REVIEW: “Ratcatcher” by Amy Griswold

Review of Amy Griswold, “Ratcatcher”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 165-179. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“Never mind the sodding dead!” someone shouted, firing from beside him, but the only certainty he had in a world full of flying debris and blood was that the souls needed to come out of the corpses, extracted like rotten teeth. He raised his head, and saw the shattergun pointed at him from across the narrow gap between the ships.

This is the first story in the collection that I’ve read (remember, I’m reading them out of order) that is science fiction/steampunk in nature. The story opens with what could be a classic futuristic space setting, with a man with a shattergun and two airships docking together. But before the story starts, we’re told the time and place: “1918, over Portsmouth”. So this shower…isn’t your ordinary futuristic SF, and with that date “airship” takes on a steam-punk interpretation.

That being said, all the SF/SP/SPEC elements fade to the background in this wonderfully personal story, which focuses on the nature of death and the intimacies of life. It’s a story where the queer element only turns up in the final sentences, but it fits so perfectly and feels so natural that there is no question at all that this story belongs in this anthology.

There was ONE oddity of language in the story that tripped me up because it occurred so soon, and I feel compelled to mention. In the second paragraph, we’re introduced to a character via the rather clunky description “woman airman”. “Woman” isn’t an adjective; this construction doesn’t make much sense and only serves to emphasise the over gendering of the English language.

(Originally published in Mothership Zeta, 2016).