REVIEW: “Bread and Milk and Salt” by Sarah Gailey

Review of Sarah Gailey, “Bread and Milk and Salt”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 99-118 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T.

Well this was chilling. It’s beautifully written, but it’s grim. It follows a fae who wants to steal a boy, until the boy grows older and decides that he is going to steal the fae instead. The imagery is beautiful and horrifying – the fae has so many plans for what they could do with the boy – but the horror is in what Peter does back, without a shred of conscience. The use of robotics and the fae’s vengeance are both very creepy and very effective, especially the fact that even the (arguably monstrous) fae understands that Peter’s actions are monstrous.

Bread and Milk and Salt is very good, but definitely a horror story for me. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for it.

[Caution warning: abuse, animal cruelty]

REVIEW: “The Fire Wife” by Erin McNelis

Review of Erin McNelis, “The Fire Wife”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content: War, refugee experiences, subjugation, bodily harm/torture.

Aruna is a firewife, charged with the knowledge of how to light fires and also, despite her status as a servant in the chief’s household, occupying a position of power and authority amongst the women of her clan: When a question come whose answer will “change the course of [her] people forever”, she is the one that must make it on behalf of the others.

At first, the story confused me — though it was full of lively and distinctive characters, and McNelis conveyed a sense of scale that indicated this was but a small facet of a much larger story, I also found myself struggling to figure out who the characters were and how they were related to each other, not just in terms of family but in terms of how they were located in the various power structures. About 2/3 of the way through, though, I realised why I was so confused: The middle third of the story takes place before the first third.

I think the story structure could have been crafted a little bit better, but the story itself was full of pathos and friendship and love and sadness.

REVIEW: “Flower, Feather, Hare and Snow” by Nadia Attia

Review of Nadia Attia, “Flower, Feather, Hare and Snow”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The title puts me in the mood for a fairy tale. Attia’s story delivered on that, but faltered somewhat in the execution: I found the language sometimes lyrical and sometimes just too blunt, so as to be at odds with the story itself. I don’t often feel this way, but I felt like this story could’ve used a few more drafts and some editing.

REVIEW: “Recordings of a More Personal Nature” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Recordings of a More Personal Nature” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 125-136 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Mind control, drug use, self-harm, cutting, torture, dissociation, allusions to suicide.

So many things I love about this story:

1. Great background metaphysics — unlike any world building I’ve come across before.
2. The importance of the formation of the self via memories, something I’ve explored quite a bit in my own writing!
3. The way the story combines those two with the way it dwells more on the horror of being cut off from one’s sense of self than on the mechanics of how the archive works.

And I loved the twist at the end, when the reason why this culture depends so on their archive is revealed. This was just an all round very satisfying story.

(Originally published in Apex Magazine November 2013).

REVIEW: “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 103-109. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Sports accident, physical pain.

This was a quiet, almost meditative piece, alternating between Amira’s solo hookboarding flight and the guidelines, or perhaps rules, to guarantee the titular optimal experience. Amira’s last hookboarding experience was not optimal, but this story feels like a chance for her to exorcise the memories of it. There is little in terms of plot; a lot in terms of beauty of language.

(First appeared in Lackington’s Summer 2014).

REVIEW: The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This debut short story collection by Bogi Takács contains twenty-three stories (what a wealth!). Most of the stories included here have previous appeared in various other journals and anthologies. I know some people complain about “double-dipping”, but in my mind, this is precisely what short story collections are about: Bringing together the oeuvre of an author that had been previously disparately scattered, often inaccessibly a few years after publication, into a single accessible source.

If I were to identify an overarching thread or theme that runs through the stories, it is — sadly — not octopuses but rather a paradoxical lack of care for gender entwined with a deep, abiding care for gender. Many of the stories are in 1st person POV, and we can go an entire story without learning the narrator’s name or gender or anything else; but in others, trans and nonbinary characters are strongly represented, in a wonderfully positive and affirming light. I really appreciated how Takács was able to use the medium of fiction as a means to explore both the importance of gender but also how very unimportant it can be.

I also appreciated very much how many of the SF stories were based in actual science, complete with footnotes at the end of the story for further research or to pieces that formed Takács’s inspiration. The very best of SF fiction is, in my opinion, indistinguishable from fact, and I wish more authors would cite their sources in the way that Takács does!

As is usual, we’ll review each of the stories individually, and link the reviews here when published:

Detailed content notes for the stories are available — but at the end of the collection, which puts the onus on the reader to seek out the warnings to doublecheck that each story will not be problematic. (As opposed to when the notes are either collected and presented before the stories, or when each story is accompanied by its own note.) Some of the warnings cut across stories: There are quite a lot that are labelled with ‘body horror’. I will label each story review with the content warnings from the book.

Though I’ve been a follower of Takács on twitter for awhile now, this was my first exposure to their fiction. It’s also the first time I’ve actually reached out to request an ARC of a book, and doing so all I could think — and all I could think while reading and reviewing the stories in the anthology — was I hope I do them justice. I sometimes marvel at the fact that I get to live in an age when we have #ownvoices books representing so many different experiences. We are privileged to have these authors and their stories, and I’m privileged to read them. You should read them too!

REVIEW: “Rotkäppchen” by Emily McCosh

Review of Emily McCosh, “Rotkäppchen”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 7-18 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I enjoy fairy tale retellings that give me something new. At first, I thought this was a retelling from the point of view of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother; but then some ways in it became clear that in “Rotkäppchen”, McCosh is telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood grown up, and now a grandmother herself, living alone in the forest. Her son is dead and her granddaughter, Fern, lives on the edge of the woods.

When Fern comes to visit her grandmother, there is a sense of the story cycle repeating itself, for Fern, too, finds a wolf in her grandmother’s cottage. But there is always so much more to a story than what you are first told, and this story is as much the wolf’s as it is Little Red Riding Hood’s.