REVIEW: “Night Flight” by Yusuke Miyauchi

Review of Yusuke Miyauchi, Mark Gibeau (trans), “Night Flight” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 55-60 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

I love a story that causes me to pause partway through to google “Is Pacman NP-hard?” (the answer is yes!) This story was somewhat different from the rest in the anthology in that it was entirely a conversation, between David and his AI personal assistant, Amy. I liked the variety that it contributed to the collection as a whole, and also loved the story on its own merits, with an adorably sweet twist at the end.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 29, no. 4 (2014).)

REVIEW: “Downgrading” by Kei Zushi

Review of Kei Zushi, Tony McNicol (trans), “Downgrading” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 23-28 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: contemplation of suicide.

This story felt slightly autobiographical — both the narrator and the author had a prize-winning short stories in their 20s, and then settled down to write obscure novels after that. But that’s a situation probably many readers can resonate with, or at least sympathise with, so it provides a nice hook into the rest of the story, which focuses on an artificial support system for dementia sufferers.

I found the story surprising fully of pathos and depth.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 29, no. 1 (2014).)

REVIEW: “Spirit Forms of the Sea” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Spirit Forms of the Sea” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 257-271 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Death, being eaten, death of animals, vomiting.

This story surprised me by being set squarely in our own world — or at least, in a world where there are Croats, where there is a place called Venice. Takács blended the unreal and the real so carefully together in this story I found myself constantly pausing to look up the foreign words — is a ‘táltos’ an imaginary thing or a real? What about the turul? (Real, both). How much of this story is myth, how much is folk tale, and how much is pure fantasy? (So much harder to answer). I love stories like this, where the lines are blurred and where nothing is certain.

(First published in Sword and Mythos, 2014).

REVIEW: “Three Partitions” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Three Partitions” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 155-180 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Cis- and intersexism, vomiting, body horror, shunning, death, self-injury, injury, blood.

This story fulfills my desire to see religion incorporated into SF — not just as an incidental, but as fully and strongly as the science itself. (Why do so many SF authors seem to forget the central role that religion plays in human lives?) It opens on Chani attending service, which is at once both chaotic — where is the kohen? A levi must read the prayers instead — and closely constricted — “Men below, women above, and…those who were neither in the right corner of the balcony” (p. 156). In that third partition is Chani’s friend Adira.

It’s an intimate story, full of monstrous details and quiet exclusions, tightly focused on Chani and Adira, but also on a bigger question of who can be Jewish, and what it means to be Jewish, and woven in with little gems of humor. I really am in awe of the way Takács is able to combine the unfamiliar and the familiar, the grotesque and the ordinary, in such powerful ways.

(Originally published in Gigantosaurus April 2014.)

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.)