjoyed the abrupt shift in direction that Gardner introduced with great effect, and felt the two halves — the mundane and the fantastic — of the story balanced each other nicely. I also appreciated Gardner’s choice of heroine — Marcy is in her sixties, fat and grey, and dealing with stress incontinence. In other words, she’s a real person, not a fairy tale. I like reading stories about real people, especially when they end up in unreal situations.

REVIEW: “Mama Tulu” by Jessica Guess

Review of Jessica Guess, “Mama Tulu”, Luna Station Quarterly 27 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Drinking, gambling, domestic abuse.

This urban fantasy set in Jamaica centers around the titular character Mama Tulu, and Sasha, the young woman who goes to visit her to make an unspeakable request. I liked almost everything about it — but not quite everything. I have a deep ambivalence about the use of phonetic representations of dialect in written fiction; I am never sure how appropriate or successful they are. Reading them often feels like an uncomfortable caricature; but on the other hand, I think it’s important to recognise the varieties of ways in which people speak, and to recognise the legitimacy of, e.g., AAVE.

REVIEW: “The Dragon’s Dinner” by Lindsey Duncan

Review of Lindsey Duncan, “The Dragon’s Dinner”, Luna Station Quarterly 27 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

There was a lot of cliches in this story — the dragon-fighting knights trying to win the hand of a princess; the princess who didn’t want to be an object of conquest; the maiden aunt who provided the princess with the training needed — but ultimately, this was a fairy tale, and fairy tales are cliches, so it worked.

REVIEW: “A Tally of What Remains” by R.Z. Held

Review of R.Z. Held, “A Tally of What Remains”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 313 (September 24, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

The final story in BCS’s twelfth anniversary issue is a very good one. Its themes are loss and grief and hope restored amidst a sort of plague—themes that strongly resonate in this year of the pandemic. The story features two characters who are not as different as they first appear. Helena, a blood mage, finds her magic to be of little help in maintaining the small family farm where she struggles to aid survivors of the Fever who have found refuge in her barn. One of these survivors, Benedict, is reeling from the death of his husband, while Helena can’t get past the guilt of being the only member of her family to survive the Fever. Each needs to grieve and move on; instead, they take their anger out on each other. As time passes, only Benedict seems willing to confront his feelings and work through them. But when another tragedy strikes, both characters find consolation in the strength, compassion, and friendship of the other and soon begin to look forward in hope to a brighter future.  

REVIEW: “The Night Kingdom” by Shikhar Dixit

Review of Shikhar Dixit, “The Night Kingdom”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 62-68 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Corpses, severe injury, nonconsentual commitment to mental institution.

Now this was my kind of horror! Haunted books, twisted stories, Cathar heresy, and a pervasive uncertainty of what the cause of it all is, all written in an engaging and characterful style. Thumbs up.