REVIEW: “A Strange Heart, Set in Feldspar” by Maria Haskins

Review of Maria Haskins, “A Strange Heart, Set in Feldspar”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 57-72 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I love the title of this piece — it is stuffed full of possibility.

The story is told in alternating points of view, from above, from beneath, from between. These voices provide the shape of the mine that is the titular abandoned space of this story. At first, I thought it was a horror story, with all the horror that comes from being a parent myself and imagining it is not Alice but me in the mine, dark, claustrophobic, uncertain of where my children have gone. (Such simple things so terrifying.) And that horror is just a shadow horror that Alice must face: The choice between whether she wants to find her children or find her way out of the mine. But then, at the very end — I don’t want to say for fear of spoilers, but the ending makes me need to revise my original classification.

A powerful, real, and disturbing story — probably my favorite of the anthology so far.

REVIEW: “A Jangle of Bells and Voices” by Chia Lynn Evers

Review of Chia Lynn Evers, “A Jangle of Bells and Voices”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 213-228 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The opening scenes are of a sprawling battle field full of armies and weapons and activities all unfamiliar and fell. While the point of view soon zeroes in from generalities to specifics, namely the specific of Remsa Brand of the nation of Lys, I’m still left with a bewildering amount of people and places and nations and rulers. Three pages in and I feel like I’m floundering in over my head; I struggle enough with actual history, and I’ve had three and a half decades of exposure to it! I’m not sure three pages is enough for me to grasp all the necessary nuances of this very elaborately-built world. (The fact that Remsa’s empress is named Mathilde doesn’t help matters, as I keep thinking of the English empress!)

In the end, I had to stop reading this story, and then pick it back up again a few days later. I wasn’t much more enlightened by the end of that, and I’m not sure that a third read would help me much. I suspect other people who can hold details of battles and tactics and politics in their head better than I can will appreciate the story more than I did.

REVIEW: “Two Tails” by Ransom Noble

Review of Ransom Noble, “Two Tails”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 86-99 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story relies heavily on the standard tropes about twins (e.g., “their twin connection”, p. 97), unfortunately to its detriment, in my opinion. Landry and Bellamy are twins training to become professional mermaids when an accident befalls Landry, leaving Bellamy — who has always been the follower — behind. I found Bellamy to be rather flat and personless, primarily defined in relation to her twin, who exerts significant (and sometimes problematic) control over her. I’ve read enough twin stories for the tropes to be familiar, but reading them again here it makes me wonder how much is trope and how much is real, and also how much the story needs Landry and Bellamy to be twins — could it have worked if Landry and Bellamy were merely sisters rather than twins? I think it could have.

This was a story that I found, personally, merely “fine”. In the context of this anthology, it seemed a bit out of place; it was not clear to me what was the place that had been abandoned.

REVIEW: “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places”, Apex Magazine 106 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Many people have observed that there is something mysterious about the liminal space of airports and of flight itself. Khaw takes that observation a step further, with a story about one of their clergy, a solitary priest of the planes, criss-crossing the globe to commune with the vehicles in her spiritual charge, listening to their stories and their woes.

But this isn’t simply a story about a nifty idea (though it is a wonderful idea, building on the real-world experience and wonder of air travel). This is a meditation on love and loneliness and humanity. On connection and isolation (feelings I think we very much associate with airports, and the separations and reunions that occur there) and how those opposing feelings weave together to form a tapestry. Most of all, this is a story about home. It holds all of the irreconcilable dichotomies inherent to that word, all of the mixed up emotions that it can stir up, and doesn’t try to resolve them. I am grateful for that.

This is a quick read (less than 3,000 words) that packs a lot of emotional resonance and some truly lovely moments and resonant images. Well worth reading and rereading.

REVIEW: “The Money Book” by Lara Kristin Herndon

Review of Lara Kristin Herndon, “The Money Book”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 239-249 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The setting for this story is a vague, unsettling, unpleasant future: After the bombs, after the wars, after the virus, after so many people have died. It is a time when so many things that used to have intrinsic value — like money — are now worthless in themselves, worthful only in so far as they can be used to create something of value, something like paper. Paper to record the past, to provide a foundation for the future.

Herndon’s story comes with a heavy weight of significance, palpable in every action on every page. Yet, I was never quite sure what it was that was significant; and for that reason, this story just didn’t quite work for me.

REVIEW: “Making Friends” by Steve Kopka

Review of Steve Kopka, “Making Friends”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 39-56 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m very bad at genres, especially all the finely-sliced sub-categories that are out there nowadays. But the beginning of this story made me go, “Oh! That’s what ‘urban fantasy’ is (when it’s not vampire and werewolf romance).” Everything is ordinary and real and familiar, except everything that is extraordinary and fantastic and strange. The lines between two the are blurred, and the result is unsettling — unsettling enough that I decided in the end to also classified it as ‘horror’. Horror isn’t my cup of tea, but the story was compelling nevertheless.

For me, though, this story was let down by the quality of its writing. The prose didn’t feel as finely crafted, and I kept tripping up on little things — small grammatical errors, a word occurring in two sentences in a row, the feeling that I was being given a recitation of facts — that detracted from my enjoyment.

REVIEW: “Notes from an Unpublished Interview with Mme. Delave, Fairy” by Brittany Pladek

Review of Brittany Pladek, “Notes from an Unpublished Interview with Mme. Delave, Fairy”, Luna Station Quarterly 33 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When I first skimmed the table of contents for issue 33, I saw “Notes from an Unpublished Interview…” right after the editorial and figured it was a non-fiction piece and that I wouldn’t review it here. Only after I’d read a few other stories in the issue did I take a closer look at the title and go “Ooooh!” Because all it takes is that final word to hook me in and make me want to read this story.

The story opens with a little editorial note explaining the circumstances of this present piece taken from the archives. The note ends with a sentence that I could give my philosophy students to analyse: “Because unsubstantiated does not mean impossible.”

This was an absolutely lovely and engaging story, chock full of myth and history. “As Europe has history, so Faerie has change,” Mme. Delave tells her interviewer. But Faerie died. It did not fade, as Mme. Delave reprimands her interviewer for saying, but rather, it thickened. It became solid. It ceased to change. And as Aristotle tells us, “time is the number of motion in respect of before and after”, that is, with respect to change. Where there is no change, there is no motion, there is no movement, there is no time. And where there is no time, there is no life, only death.