REVIEW: “Reincarnation” by Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert

Review of Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, “Reincarnation”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 377 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This spare, evocative poem makes for a wonderful closing piece to the volume, playing on the idea that we are all stardust, and stardust we will all become.

REVIEW: “Les Korrigan” by JBMulligan

Review of JBMulligan, “Les Korrigan”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 365-376 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Good stories play with stereotypes and turn them on their head. Think of a fairy: What do you imagine? Small, fluttery wings, probably female…this is about as far from Les Korrigan as you can get! Les is a tough old manual laborer, powered by alcohol and full of “groaner” jokes, filing reports on the so-called “self-contemplative beings” to headquarters three times a day.

But being a fairy didn’t always use to be like this. In the story we learn about the Old Way and the New Way, and that Les’s father was caught in the transition from one to the next. Beyond that, though, I felt like I didn’t get much context for the story, nor very much character development or action. It was a strange little piece.

REVIEW: “Legato” by Brian A. Salmons

Review of Brian A. Salmons, “Legato”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 363-364 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This poem, described as “a pantoum after a line from Ursula K. LeGuin’s Planet of Exile, is a beautiful one full of sweet longing. I wasn’t familiar with pantoums before reading this poem, but I have decided I love the style — full of ripples and repeats like the tide ebbing in and out.

REVIEW: “A Deal is a Deal is a Deal” by Beth Anderson

Review of Beth Anderson, “A Deal is a Deal is a Deal”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 349-362 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was probably the most hilarious story in the volume. I laughed out loud more than once at this clever take on two people who bargain their first-born child for everything their heart could desire.

REVIEW: “Uncompromised” by Ike Iblis

Review of Ike Iblis, “Uncompromised”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 341-348 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The dystopian possibilities that AI opens up are easy to exploit in SF stories, whether it be medical diagnoses by machine, or letting an algorithm find you your next date, or something else. Iblis’s story takes these already-existing things and pushes them to their extremes, to give a dark, depressing story. Short, but successful (though better proofreading to put in a bunch of missing commas would have been helpful).

REVIEW: “Meat Me in the Livingroom” by Michelle Enelen

Review of Michelle Enelen, “Meat Me in the Livingroom”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 325-340 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Before reading this story, whenever I saw this title I kept interpreting “meat” as a verb, a la its homophone “meet”, but no — Meat Me is a person, who is confined to the livingroom. She is visited regularly by Selene, who comes to tell her about the world outside (note: I was somewhat confused by Selene. First, Selene’s pronoun is “they/them”, except in the plural not the singular. And yet, when they refer to themselves, they use the singular “I”. Later on, “she” is apparently used in reference to Selene), as well as the egotistical, jerkish Poppy, who forms the final third of the trio. We never learn why Meat Me cannot leave the Livingroom, only that she is lonely there, despite visits from Selene and Poppy…until the Shipman arrives. Shipman brings with him many things Meat Me desires: he is new and exciting, he is interested in her and her life, he brings company to lonely days. But he also brings with him new, unpleasant ideas, and a purple-black smoke that follows his footsteps and leaves death in his wake.

The allegorical nature of Shipman is quite overt in the story, almost heavy-handed at times. Still, it wasn’t so overt as to make the ending foreseen, and I continued to read with interested to see who would win out in the end. I did feel that the Epilogue had no place in the story, though; it raised more questions than it answered.

REVIEW: “Four Horsemen of London” by L. H. Westerlund

Review of L. H. Westerlund, “Four Horsemen of London”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 309-323 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: References to bulimia.

Premise: When the apocalypse is cancelled, the four horsemen are left at loose ends, so they relocate to London.

Execution: Pretty much no attempt to execute this premise is going to surpass Gaiman and Pratchett’s, and every attempt to do so will be unflatteringly measured against theirs. Alas, this one is not the exception.

REVIEW: “Good Riddance” by Jennifer Worrell

Review of Jennifer Worrell, “Good Riddance”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 291-307 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“Do you want to be a hero?” the story opens up: Who wouldn’t want to say ‘yes’ to such a question? Robert, the main character, is also tempted, and signs up for the info session to learn more.

What both he and the reader learns is quite an interesting proposal — from the point of view of present-day medical technology, it’s hard to believe the proposal could ever be actually realised, but, hey, this is fiction, I’m willing to give it a pass. The result is a comfortable piece of dystopian fic, well set up enough that I did feel a pang of sympathy for Robert at the end of the story, even if for most of it he comes across as a rather self-absorbed jerk.

REVIEW: “Summer’s End” by Alexis Ames

Review of Alexis Ames, “Summer’s End”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 195-209 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Matthias and his husband Eitan are two of the last surviving Competitors: People who were forced to murder each other for public entertainment in the worst sort of reality TV show. The only way they escaped that fate themselves was that there was a coup and the Commissioner’s government fell. Now, five years on, the Commissioner’s trial has reached its conclusion, and Matthias, Eitan, and thousands of others must await the verdict. Surely the one who orchestrated such casual death must be found responsibility for it…

This was an absolute stonker of a story: Heart-wrenching, gut-turning, so horrific it could not be, so real it could be true. Easily my favorite of the volume.

REVIEW: “Freedom in Briers” by Rachel Hailey

Review of Rachel Hailey, “Freedom in Briers”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 275-290 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Thorn, Caleb, and Theresa are each one of the Magic-Touched — people who have special abilities (or “banes”) that set them apart from the rest of humanity. Though it’s not clear to me how or why, their status as magic-touched puts them under the power or control of the non-magic-touched; e.g., Thorn has a keeper named Jasper who dictates her actions. Together, Thorn and the other magic-touched people are all part of an eerie circus, one that is constantly recruiting from amongst their audiences.

It’s clear from the start of the story that there is something complex going on — what isn’t clear, unfortunately, is what that something is. I was never quite sure, even at the end.