REVIEW: “The Heavenly Dreams of Mechanical Trees” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “The Heavenly Dreams of Mechanical Trees,” Luna Station Quarterly 52 (2022): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Bita is a botanist living in a world where xylem and phloem have been replaced with metal and gears. There are no botanical trees any more, just metal contraptions that serve the same air-purifying purpose. Only these trees aren’t alive enough to reproduce, they have to be replaced when their parts wear out. And they are all relentlessly the same.

Ailanthus lives in a world of repetition and silence, shuttered away from the world fated to perform the same actions over and over with no way to communicate with anyone. Until Bita comes along, and is the first person who can hear what Ailanthus has been dying to say.

This story was a first for me — the first time I’ve reviewed a story for a second time, at SFFReviews! I recognized the title as soon as I saw it, but remembered little of the story itself. It was curious to go back and reread

REVIEW: “A Midsummer Night’s Abduction” by Jennie Evenson

Review of Jennie Evenson, “A Midsummer Night’s Abduction,” Flash Fiction Online 103 (April 2022): 22-25 — Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The aliens have arrived, and they’ve captured Shakespeare — they need him to write a new play to convince their homeworlds to cease their war. So who do they turn to when Shakespeare is recalcitrant? An adjunct university lecturer, who researches Shakespeare, of course.

This was a rollicking fun story, full of humor, which I enjoyed a lot.

(First published in Every Day Fiction 2018).

REVIEW: “Interlingua” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “Interlingua,” Unfit Magazine 2 (2018): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The primary characters in this story are the Hwacha and the Sarissa, both sentient spaceships. They’ve been assigned to the same Contact mission, and amongst the many duties involved in keeping their crews safe and hale is keeping them occupied, because bored crews get into mischief. Reading the story it becomes apparent that bored ships also get into mischief, and this is what happens when the Hwacha start designing games for its crew to play. Of course, the Hwacha convinces itself that it’s doing this for the good of its crew, rather than itself; in this case, to prepare its crew for this particular Contact situation by giving them a simulation of what it may be like to understand the novel language of the people they are about to meet.

There is a moment about 12 pages when I had a sudden premonition of what was to come, and I spent the rest of the story in delicious anticipation of the end (which was even better than I could’ve imagined). I’ve come to expect good solid SF cross-cut with novel observations about languages (whether verbal or mathematical) from Lee’s stories, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint.

REVIEW: “Troo Raccoon” by M. Yzmore

Review of M. Yzmore, “Troo Raccooon,” Unfit Magazine 2 (2018): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I love it when an author takes a common what if — what if the multiverse was real, and we could see into other worlds like our own, in this case — and gives it a hum-drum answer: Maybe we wouldn’t actually find anything better than what we’ve got in the actual world.

Zia and Sujay are gateway babysitters; they sit up and night and watch over the alternative earths. Most of the alternatives are empty of anything interesting until one day (of course) they discover an Earth where the meteor that sparked the dinosaur extinction never hit.

This story reminded me of the ST:Voyager episode where they met the descendants of Earth dinosaurs who evolved spacetravel capabilities: Good solid SF fun.

REVIEW: “Like Clockwork” by Tim Major

Review of Tim Major, “Like Clockwork,” Unfit Magazine 2 (2018): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story feeds its rich worldbuilding and history to you in dribs and drabs, but not in a way that I found frustrating or irritating. Instead, even though I felt like I had no idea what was going on for most of it, I also felt like each piece of information I was given I was being given for a reason, and this helped me to trust that it would all come clear in the end — and it did, mostly. A quiet, meditative story, but quite enjoyable.

REVIEW: “The Great Circus Robbery” by David R. Grigg

Review of David R. Grigg, “The Great Circus Robbery,” Unfit Magazine 2 (2018): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Lizzie lives in a scrap yard with her father, eking out a living dealing in bits of metal and junk. When a circus full of mechanical animals comes to town, her father can’t help but hatch a plan to steal one of them. (And considering how skillfully Grigg depicts the clockwork elephant, I can’t blame Lizzie’s dad: I’d want one too.)

It’s not a fun, light-hearted story, though: The central tension comes from the rough way Lizzie’s father treats her, bordering on abusive. My heart ached for her and her loveless, joyless life as I read the story, and was thoroughly delighted by the happiest of endings that came up entirely unexpectedly.

REVIEW: “Last Call on Lindisfarne” by J. B. Toner

Review of J.B. Toner, “Last Call on Lindisfarne,” Unfit Magazine 2 (2018): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

As someone who lives not that far from Lindisfarne but has as yet never managed to make it there to visit, I was excited to read a story set there! Except it turns out that this Lindisfarne is on a small asteroid in the Sagittarius cloud. Friar Clump is a monk at the Abbey of St. Francis there, spending his days extracting raw booze from the celestial clouds and extracting it into the finest whiskeys and ales. Everything runs peacefully and smoothly until two space pirates come along, and amusing hijinks ensue. A fun little yarn.

REVIEW: “Toys, Going Home” by Eric Del Carlo

Review of Eric Del Carlo, “Toys, Going Home,” Unfit Magazine 2 (2018): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was an utterly delightful story about a motley assort of Story robears, programmed to make their way back to their holders whenever separated from them, so that they can tell the Story of their travels when they return.

In case any of you are like me and cannot stomach the idea of a story of toys trying to find their way hoome that doesn’t end up happily, well: No kittens were harmed in the making of this story.