REVIEW: “Traffic Circle of Old Connecticut” by Susan Jane Bigelow

Review of Susan Jane Bigelow, “Traffic Circle of Old Connecticut”, Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Ever since the Kalo invasion, Tian has practiced forgetting — forgetting her younger sister, Asan, left with her grandmother back in the village; forgetting that she is Zaluat; forgetting that her Zaluat ancestors passed down their circle magic to her. But when her grandmother dies and Asan is put into the Training Institute, Tian can forget no longer. She attempts a daring rescue of her sister, and in their escape they both learn the truth of their ancestor’s circle power, in a very clever allusion to the title.

This was a story rich in magic, history, oppression, and strength, and was a very satisfying read.

REVIEW: “A Funnel of Time” by Kris Faatz

Review of Kris Faatz, “A Funnel of Time”, Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Attempted suicide.

This story hops between 2005 and 1934, and the experiences of two women, otherwise entirely unconnected from each other, each undergoing electro-convulsive therapy to fix them, to make them forget. One woman is schizophrenic; the other, bi-polar. At least, that’s what the husband or the brother says, the one who committed them in the first place. Whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter, though; what matters is that somehow these two women manage to find each other and support each other, and help each other survive the abuse: “Through a funnel of time, two women hold each other up.”

This was not a typical LSQ story, and the use of real-world people in it (see note at the end of the story) was a bit off-putting for me; but I really liked the premise of women supporting women across time.

REVIEW: “Turning Song” by Fey Karvaly

Review of Fay Karvaly, “Turning Song”, Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Underage rape.

The Minstrel is in love with a girl who has become a tree — it’s the sort of premise that you’d expect to find in a fairy tale, and maybe this story is a fairy tale at heart, though on the surface it is something rather odder than that. I didn’t care overmuch for the Minstrel, but I found Plum’s existence fascinating (if the story of how she got there horrifying), and Miss Ursula who is old enough to call a snow-bearded minstrel “young” was equally charming. Best of all was the very satisfying revenge and comeuppance that Plum wrecked on the god that raped her as a child.

REVIEW: “Mory Takes Flight” by Anna O’Brien

Review of Anna O’Brien, “Mory Takes Flight”, Luna Station Quarterly 27 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I struggled a bit with the balance between background information and actual story in this one; it sometimes felt like there was more of the former and less of the latter. But I enjoyed the chatty oriole from England who was just passing through Cyrpus when he met up with the titular Mory; he was amusing and jolly to read.

(First published in Unlocked: Short Stories from the Frederick Writers’ Salon, 2015).

REVIEW: “The Unclean” by Nuzo Onoh

Review of Nuzo Onoh, “The Unclean”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: Death, torture, physical and verbal abuse, rape, death of a child.

Onoh’s story begins at the end: Desdemona, the narrator, is keeping watch over her dead husband’s body for three days beneath the great Iroko tree, the Tree of Truth that is “the righteous judge and jury that condemns and sentences with ruthless efficiency”. In the morning, Desee will find out what judgement the tree has in store for her; but before that, we first learn of her history and how she came to be tried and condemned in this way.

Desee’s story starts out remarkably prosaically (despite her literary name!) — growing up in the 1950s, eldest daughter in a family that prizes sons of above, educated beyond necessity, and sold in marriage to a man twice her age.

The remainder of the story then alternates between her story now and her story up to now, as Onoh gradually feeds us bits so that we can piece together what her crime was and how she came to commit it.

Dark, intense, gruesome, not at all pleasant, and masterfully put together.

(First published in Unhallowed Graves, 2015.)

REVIEW: “Cloth Mother” by Sarah Pauling

Review of Sarah Pauling, “Cloth Mother”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Wow, what a story. It started off so simply: the young girl Mazie asks Vita, her caretaker, for a turtle. A small and simple request.

When it started off, I sort of hated the cloth mother and the way she lived in an uncanny valley. By the end of the story, the cloth mother made me cry. This was a powerful, compelling story.

(First published in Strange Horizons 2015).

REVIEW: “Barcarolle” by Fumio Takano

Review of Fumio Takano, Sharni Wilson (trans), “Barcarolle” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 39-43 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

V made his debut as a brilliant concert pianist fourteen years ago, and now lives the life of indigent artist who no one cares much, one way or the other, to hear now. When a friend offers him a paid gig to “test” a new music AI that has been made, he takes it up, not for any desire to help science but because he’s not one to turn down the opportunity to make money.

He’s also a little bit curious about what kind of revolutionary new abilities this AI could possibly have — there’s already AIs that compose, AIs that play, AIs that conduct music. What else is left?

Well, what V finds in the test is not what he, or the reader, expects, but it’s something that taps into the deepest longings of any artist. The music was beautifully centered in this story, and I loved the ending.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 30, no. 4 (2015).)

REVIEW: “Prayer” by Taiyo Fujii

Review of Taiyo Fujii, Kamil Spychalski (trans). “Prayer” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 7-12 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Contemporary and futuristic technology provides ample scope for crimes that wouldn’t even have been imaginable a decade or two ago. Fujii’s story opens on Kip, in hot pursuit of a tanker housing enough computer power to mine cryptocurrency in sufficiently large amounts so as to undermine Singapore’s economy. He’s got everything he needs to scan the ship and board it, and a support crew to help him get there.

One tends to expect hard SF when reading fiction writing by scientists and computer programmers. So I loved that this, the opening story of the anthology, blew such expectations into the water by focusing on the distinctly unscientific activity of prayer. Technology only gets us so far.

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 30, no. 1, 2015.)

REVIEW: “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 241-256 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: blood, injury, masochism, kinkshaming, misgendering, warfare, mention of slavery.

Take the content note seriously: We are dropped immediately into the midst of blood and destruction when an unexpected visitor arrives on the narrator’s doorstep, begging their assistance.

There are so many aspects of this story that I could highlight, but I will pick out just one, and that is how intensely physical it is, deeply, gut-wrenchingly, in a way that is entire unerotic and unsexual. It hit me at a very visceral level, touched me in a way that no other story in this volume did — as much as I enjoyed all of them — and I have a hard time articulating just how good this story is — one of the best I’ve read this year — in the context of a review. My words fail. I loved it.

(First published in Capricious 2015).

REVIEW: “Increasing Police Visibility” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Increasing Police Visibility”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 111-115 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Policing.

In this story, Takács plays on the different ways “alien” can be interpreted in a way that chills this immigrant’s heart. Although first published in 2015, the story holds even more resonance now, given the increasing hatred and xenopobia of countries like the USA and the UK.

(Originally published in Lightspeed June 2015.)