REVIEW: “Quality Time” by Ken Liu

Review of Ken Liu, “Quality Time”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 29-57 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Quality Time follows a young folklore graduate as they get their first job in a Silicon Valley robot manufacturer and try to come up with the next greatest idea in consumer robotics. … It didn’t work for me at all. To the point that I ended up skimming through the last third of the story to make it go faster. The protagonist was unbearable, mainly for how self-important they were and the way that they treated Amy and ignored their family until they had the chance to use them. I understand that it’s a narrative about thinking through the consequences of your actions and needing to put in the time, but it wasn’t my sort of thing, and while I appreciated the protagonist getting their come-uppance, getting to it was a slog.

REVIEW: “Build Me A Wonderland” by Seanan McGuire

Review of Seanan McGuire “Build Me A Wonderland”, 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 man with big dreams and a bigger budget is funding a faerie-themed amusement part, and Build Me A Wonderland follows one of the Definitely Human engineers behind this marvel as she attempts to fend off an Efficiency Assessor trying to shut them down. The mix of magic and technology, the humour, the wonder, the way that the park is shaped expressly to their needs, the low-key horror in the background (those poor security guards) – I’m not gonna lie, I kinda expected this to turn into the fae equivalent of Jurassic Park, but I really liked the story it was telling, and how uncanny it all was.

REVIEW: Robots vs Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

Review of Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, eds., Robots Vs. Fairies, (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T.

Robots vs. Fairies is exactly what it says on the tin: an anthology of stories that alternate between stories from Team Robot and Team Fairy – sometimes both fairies and robots appear in the same story, but the stories always centre whichever option the author thinks is most awesome. There’s quite a variety of approaches – the stories draw on Shakespeare, the history of the Old West, Norwegian folklore, shady tech practises, and American health insurance, amongst other things – but for the most part, the stories tend towards the bleaker end of the spectrum, as you might expect from authors exploring humanity through two of the most popular examples of inhumanity. The endings are consistently bittersweet at best, which means that the stories that are mostly positive can feel a little out of place, although there is enough fridge horror in them to satisfy anyone.

The anthology contains:

  • “Build Me a Wonderland” by Seanan McGuire
  • Quality Time” by Ken Liu
  • Murmured Under the Moon” by Tim Pratt
  • The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto by Annalee Newitz
  • Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey
  • Ironheart by Jonathan Maberry
  • Just Another Love Song by Kat Howard
  • Sound and Fury by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Bookcase Expedition by Jeffrey Ford
  • Work Shadow/Shadow Work by Madeline Ashby
  • Second to the Left, and Straight On by Jim C. Hines
  • The Buried Giant by Lavie Tidhar
  • Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Era of Humans for the First Time by John Scalzi
  • Ostentation of Peacocks by Delilah S. Dawson (writing as Lila Bowen)
  • All the Time We’ve Left to Spend by Alyssa Wong
  • Adriftica by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • To a Cloven Pine by Max Gladstone
  • A Fall Counts Anywhere by Catherynne M. Valente

(Reviews will be linked to as they go live, and caution warnings will be on each individual story!)

On the whole, it’s a very good collection! If you’re in the mood to see how authors explore the intersection of magic and science, it’s not a bad place to start.

REVIEW: “An Astronaut Lights a Candle” by Megan Neumann

Review of Megan Neumann, “An Astronaut Lights a Candle”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The most curious and intriguing aspect of this story, for two dozen or so of paragraphs, is the title — without the information that the character lighting the candle is an astronaut, we would never know from the narration itself. What we know from the start is that Siobhan, the narrator, is the one who must put out the candle — but is she the one who lights it?

Who lights it, who the astronaut is, why Siobhan must douse the candle, all these questions are wrapped up in a story of cancer, time travel, and love, a solid, engaging story.

REVIEW: “Wired” by Tianna Ebnet

Review of Tianna Ebnet, “Wired”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

In this story, people are hired to become “the Wired”, a short-term lucrative job in which they give up their body and autonomy to become cogs in a giant human-AI machine, keeping systems running efficiently, purifying and filtering air, running security interference.

The narrator of the story tells his experiences in the second-person — you, you, you — a narrative choice I usually dislike. (I don’t like people telling me what to do and feel, or do feel.) But here the “you” doesn’t feel directed at the reader; it feels more like a way of one person explaining how radically othered this portion of their life feels — there is continuity of something between Before and After becoming one of the Wired, but it’s certainly not bodily continuity, and it’s not entirely mental/personal continuity either. So the choice for the narrator to tell their own story with “you” rather than “I” serves to emphasise this split, as if the narrator is telling the story to himself, in a way which felt both realistic and sympathetic. The story only got stronger and stronger as it went on, and this one definitely wins ‘best in issue’ from me.

REVIEW: “The Extent” by Johanna R. Staples-Ager

Review of Johanna R. Staples-Ager, “The Extent”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The confessional narrative that makes up this story is intensely personal and private, and it feels a bit like reading someone’s diary to be reading this story. It is bracketed on either end by scene-setting/framing context, presented in a cold, factual sort of way that I found made it difficult for me to extract much info from, and I had to re-read the opening framing part after having finished reading the entire story.

Doing so made the inner narrative so much colder, so much more real. This is one of those stories that sits uncomfortably in your gut because the boundary between speculative fiction and nonfiction is so smoothly blurred.

REVIEW: “Violent Silence” by Elizabeth Guilt

Review of Elizabeth Guilt, “Violent Silence”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was a strange little story, seemingly designed as a wrapper around the question of what life would be like if we could upload our memories into an artificial body after our biological body died. None of the details of how Officer Garth or Officer Sherri Latimer have come to be out in the field testing the military capabilities of a new line of droids, or what battle it is that they are involved in matter — all of these details are backdrop against this one question. Is it worth preserving memories in a body that can no longer experience what the memories remember experiencing? It’s not clear what answer either Garth or Latimer would give to such a question — which is actually what I ended up liking best about this story, the way it poses questions without answering them, making the reader think.