REVIEW: “Princess Snow White” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Alex Acks, “Princess Snow White”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 3-10 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The first of Townsend’s fairy tale retellings is the classic Snow White. The twist that Townsend introduces is that Snow White is the adopted daughter of the Queen of the Northern Lands, and the wicked step-mother role is played by her aunt instead; when Snow White’s adopted mother dies, her aunt is left as queen-regent. Snow White herself was born in the Southern lands, where people’s skin are dark as earth, “cinnamon, umber, cedar, carob, onyx” (p. 3), which makes her name ironic rather than descriptive.

Apart from these changes, Townsend follows the traditional story quite closely — the mirror, the hunter, the substitute heart, the little cottage in the woods where seven dwarves live (seven dwarves who upon seeing evidence of Snow White’s arrival sound a little bit like the Three Bears after Goldilock’s visit, alas), the little woodland animals, the poisoned apple, the glass coffin. I would have liked to have seen the twists that the story started off with incorporated into the retelling in a way that gave me a new reading of the old story.

REVIEW: Fairy Tales and Space Dreams by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I’ve been a big fan of Jasmine Shea Townsend’s Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-Fi ever since the Facebook page launched last year, so when I heard that she was publishing a collection of her stories, I was super excited to have the opportunity to read and review them. This is exactly the sort of stuff I want to see supported and promoted on SFFReviews!

This collection is split in half, with three fairy tales and three space dreams, and as is usual we’ll review each in turn and link the reviews back here when they are posted:

  • Princess Snow White
  • The Sea and the Stars
  • Rapunzel, the Night Maiden
  • Omega Star: Genesis
  • The Cosmic Adventures of Sophie Zetyld
  • Evangelina’s Dream

The fairy tales are three classics, retold fairly closely to the originals. The space dreams branched out a bit further, presenting new tales, and as a result, I found the latter half stronger than the first half — good fairy tale retellings are tough to do well, I am finding out while reviewing for this site! But there’s a reason fairy tales have the longevity they have, and even middle-of-the-road retellings are still enjoyable.

REVIEW: “When We Dream We Are Our God” by Wole Talabi

Review of Wole Talabi, “When We Dream We Are Our God”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A man explains his decision to join his mind with others in a network seeking to connect and learn, inspired by the birth of the first true artificial intelligence. It’s a fairly intellectual story, driven by science and philosophy, but uses that as a vehicle to explore matters of the heart.

In my experience, stories about the singularity tend to posit that AI will either seek to destroy us, or else want to become our friends. This story find a nice middle path between those reactions, though the AI is actually only a small part of this tale. Still, I felt like it did something different with a the concept, which is noteworthy.

I believe that this is, above all, a story about potential, and about hope. Humanity’s potential to overcome our problems. Hope that the universe will be friendly, or can be made so, and hope that sentience can win out over hatred and fear and divisions.

REVIEW: “N-Coin” by Tobias Buckell

Review of Tobias Buckell, “N-Coin”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A stockbroker is about to end his life, after losing one billion dollars of his firm’s money money (not to mention his own) on a new crypocurrency: Negrocoin, or N-coin, as he prefers to call it.

This is a unique take on both the volatility of the stock market, and on the complete lack of reparations ever made to African American after slavery was abolished. I did not really understand the details of how this crypocurrency worked, but I had no trouble at all following the historical anecdotes about how former slave owners were compensated for their “lost property,” but the 40 acres and a mule promised by General Sherman never materialized for those freed slaves to make a start at live, how how that has never been rectified, leading to huge differences in generational wealth over time.

This story is short and sweet, getting straight to the point without any meandering. The first person narration works perfectly, capturing the stockbroker’s desperation and lending a personal voice to all of the lessons on history and economics.

This is a good, quick read for anyone interested in a bit of a revenge fantasy for structural inequality, based very closely in reality.

REVIEW: Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures by Alex Acks

Review of Alex Acks, Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures, (Queen of Swords Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection of three novellettes is the second book of stories of the pirate captain Marta Ramos. Captain Ramos first showed up in Acks’ Murder on the Titania and Other Steam-Powered Adventures, but the author’s introduction to the present collection assured me that I needn’t have read Murder before reading Wireless. What is necessary is to read the three in this anthology in order, as they are not disconnected stories that happen to center the same character, but rather closely linked stories interlocking into a single arc. Following that, we will review each of the stories in order, linking the review back here once they’re published:

I haven’t read that much steampunk, and almost none set in the American west, so I approached this collection of stories eagerly for that. Even if you don’t ordinarily seek out steampunk stories, you’ll still find something to enjoy in these rollicking tales!

REVIEW: “Fugue State” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

Review of Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, “Fugue State”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Charlotte is struggling with some dementia-like changes in her husband, Arthur. Since taking a new job advising a popular fundamentalist preacher, Arthur has transformed from a brilliant political correspondent at the paper where they both work, to somehow who struggles to sound out the word “acetaminophen” or understand that it is Tylenol. When a stranger tells Charlotte that the preacher is up to something terrible, and that she has to go to his event that night and stop him, Charlotte thinks that maybe she has found a way to understand what is happening to her husband.

Despite what you might think from the summary, this is a slowly building horror story. Yes, it centers a relationship, but that is not what the story is ultimately about. What is it about? That’s harder to say, because it is so subtle, and so rich. It’s about relationships, yes. It’s about wanting to understand a loved one, and thus acting against what might be your better judgment. It’s also about mind control, and about the comfort that can be found after giving up your free will to someone or something more confident than yourself. It’s absolutely terrifying. This is psychological horror at some of its best, holding up a dark mirror to real life that made my stomach curdle.

REVIEW: “Dune Song” by Suyi Davies Okungbawa

Review of Suyi Davies Okungbawa, “Dune Song”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Nata intends to leave the safe community of Isiuwa, to go out into the dunes. She has tried once before, been captured and narrowly avoided death at the hands of the chief in punishment, but she is determined to make her escape from this village that she hates. The chief insists that for anyone to go would anger the gods and doom Isiuwa, but Nata does not believe this. Like her mother before her, she is determined to see what lies beyond the walls, and to find freedom.

There is a lot going on in this story. On a political level, this story takes a long, hard look at the type of governance that seeks to protect people by limiting their freedom. Because, of course, the people in charge of Isiuwa are permitted outside the bamboo fence. They say they do it to the protect the people, that it is a burden and not a privilege, but that does not change the fact that they are the only ones who could possibly know what is out there. Everyone else must take their word for it. Most of the citizens seem unbothered by this fact, even if they do not all believe in the religious explanation provided by their chief.

But of course, it is the personal level of the story that most interests me. Nata’s challenging relationship with a mother who left years ago, before Nata was ready to question the truths passed down to her, informs much of the story. Her absence is almost a presence for Nata. I also appreciated her friendship with a younger boy, one whose mother also left for the dunes. So often, when we read about someone defying authority, they have to do it completely alone. I liked seeing Nata with an ally.

This is an engaging first story in Apex’s Afrofurism special issue, which is also the last issue of the magazine.