REVIEW: “Star Tipping” by Jonathan Coolidge

Review of Jonathan Coolidge, “Star Tipping”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 163-176 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Contemplation of suicide, explicit descriptions of pain and injury.

This story starts in media res with a crash and a bang — literally: Church, the first-person present-tense narrator is in a pretty gruesomely described car crash. What follows isn’t much more pleasant, as we’re taken on a trip down Church’s memory lane, filled with unhappiness and hurt.

Just at the point where I was wondering “what is speculative about this?” the story takes a sharp turn into superhero-land as Church discovers — via unexpectedly using them — he has achieved superpowers.

This story wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I can still appreciate the quality of its crafting.

REVIEW: “Kankydip & the Kcheevitz” by Taylor Cook

Review of Taylor Cook, “Kankydip & the Kcheevitz”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 149-161 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The prose of this story has a very biblical — or perhaps children’s-story is a better way to describe it — rhythm to it, which unfortunately jars constantly with the names of the main characters, Kankydip and her sidekick Dooble. The story was peppered throughout with characters that sound like they’d be at home in Dr. Seuss — in addition to the titular Kcheevitz, we encounter spantz, blottlebugs, Vorgos, and a Doolyworm.

It was a very strange story.

REVIEW: “Particular Poisons” by Fiona West

Review of Fiona West, “Particular Poisons”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 111-123 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Summary in a sentence: The Warlord-in-Chief of Gartha’s apprentice Frieda is in need of an illusion potion to entrap her erstwhile coworker Jax into thinking she is Violet, whom he is about to marry.

There was a moment when I thought this story was intended to be a love story, but if it was, then it was a very problematic one. When the Warlord-in-Chief reflects,

It is said, really…the lengths she is willing to go to for love (p. 114),

it is really hard to see how this is love, and not obsession. But despite the Warlord-in-Chief’s thoughts here, he clearly does not approve of Frieda’s desires, and he’s going to teach her a lesson. But Frieda has a lesson to teach him in return…

REVIEW: “Sounding Light” by John C. Mannone

Review of John C. Mannone, “Sounding Light”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 125-127 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a really gorgeous poem, telling the story of how the poet-narrator, self-described as d/Deaf, makes first contact with an alien species and discovers how to hear the light. I loved how personal the story felt, and appreciated the clear disability representation.

REVIEW: “The Space Traveler’s Tense” and “The Space-Traveler’s Husband” by Benjamin S. Grossberg

Review of Benjamin S. Grossberg, “The Space-Traveler’s Tense” and “The Space-Traveler’s Husband”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 145-148 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m not sure if these two back-to-back poems were meant to be read as a set, but given their titles and proximity I decided to read them as such.

As an amateur linguist, I loved the premise of the first poem — a new tense for “nouns in the process of passing”, a tense to speak of dying friends, of dinners being eaten, of “a planet you no longer stand on // but which still exerts on you its // considerable tug” (p. 145). It is also the tense that the space-traveler uses to talk of a planet dweller they once shared their couch, and their years, with.

Nothing more detailed is said of this planet dweller, other than his gender, but I prefer to think that he is the husband that the second poem refers to. This poem was not as evocative as the first one, but the two complement each other well — I would be interested in reading the entire story of the space-traveler and their husband, told through such poems.

REVIEW: “Boxes” by Lauren Barker

Review of Lauren Barker, “Boxes”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 107-110 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I found this minimalistic story utterly entrancing. It is a deft example of how a rich and deep world can be built through only a few brief remarks and casual references. I was torn between wanting to know more about the titular boxes and feeling that any more would have ruined the delicate balance Barker managed. Gold star to this story.

REVIEW: “As Long As You Remember” by Marla Cantrell

Review of Marla Cantrell, “As Long As You Remember”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 81-87 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the story of Chick, an itinerant car-thief who never stays in town more than a few days. It isn’t clear where he is going or why — if he is running from something, or two something. The story is told at an arm’s length remove, being a factual recounting of his actions. It is only when we get brief glimpses of the person who is doing the recounting that any sort of story develops, that we get to see a side of Chick that isn’t quite as unsympathetic as the facts present. Things veer off in a strange direction at the end, leaving the reader (well, me) with an uncertain resolution. I’m still not sure why Chick’s story is one that I should care about.