REVIEW: “The Great Beast of Kafue” by Clotilde Graves

Review of Clotilde Graves, “The Great Beast of Kafue” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 193-205 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Some science fiction themes are perennial: And in the case of this present story, the theme which feels just as current now in 2019 as it must have in 1917 when it was originally published is dinosaurs. Modern SF dreams of extracting dino DNA and splicing it in to eggs to create new dinosaurs; and apart from science people still dream of one day finding the Loch Ness monster or her cousins. In “The Great Beast of Kafue”, the narrator, tells us of an incident that happened when he was a young boy, living with his Dutch-descended father in Rhodesia, some years after the death of his Irish mother, concerning the titular Great Beast, whom newspaper reports had said had been sighted in the wild depths. A mysterious, fantastical beast, that few had seen — and in fact, seen by only one white man, and the narrator dreams of the day that he might find the beast himself, and with his father’s elephant gun kill it. But when he tells his father this, he finds himself drawn into a story he’s never heard before, and being asked to promise something that would mean forfeiting those very dreams.

In a weird way, this is almost a love story, more than anything, and its strengths lie in the timelessness of its topics (both dinosaurs AND love). But it’s not entirely timeless: It’s unreflectively colonial in a way that would’ve been unremarkable a century ago but which is somewhat uncomfortable now. I liked the way that Graves incorporated the narrator’s father’s Dutch heritage so seamlessly into the story, even while my appreciation of that warred with how problematic the framing itself was. It’s hard to know what to say about a story like this: I don’t want to excuse the author, but I also don’t want to say “don’t read it”. So I guess the best thing to do is to flag the issue, and let the next reader make an informed decision for themself.

(Originally published in 1917.)

REVIEW: “The Great Train Robbery” by Lavie Tidhar

Review of Lavie Tidhar, “The Great Train Robbery”, Apex Magazine 116 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Train robberies are a staple of the movie western, a genre most people are at least passingly familiar with, and so sometimes they find they way into speculative fiction, warped and changed when divorced from their original context. This is a particularly trippy example.

On one level, this is about two gunslingers –one older and grizzled, the other young and reckless – on a train that’s about to be robbed. That part of the story is normal. Beyond that, we have a mysterious drug that gives people glimpses into parallel lives in another world – our world. We have monsters and thieving acrobats and a war between unexplained factions warping their world.

Reading this, I was tempted to ask which world was real – the fantastical one that contains most of the plot or the simulacrum of our mundane reality – but I suspect that is missing the point. My interpretation is that reality is fluid within this story, and can not pinned down by logic. Both worlds are real. Maybe differently real, but real all the same.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes their fiction on the mind-bending side.

REVIEW: “Making the Magic Lightning Strike Me” by John Chu

Review of John Chu, “The Library of Lost Things”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 79-94 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Charlie Tsai’s job is one that needs a man with height, and strength — two things Charlie didn’t have and always wanted and that’s why he got the job. Because his new employers would “make the lightning strike” and even if it didn’t give him the body he wanted, it was close enough that Charlie would always be beholden to them.

This was a story full of contrasts and tensions — on the one hand, it almost feels like a superhero origin story. On the other hand, for a story involving big burly men who lift weights and are described as being like WWF fighters, it is unexpectedly and surprisingly tender. It is finely crafted, and that brings with it its own layer of pleasure, to watch a master story-teller plying their trade.

(Originally published in Uncanny Magazine, 2017).

REVIEW: “The Library of Lost Things” by Matthew Bright

Review of Matthew Bright, “The Library of Lost Things”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 61-77 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

What a thoroughly, wonderfully, perfectly delightful story! This is a story for any author that has ever lost a story, or destroyed a story, or never finished a story — that is, it’s a story for every author! — and who dreams that maybe somewhere, somehow, it is not truly lost.

The premise of Bright’s story is that dream come true: In the Library of Lost Things lie all the stories lost or unfinished before their authors died. Even better: the Library is in need of a new indexer. Thomas Hardy (no relation) arrives to interview for the job; he knows just what to say and do to secure his place, to get the chance he needs to find the one thing he wants most of all.

But what Tom finds is more than even he could have imagined…

I loved, loved this story.

(Originally published in Tor.com, 2017)

REVIEW: “The Summer Mask” by Karin Lowachee

Review of Karin Lowachee, “The Summer Mask”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 47-60 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a beautiful, tender story written with a delicate sense of trauma and recovery, and a level of archaity (is that a word? or is it ‘archaicity’? Or neither — what I mean is “that which makes something feel archaic”). You can certainly read it as a horror story, as I think it was originally intended to be, but to me it had no more horror in it than you find embedded in every love story ever.

(Originally published in Nightmare Magazine, no. 62, 2017.)

REVIEW: “Pan and Hook” by Adam McOmber

Review of Adam McOmber, “Pan and Hook”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 41-45 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This short little story mixes old myths with modern ones, and gives a twist to both. I loved the idea of re-envisioning Pan as the god of non-toxic masculinity; he is the perfect choice for that. So perfect, I wished he could’ve gotten a happy story instead of the sad one this was.

(Originally published in Vestiges:Mimesis, Winter 2017.)

REVIEW: “Lady Clanbevan’s Baby” by Clotilde Graves

Review of Clotilde Graves, “Lady Clanbevan’s Baby” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 179-189 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This is one creepy, appalling story. Lady Clanbevan, as youthful and beautiful now as she was in her twenties, even though she is now approaching fifty, has been a widow for two decades, and yet, she is never seen without the accompany of a young baby, her child — her only child. A chance encounter between the Professor who loved her once many years ago and the unnamed narrator gives the Professor an opportunity to finally confess the details of his experiments with protium — now called radium — and the way in which he discovered he could use it to halt the affects of ageing. By now, of course, the reader knows what resolution must be coming, but it doesn’t make the narrator’s final encounter with Lady Clanbevan’s baby any less disturbing.

(Originally published in 1915.)