REVIEW: “Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky” by Brian Trent

Review of Brian Trent, “Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 201-219 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Trent sets his story of military intrigue and treachery, filled with floating cities and qilin (I was never sure whether the qilin were fantastic beasts or mechanical contraptions, but the ambiguity contributed to the story rather than frustrating me.), in the Sino-Japanese war. The story focuses on Li Yan, a steel dragon the Luminous Sky, fighting for Chinese nationalism, and his American mercenary compatriot, Eva Eagels.

There were a few aspects about the story that tripped me up — Li Yan was called ‘Li’ throughout, but his brother was Qimei, and I couldn’t figure out how to square this with the Chinese naming practice of putting surname, not given name, first. (Shouldn’t he be Yan? Or both he and his brother be Li?); the fact that this detail was got wrong made me worried about what other details might also be wrong. And while I love reading more SFF set in non-western settings, it sometimes felt like the story hadn’t gotten past its western-centric gaze — when a qilin delivers a young woman to Li, he describes her as “a young Chinese woman”; but while it made sense for him to describe Eva Eagels as American, because that is not the default, shouldn’t the default in China be Chinese? But despite these quibbles, I found Li a sympathetic character told in a distinctive voice, both strong and gentle, dedicated but caring, someone who has managed to keep the promise he ‘d made to his brother before the war — to not let it kill his spirit.

The actual ending seemed a bit out of left-field; but there was a page break a few paragraphs before the end that I almost expect to have been the end. If it had ended “All Under Heaven” (bottom of p. 217), I think it might have been a stronger story, with a strange sense of loss and failure threading through a success greater than what Li and Xin had spoken of achieving.

REVIEW: Flash Fiction Online, ed. Suzanne W. Vincent, November 2017

Review of Flash Fiction Online, ed. Suzanne W. Vincent, November 2017 [Read Online/Purchase Here]. Reviewed by Meryl Stenhouse.

Stories in this issue:
Crater Meet by Brian Trent
Last Long Night by Lina Rather
The Stars and the Rain by Emily McCosh
Baker by Sheila Massie

Crater Meet by Brian Trent

This story is both heart-lifting and heartbreaking. Two sides of a war meet in the middle of no-man’s land for a convivial, makeshift dinner. There’s no personal enmity between these men. They are the same people on different sides of a war. This story beautifully captures the ridiculousness of war and the feeling of being caught up in something that doesn’t touch them, even as it kills them.

Last Long Night by Lina Rather

The crew of a spaceship, believing themselves to be the last humans, struggle to reach a half-terraformed planet where they might survive. Along the way they meet a Russian cosmonaut who saves them and gives them hope. I felt on edge every moment of reading this story. Rather paints a picture of people on the edge; of sanity, of survival, of hope, and the most unlikely meeting that surely must be a sign.

The Stars and the Rain by Emily McCosh

This story deals in fear, but it’s the small, daily, family fears. The narrator runs away from home, but she can’t admit to herself that she’s running away for many years. But it’s the sort of unacknowledged running away where you still talk to your family, but you just don’t have the strength to do it face to face. What I really loved about this story was the way the author used snapshots as both communication and story structure. It reads like a succession of freeze frames and is compelling because of the little we actually see.

Baker by Sheila Massie

There’s a grim hopelessness to this story that wasn’t present in the previous tales, and a feeling that things will never change. Rafael, a baker with a touch of magic, bakes bread that helps people, but he never has enough magic for all the people who need help, and you can feel his desperation. Who does he choose? Who can he help? His final choice is intellectual, but you can already feel that it will do no good in the end. However that doesn’t stop him trying.

Overall, I found this edition to be uplifting and heartful. I enjoyed the science fiction stories especially.