REVIEW: “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 103-109. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Sports accident, physical pain.

This was a quiet, almost meditative piece, alternating between Amira’s solo hookboarding flight and the guidelines, or perhaps rules, to guarantee the titular optimal experience. Amira’s last hookboarding experience was not optimal, but this story feels like a chance for her to exorcise the memories of it. There is little in terms of plot; a lot in terms of beauty of language.

(First appeared in Lackington’s Summer 2014).

REVIEW: “Changing Body Templates” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Changing Body Templates”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 79-102. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Occupation, physical pain from medical
procedures. Brief mentions of torture, drugs, warfare, mind control.

This is a long story broken up into short stories — little few-paragraph or few-page vignettes. I loved the way that this format allowed me to get brief glimpses into the family life of the narrator, and of the work life of them and their colleagues. What I liked less was the way I felt like I was constantly trying to fill in holes and gaps; I found myself having to reread too much to figure out what I was missing to be able to enjoy the entire story in a smooth experience — and even then I was still left with questions (such as how is it that the Orosi are the dominant people, when their technology is so far behind that of the Dathran?)

Even so, the ending packs a heart-rending punch which makes up for a lot. If you like your sci fi apolitical, this is not the story for you.

(First published in Strange Bedfellows, ed. Hayden Trenholm, 2014).

REVIEW: “Whispering Waters” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Whispering Waters”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 9 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story — at one page long — is over and done with before it even gets started. It was the story I started off with, and it probably wasn’t the best choice for me; it was too short to be satisfying, and I find the 2nd-person narration grating. However, the final line went a long way to turning around my initial impressions.

(Originally published in Apex Magazine 66).

REVIEW: “The Fumblers Alley Risk Emporium” by Julian Mortimer Smith

Review of Julian Mortimer Smith, “The Fumblers Alley Risk Emporium”, Podcastle: 511 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

One could identify a sub-genre of fantasy stories about shops that specialize in odd and potentially magical items. Often the shop is mysteriously transient–hard to find except when the time is right. Or perhaps there are hazardous conditions put on the transactions that drive the story’s conflict. “The Fumblers Alley Risk Emporium” is a solid addition to this genre, with the twist that the desired objects can only be “purchased” by an exchange of a possession with the same highly-subjective personal value. Misjudge the relative values and you lose everything. And when value is utterly subjective to the customer, there are unparalleled opportunities for arbitrage. The premise could drive an ordinary real-world story, but the fantasy element enters not only in the nature of the goods and their payment, but also in the mechanism for evaluating relative worth.

It’s a clever concept, laid out with rich and evocative description. The story fell short of knocking my socks off for two reasons. To a large extent, the story and characters were overshadowed by the setting and worldbuilding. Once the structures and rules had been laid out, the tale was nearly finished. And the protagonist’s need, conflict, and price were a bit too straightforward. I could see where the story was going and was unsurprised by where it ended up or how it got there. In all, a solid piece, just not among my top favorites.

REVIEW: “Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “Effigy Nights”, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series, Vol. 8. Reviewed by Drew Shiel.

I am very much a fan of Yoon Ha Lee’s work. Paper, writing, and perception of the written and thought word are recurring themes through much of his work, so it can be argued that “Effigy Nights” is almost iconic in that regard. This story is written as though a reality in which words, when treated in particular ways, form objects and people, is normal. But it would be unfair to say that it’s written prosaically; instead it is poetic, personal and epic at one and the same time. There is something about it of a Middle Eastern feel, as suggested by the echo in the title of One Thousand And One Nights, but there are aspects of other cultures drawn in as well. It is a story about stories.

Recommended for those who can cope with a little surreality, who don’t need all the rules laid out, who can extrapolate, who think about the words on the page and the intrusion of text into the world.

REVIEW: “A Whisper in the Weld” by Alix E. Harrow

Review of Alix E. Harrow, “A Whisper in the Weld”, Podcastle 487 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

I have to confess, this story had me good-crying in my car during the commute. Ghosts aren’t supposed to stick around very long unless they have something very important to do. Wartime creates a lot of ghosts, and our usual definition of heroism doesn’t take into account all the terrible things that desperation or simple need drives people to. All Isa wanted to do was to raise her daughters right and see her husband again when the war was over. Working in the steel mill wasn’t about being a hero, it was about surviving. There was nothing heroic in her death, only in the desperate need that kept her lingering on with a mission to fulfill. I loved the voice and imagery in this story as it pieced together Isa’s past and made me believe that her ghost could inhabit the machinery that killed her. The ending was so perfect and fitting. This is a powerful story about how people survive–one way or another–despite the crushing weight of oppression.

(Originally published 2014 in Shimmer.)

REVIEW: “Some Desperado” by Joe Abercrombie

Review of Joe Abercrombie, “Some Desperado”, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series, Vol. 8. Reviewed by Drew Shiel.

This is actually the first story in Volume 8, but I’ve chosen to review it second so as not to start out with a negative. The negativity is because I can’t see why “Some Desperado” is actually in this book. Joe Abercrombie is a fantasy writer, sure, in that particular (and by now possibly fading) sub-genre of grimdark fantasy. But there isn’t any speculative element in this Western-esque story of a bank robber reaching a abandoned village just ahead of her pursuers, unless it’s “her”, and that seems like stretching. Further, the story is one extended fight scene, pretty completely lacking in plot or character development. It’s a well-written fight scene, certainly. But it reads like a vignette-style extract from a longer work, and unless you know the longer work, or really like Abercrombie’s writing, there’s really not much here.

Recommended, perhaps, for fans of the western genre, alt-history, or fight scenes.