REVIEW: “Rust and Bone” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Mary Robinette Kowal, “Rust and Bone”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 86-92 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a harsh story of a child caught between two adults — one grandmother, one mother — each of whom thinks (or at least claims) they have the child’s best interests at heart.

For anyone who has been caught in a family feud, or who has watched friends be caught in such a feud, this is not a pleasant story. Even if you have not witnessed first hand this sort of situation, the story leaves you with a deep uncertainty and ambivalence about the outcome: Is this the outcome we should’ve been rooting for? More importantly, is it the one that is best for the child? It just isn’t clear, and for some (I’m one of them) that makes it an unsatisfying story. Others may thrive on the ambivalence, and enjoy it more.

REVIEW: “Lake Mouth” by Casey Hannan

Review of Casey Hannan, “Lake Mouth”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 37-41 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was such a bizarre story. Every single statement is clear and precise, but combined together the result is like a weird fever dream. What is strangest about it is the way that every single statement is said as if it is true and ordinary, with no recognition at all of the strangeness of the amalgamation. Reading it was a fascinating experience.

Equally fascinating was reading the author’s interview at the end, which laid a solid foundation beneath the story and made it that much more believable, weirdness and all.

REVIEW: “The Bookcase Expedition” by Jeffrey Ford

Review of Jeffrey Ford, “The Bookcase Expedition”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 169-181 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The narrator of the story watches fairies climb a bookcase in his office for purposes unknown, slowly working out more about them as they climb. It was surprisingly dull! I was curious about the fairies, but the narrative voice left me cold. I think the story is supposed to be a meta-text, where the story that the protagonist is finishing when the fairies distract him is The Bookcase Expedition itself, but there wasn’t really enough of that to carry my interest. I would much rather the story have been straight fantasy, focusing on the fairies themselves, because as written it bored me.

REVIEW: “Sound and Fury” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Mary Robinette Kowal, “Sound and Fury”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 9-28 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A ship’s engineer gets assigned to a “diplomatic mission” involving a diplomat who won’t do her job, a planet that doesn’t know that this diplomatic mission is going to end in their colonisation, and one giant robot. While the beginning was a little clunky, overall I liked it! It absolutely captured the feeling of working a job that you can’t say no to, and how tedious micromanagers are. We only see the crew in sketches, but what we get is enough to give a good impression of them. It honestly ended in a more hopeful way than I expected – it’s not a story about structural change, but about changing the things that are in your control, and there’s its own hope in that.

REVIEW: “Just Another Love Song” by Kat Howard

Review of Kat Howard, “Just Another Love Song”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 142-153 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A banshee busker tries to sing her first death, that of a gross musician – but it doesn’t work.

I really liked Just Another Love Song! The narrator’s voice was fantastic (… Pun not intended), and the practicalities of the fae living under the masquerade felt plausible, especially for how mundane they all felt to the narrator. The fact that the narrator’s relationship with Sarah, her brownie housemate, is the one the that’s central to the story gives it a nice base to work from and a sweet friendship at the core. I would have liked to see more of them interacting, although I do appreciate that the author might have actually needed all of the space they used to demonstrate how much of a douche the male character was. My favourite part of Just Another Love Song though was that it’s specifically about a woman learning to use her voice – to use the power in her voice – against a man who expects her to use it only as he wants her to. Sounds like a timely story to me.

REVIEW: “Ironheart” by Jonathan Mayberry

Review of Jonathan Mayberry, “Ironheart”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 119-141 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Ironheart is fabulist science-fiction set in a near-future America, where technology has progressed enough that robots can be used to work farms and artificial hearts can be used to keep people alive, but the social and political landscape hasn’t changed at all. The protagonist, Duke, is a veteran in a recent war, whose life-saving artificial heart is bankrupting his family to the point that they can no longer maintain their farming robots. It reminds me a little of Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse by S. B. Divya, in that it follows a disabled character through practicalities as their life starts to collapse.

I’m not sure whether the story is in dialogue with the “good patient” tropes – Duke is angry, especially at the doctors for saving his life, for the fact that he’s expected to be grateful despite the fact that his robot heart is failing – or whether it’s engaging with the present state of social care and the military industrial complex. It’s a story where robots have replaced labourers, but humans are still being recruited as soldiers, I would believe either. I will also accept arguments that what I’m describing as a fabulist element could be pure scifi (nanobots!), but the way that the robot is finally activated feels like something from a fairytale despite the fact that I can see where it was set up earlier in the story.

Ironheart has interesting imagery and a very political core, but I’m not sure it was a story for me. It didn’t bore me, but I admired it more on a technical level than an emotional one.

[Caution warnings: medical bankruptcy, transplant failure]

REVIEW: “Bread and Milk and Salt” by Sarah Gailey

Review of Sarah Gailey, “Bread and Milk and Salt”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 99-118 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Well this was chilling. It’s beautifully written, but it’s grim. It follows a fae who wants to steal a boy, until the boy grows older and decides that he is going to steal the fae instead. The imagery is beautiful and horrifying – the fae has so many plans for what they could do with the boy – but the horror is in what Peter does back, without a shred of conscience. The use of robotics and the fae’s vengeance are both very creepy and very effective, especially the fact that even the (arguably monstrous) fae understands that Peter’s actions are monstrous.

Bread and Milk and Salt is very good, but definitely a horror story for me. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for it.

[Caution warning: abuse, animal cruelty]