REVIEW: “Rose Briar, Briar Rose” by Miranda Schmidt

Review of Miranda Schmidt, “Rose Briar, Briar Rose”, Luna Station Quarterly 29 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I love fairy tale retellings, especially when the retelling tells a part of the story that the traditional tale omits. The inspiration for Schmidt’s story is Sleeping Beauty, but it is the story of what happened in a period often glossed over — after she fell asleep and before she was awakened. How many princes came and kissed an unconsenting princess before one finally woke her up? Well, in this story, it wasn’t a prince at all that woke her, but woman who loves the princess for her thorns, and not in spite of them.

An unusual twist on a usual tale, I enjoyed Schmidt’s interpretation of Sleeping Beauty very much.

REVIEW: “Agent of Chaos” by Jack Campbell

Review of Jack Campbell, “Agent of Chaos”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 76-97. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey

This one is dripping with a lot of writer humor, though it’s not so absorbed in the community that it’ll alienate anyone who hasn’t tried to break into the writing world. The story follows Suzanne, a woman who is following her muse, in this case Calliope, an actual, physical muse who leads her into danger, all in the name of adventure and inspiration. After all is said and done it’s going to be a question of if Suzanne even wants to be a writer anymore.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this story dances just between the line of being clever and being groan-inducing, and luckily never falls into the groan side of things. It’s a funny page turner, which is good since it’s one of the longer pieces so far in the anthology. Definitely recommended.

REVIEW: “Tyler the Snot Elemental Scours the Newspaper, Searching for Change” by Zach Shepard

Review of Zach Shepard, “Tyler the Snot Elemental Scours the Newspaper, Searching for Change”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 68-75. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This one is very, very cute and clever. As it would have you guess, it follows Tyler, a snot elemental, who feels lost in life and tries to make a change. Along the way we’re introduced to his friends, each of whom is a fantasy creature of some sort of variety and this is often used to subvert any built up expectations in some way or another. It does have some poignancy to anyone who is feeling particularly lost or wandering in their own life, and may need a bit of a reminder to seek the comfort of friends once in a while.

Highly recommended.

REVIEW: “Cracks” by Xen

Review of Xen, “Cracks”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 113-154 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’ll admit, I started this story, struggled some ways into it, quit, and moved on to the next one in the anthology, promising myself to revisit it soon. “Soon” ended up being more than a month later, after I’d finished all the other stories, and had only this one left to review.

The second go at it went better, because it was more familiar; I wasn’t constantly double-checking who was who, or trying to compile all the little details of world-building that I was being fed, sometimes too obliquely to really understand how they fit together. But I still struggled; the process of reading it was simply a lot of work and I never felt like I was getting close to the characters. It’s also long — one of the longest, if not the longest in the anthology — and ended up taking me two nights to get through. Finally, by about 3/4 of the way in, I felt like I’d slipped into the rhythm of it, and knew enough of the background/history to be able to follow what was happening.

Ordinarily, it’s not a story I would have finished, but I did, and the ending rewarded my persistence. It has the sort of sweet, hopeful ending that marks out so many of the stories in this anthology, and in the 2017 edition of the same. That sort of happiness in the face of bleak despair is worth reading for.

REVIEW: “A Bouquet of Wonder and Marvel” by Sean Eads

Review of Sean Eads, “A Bouquet of Wonder and Marvel”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 267-283 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Marvels are constructed — engineered — while wonders happen naturally (p. 270).

So says the Irishman visiting Leadville, CO, to Benson, desperate to find anyone who can help out him and his employer against everything that’s going wrong in Georgetown. And who is the Irishman who’s willing to take Benson’s money when no one else will? Why, Oscar Wilde himself!

This is a queer story, in the very most old-fashioned sense of “queer”. At times it is a gunslinging romp; at other times, it is a commentary on magic vs. science; while at still others it turns almost didactic.

But for all it’s uncertainty as to what type of story it was, the tale makes a good ending, not only to the anthology but to the Wilde Stories series. Oscar Wilde will always be the patron saint of gay literature, and having lent his name to the series for a decade, it’s only fair that he got a starring role in the final story.

(Originally published in Georgetown Haunts and Mysteries, 2017).

REVIEW: “The Secret of Flight” by A. C. Wise

Review of A. C. Wise, “The Secret of Flight”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 249-266 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Wise’s story was a step out of sync with the other stories in this anthology — quite firmly falling under the horror umbrella, as opposed to SF, fantasy, or weird fairy tales. It’s also narratively distinctive, being told through a series of snapshots — play scripts, letters, newspaper clippings, drafts, etc. I don’t often see that sort of structure (more usually found in “literary” circles) deployed in spec fic, and I wish I did see it more. Everything all came together into a wonderfully deliciously creepy story, whose incidental queerness (almost entirely incidental to the plot) only enhanced it.

(Originally published in Black Feather, 2017).

REVIEW: “There Used to be Olive Trees” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “There Used to be Olive Trees”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 225-247 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Warning: minor spoilers.

Valentin is one of the Town’s two prophets, fitted with an implant so that he can talk to the gods. The only problem is: He can’t. Three times he has tried, and three times he has failed, when no one else has ever required more than two times. Once more he will be given the opportunity to try — but “anything was better” (p. 224) than trying and failing again, so the story opens with Valentin scaling the wall that separates the Town from outside, where the wilders are.

Once Valentin gets over the wall, the story goes pretty much as one would expect: He meets someone, and runs into difficulties, he must do what that someone requires of him before he can claim his freedom, and eventually, out in the wilds beyond the Town he learns how to finally speak so that the gods will listen. But by this time, he no longer has any desire to return to the Town to be their prophet; instead, he and Pepe are striking out on their own.

Nothing was especially surprising about the story, but there were little bits that I really appreciated. The tech was novel, and exceedingly believable (can I have my own nanoshadow, plz kthanx?); and there was a poignancy to the story that left it ending on a hopeful, rather than sour, note.

(Originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2017).