REVIEW: “The Scarlet Cloak” by Karen Bovenmyer

Review of Karen Bovenmyer, “The Scarlet Cloak,” Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Bullying, abuse, & harassment; murder ideation; cannibalism; references to rape.

One thing that’s interesting about reading the back archives of a journal is seeing which stories age well (or don’t age at all!) and which don’t. I feel like this one ends up in the latter category: A story where the central heroine is part of the police force is a bit harder to swallow in 2021 than it may have been in 2015.

Then again, I’m not entirely sure I would’ve appreciated this story when it first came out: It is too gruesome, too violent for my tastes.

(First appeared in The Crimson Pact Volume 3, 2012.)

REVIEW: “Pitfalls of Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy: General Useful Information & Other Opinionated Comments” by Vonda N. McIntyre

Review of Vonda N. McIntyre, “Pitfalls of Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy: General Useful Information & Other Opinionated Comments”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 153-161 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.

In this extremely helpful essay, McIntyre identifies 14 concrete pitfalls, applicable to any writer but perhaps more apt for the SFF writer, and then provides advice on (a) how to detect these pitfalls in your own work and (b) what to do about them.

All of the advice she gives is great advice, nothing earthshattering but all worth being reminded of, including the advice she opens with:

McIntyre’s First Law: Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong (p. 153).

But you’ve got to know the rules in order to be effective in breaking them, after all.

(Originally published in 2012 by Book View Café.)

REVIEW: “The Lost” by Fu Yuehui

Review of Fu Yuehui, Carson Ramsdell (trans.), “The Lost”, in Jin Li and Dai Congrong, ed., The Book of Shanghai, (Comma Press, 2020): 95-122 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was a strange, wondrous story, that can be read on many levels. On the one hand, it’s a simple interrogation of our modern society’s reliance on our technology, tapping into the fear that pretty much all of us probably have, of what it would be like if we lost our cell phone.

On the other hand, there’s a weird layer of fantasy overlying everything, the parts of the story where it’s not clear if they’re really happening or not. Despite being one of the longer stories in the anthology, this was one of the most gripping; it sucked me in and kept me interested from the opening paragraphs right up to the bizarre and unexpected ending.

(First published in October, 2012).

REVIEW: “On the Cusp of Darkness” by C. L. Holland

Review of C. L. Holland, “On the Cusp of Darkness”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I’m not sure if this hopeful, affirming coming of age story is a vampire story or not; part of me hopes it is, because I find vampire stories in general so overdone and so ordinary, but this one was unusual and different.

(Originally published in Cucurbital 2, 2012).

REVIEW: “My Six Months With Taku” by Tadashi Ohta

Review of Tadashi Ohta, Angelo Wong (trans), “My Six Months With Taku” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 47-51 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was an absolutely sweet and touching story about a journey through the Uncanny Valley. I loved it.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 27, no. 6 (2012).)

REVIEW: “The Oracle of DARPA” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “The Oracle of DARPA” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 217-220 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Weapons development.

One part technical report, two parts poetry, this is an excellent example of speculative fiction. It’s very short, but it wasn’t until almost the very end that I had a sudden realisation of where it was going. Very satisfying.

(First published in Toasted Cake no. 81, 2012).

REVIEW: “This Secular Technology” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “This Secular Technology” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 137-153 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Blood, injury, cutting, body horror, vomiting,
suffocation, mentions of slavery and death.

Ah, this story…first, I started reading it and then got interrupted and by the time I could get back to it, I had to reread it from the beginning. Then, I wrote up a lovely review of it late one night, only to find in the morning an errant copy/paste had lost it all.

Normally reviewing isn’t quite such a struggle. But in this case, I found it beneficial to reread the beginning parts of it. Takács’s stories are so full of detail that sometimes it can be hard to pick out, on the first go, which ones are important for the story and which are just part of the rich world-building. This one is no exception. In particular, what I really enjoyed about this story was the strong Jewish cultural elements threaded throughout: Many were catalysts for the story, but many were also just part of the background world. So much contemporary SFF is set against a generic Christian background — even generic pagan backdrops are constructed in opposition to Christianity as the dominant religion — and I think this is a such a shame. We need more stories like this one, which remind the reader that the dominant paradigm is not the only one.

(First appeared in Mirror Shards, ed. T. K. Carpenter, 2012).

REVIEW: “Mark Twain’s Daughter” by Cath Schaff-Stump

Review of Cath Schaff-Stump, “Mark Twain’s Daughter”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 117-125 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The first thing the snarky, sarcastic, rather rude commentary in my head had to say about this story was, “Oh, look! It’s a story about a woman whose identity is defined by her relationship to a man!” But it’s unfair to judge a story by its title, and Susy’s story is so much more interesting than her relationship to her father. As I read it, I kept thinking, “She could be anyone’s daughter, and I would still read her story.” The appearance of Mark Twain and other members of the Clemens family in the story is almost entirely incidental.

For awhile I also wondered whether this would be another story where the central theme of the anthology — abandoned places — would not be entirely clear. But in the end, the story fit. Places become abandoned when people are abandoned in them — that is how Susy’s story fits the anthology brief.

(Originally appeared in Curcubital 3, 2012.)

REVIEW: “La Gorda and the City of Silver” by Sabrina Vourvoulias

Review of Sabrina Vourvoulias, “La Gorda and the City of Silver”, Podcastle: 506 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

I participated in a discussion on facebook recently about defining subgenres of speculative fiction, and the question of comic book superheroes came up. In practice, superheroes can draw from fantasy (X-men, Dr. Strange), science fiction (Iron Man), mythology (Thor, Wonder Woman), “realistic” (Batman–at least for the Batman character himself), or any number of other subgenres, but what they have in common is a fantasy of agency and justice, even when justice sometimes fails. This multi-focal genre has been adopted as speculative fiction by popular acclaim, regardless of the specific mechanism of the hero’s powers.

“La Gorda and the City of Silver” is clearly a superhero story. The world of masked and costumed luchadores is deeply rooted in the genre regardless of the apparent lack of overtly fantastic elements. (I know this is a theme I tend to harp on regularly, but I do like my fantasy to actually be, you know, fantastic in general.) The narrator–who calls herself by the nickname La Gorda, one she accepted rather than chose–is the daughter of a producer of luchador shows and grows up surrounded by their performative costumed superheroism. So when the abuse of a neighbor girl calls for heroic intervention, this is the natural medium by when La Gorda takes up the challenge. The story is deeply yet casually embedded in the everyday life of a Guatemalan working class neighborhood. Both the perils and their solutions arise out of that embedding as well as the narrative of masked superheroes and the lone fight for a justice that the law won’t deliver. Or perhaps not so lone, as La Gorda discovers when she expands the scope of her protection in parallel with the expansion of the lives she feels called to protect.

This was a richly satisfying story, both in the telling and the conclusion.

Content note: Contains references to offscreen sexual abuse.

(Originally published in Fat Girl in a Strange Land edited by Holt and Leib)