REVIEW: “Fill the Heavens!” by Hiroyuki Morioka

Review of Hiroyuki Morioka, Simon Varnam (trans), “Fill the Heavens!” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 63-68 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was a curious take on the trope of “people being converted to digital form and uploaded to the cloud”: quite intriguing. There was a strong Buddhist foundation to the story, which meant I spent part of my time reading it pausing to look up all the Sanskrit words — but this is a plus in my book, not a minus. My Sanskrit is spotty at best, but I was pleased to recognise one or two of the words!

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 31, no. 3 (2016).)

REVIEW: “The Clearing Robot” by Motoko Arai

Review of Motoko Arai, Rachel Lam (trans), “The Clearing Robot” in Hirotaka Osawa, ed., Intelligence, Artificial and Human: Eight Science Fiction Tales by Japanese Authors, (AI x SF Project, [2019]): 15-20 — More information here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

I loved every single bit of this story. It’s a story for all of us indifferent housekeepers who spend too much time at home collecting (and generating!) books and papers. I felt so much sympathy with the narrator in the opening pages! And I’m in 100% agreement: “What we people…really need is not a robot that cleans our space; we need one that clears it” (p. 17).

(First published in Artificial Intelligence 31, no. 4 (2016).)

REVIEW: “Standing on the Floodbanks” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Standing on the Floodbnks” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 277-315 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Combat, warfare, blood, nightmares, vomiting, post-traumatic stress, ableism, panic attacks, flashbacks, flooding, racism, objectification, slavery.

The anthology closes with a bang, this nearly-novellette sweeping together all the wonderful disparate skills that Takács has displayed in the rest of the stories in the collection.

There are certain stories that when you read you go “I didn’t know stories could be like that”. This is one of them. I sit here and I struggle to find a way to put into words what made this story so good and why I feel about it the way that I do. I can’t, though, so I will just direct the reader to Aristotle on “katharsis”, and hope that if they read this story too, they will find it as cathartic as I did. It’s gorgeous and painful and almost horrifying and beautiful all at once.

(First published in Gigantosaurus Nov. 2016).

REVIEW: “Toward the Luminous Towers” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Toward the Luminous Towers” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 221-233 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Warfare, combat, drug use, death, murder, injury, amputation, ableism, dehumanization, suicide.

Sometimes, reading a story, I can’t help but think what a mystery the human mind is, that it can come up with such things. Takács takes the reader into a pretty dark place in this story — all the content warnings above are necessary in this one, and even for someone who does not particularly struggle with any of these topics, I found this an unsettling and distressing story.

(Originally published in Clarkesworld #120, 2016).

REVIEW: “Shovelware” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Shovelware” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 213-216 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Allusions to civil war.

I know a lot of writers are uncertain of how to write a diverse cast of characters because they don’t know how to introduce the diversity without making it a plot point. Any writer who feels like they need a master class in how to do this should read this story: What I loved most about it was how cheerfully and blatantly Takács it. Liliane is “tall, muscular, ethnically mixed” (p. 213), but, as she tells Tamás when they first meet, she’s not Muslim. Tamás is an immigrant, and gay. With the exception of the first (which the omniscient narrator tells us), all the other facts come out in conversation. Because that’s how it works — people talk about who they are. If you’re gay, if you’re an immigrant, if you’re a Muslim or not, it’s just part of who you are and how you want people to see you (or not). Reading stories like this is reassuring to me as a writer — because it shows it isn’t that hard! — and as a reader, because knowing this sort of thing can be done makes reassures me of the increasing likelihood that I can find stories with characters like me.

Other than that, the story seemed almost ordinary — nothing very deep or technical or fantastical beyond two people who meet and become friends — but the final three paragraphs turned that impression on its head. Yet again, Takács shows they know how to deliver a subtle punch when you least expect it.

(First published in Nature March 10, 2016).

REVIEW: “Good People in a Small Space” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Good People in a Small Space” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 117-123 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Sadism, masochism, cheerful body horror, blood.

A strange little story, with a lot of very distinct and distinctive characters — truly weird and unfamiliar aliens, truly weird and unfamiliar humans. This story really showcases Takács’s exceptional ability at depicting the unknown.

(Originally published on Patreon, 2016.)

REVIEW: “Given Sufficient Desperation” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Given Sufficient Desperation”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 65-77 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: ableism, occupation and warfare, physical violence, torture.

“We all do what we can to survive” (p. 69).

This is one of those sly sci-fi stories where the aliens and the science and the experiments slide in almost unnoticed, and when you do realise what’s going on, it’s all the more creepily chilling. As in “Forestspirit, Forestspirit”, Takács draws upon actual science for this story, and provides references at the end (always a plus in my book!). This anchoring of fiction in actual fact also contributes to the overall creepiness!

Takács’s prose in this story is spare and sparse, full of incomplete sentences and short, staccato paragraphs. This sharp rhythm combined with the first-person POV results in a very intimate, personal impression of Vera, the narrator, and I loved the lyricism of it all.

Readers who are looking for more disability representation in their SFF will be interested to know that Vera is dyspraxic.

(First published in Defying Doomsday, ed. by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, 2016).