REVIEW: “The Story of a Star” by Æ (George William Russell)

Review of Æ (George William Russell), “The Story of a Star” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 71-75 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Unlike some of the other stories in this anthology, with their quite detailed science, this one seems almost more fantasy (or perhaps magical realism?) than science fiction — though Robert, the narrator (what is it with all the men writing stories with egotistical, megalomaniac first person POVs? I mean, the narrator of this story imagines himself to be the reincarnation of one of the magi!), is dealing with subject matter that could be called science, such as the birth of stars and planets, the way he deals with them is not through observation, investigation, or scientific method, but through contemplation, dreaming, and fugue states.

(Originally published in 1894).

REVIEW: “Girls Who Do Not Drown” by A.C. Buchanan

Review of A.C. Buchanan, “Girls Who Do Not Drown”, Apex Magazine 115 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

On an unnamed island in the cold ocean, girls grow up knowing that the sea may kill them as they grow up, when glashtyns will come to lure them beneath the waves. That is the way it has always been and the way it will always be. For Alice, this destiny is complicated by the fact that everyone else thinks she is a boy. But when a glashtyn comes for her anyway, she realizes that if the water horse can see what she really is, then someone else may figure it out too. She walks into the ocean.

The writing and the storytelling here floored me. It’s a simple story on the surface, but Buchanan brings forward every ounce of pathos, delivering it to the reader like an offering. There is violence here, and a deep isolation, but it never feels overwrought. If anything, the descriptions are surprisingly restrained, and the mirroring of supernatural and real-world themes is allowed to speak for itself.

I am not ashamed to admit that the ending of the story made me cry. It is a good ending, and more hopeful than I would have believed. I won’t spoil it beyond what you can infer from the title, but this is a beautiful, resonant story.

REVIEW: “The Curse of Apollo” by Diana Hurlburt

Review of Diana Hurlburt, “The Curse of Apollo”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a story of a story, set in ancient Greece where a story teller recites the tales for each season — counting tales “a more pleasant way of counting the seasons than taxes”. This particular story that the story teller tells us of is of two horses born to the same mare six weeks apart. Is this a miracle of nature? Is it divine intervention? Are the horses gods? Or silly young foals to be sacrificed to the gods? No one knew what to do, except one person, and he was not consulted: And so that is how the titular curse came about. No one thought to ask one of the most important twin gods what he thought, and Apollo felt slighted…

The best myths are ones where you aren’t entirely sure what is real and what is not. This story feels like it could’ve come straight out of the Homeric tradition of classical Greek mythology, though it’s not a myth that I recognise — whether this is because of a fault in myself or because the story is truly new, I do not know. Either way, I enjoyed it.

REVIEW: “Wise Woman” by Regina Higgins

Review of Regina Higgins, “Wise Woman”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This wasn’t meant to be a horror story (I don’t think), but there are few things that I can imagine that are scarier than false accusations. When Charlotte finds out from her aunt Sylvia that Mildred, whom Charlotte has been going to all her life, has been accused, Charlotte’s first response is to ask what proof there is being the accusations. Sylvia’s response is chilling:

“Oh, there’s no proof. Not yet. She’s just been accused.”

Behind those words is the chilling truth, that proof doesn’t matter. When a woman is accused, proof isn’t needed. When a woman accuses, proof is required.

It is fear that drives Charlotte to ask Mildred to read the cards: The Empress, the Emperor, the broken tower, symbol of destruction. But while Charlotte fears destruction as a dangerous, harmful thing, Mildred embraces hope: Hope that what is to come is the shattering of oppressive power structures. Mildred’s hope is so calm and steadfast, it is difficult not to believe in it. Hope in the face of oppression is always something worth reading about.

REVIEW: “The Last Evening at Prosperity” by Stuti Telidevara

Review of Stuti Telidevara, “The Last Evening at Prosperity”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The opening scene brings us into the scented, steamy confines of a bathhouse, on a special night where the bathhouse workers become the customers instead. The feel is very much old, luxurious, haremlike. But this feel is offset by hints and bits dropped here and there, about the Prosperity process, about a company rich enough to buy an entire jungle, that make the story feel modern, maybe even futuristic, and this tension provides a great sense of unease while reading. Just what is this place? And what is going on?

I really enjoyed reading this story, which immersed me in its setting with rich detail appealing to all the senses, and kept me guessing all the way to the end. I’d love to read more by Telidevara.

REVIEW: “Down Among the Fireweed” by Sarah McGill

Review of Sarah McGill, “Down Among the Fireweed”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story of Jack, born to a mother who could not care for him and so made a compact with Tom Scratch, an exchange of her child’s future for his life, and of Marjorie Hart, the only one who could remove the chains that bound Jack, is told in a “forsoothly” sort of voice to enhance its old-fashioned, old-world, old-timey feel. At times this works for me, while at other times it simply ends up either over-written (too many words for too little feeling or action) or under-written (leaving me uncertain what just happened).

The story is quite complex, so having the narrative style interfere with it, as it did for me, meant I got to the end still unsure quite how it hung together, and wishing that I had understood it better. This might be one to reread.

REVIEW: “Bog Witch” by Maya Dworsky

Review of Maya Dworsky, “Bog Witch”, Luna Station Quarterly 36 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

In the opening paragraphs we are introduced to Taterra, who joined the Lioness Project in her sixties and who is careful to remind herself that she chose to be here on “this horrible backwards moon”. With quick, skilful sentences Dworsky fills us in on Taterra’s character and background, and by the time she drops the line “Taterra was not his girl. She was not anyone’s girl; Taterra had tenure”, I am utterly sold. Taterra might not be anyone’s girl, but I’m totally Taterra’s girl. (Later on I find out she likes Argentinian malbecs, and I am further convinced that Taterra is who I want to be when I grow up.)

Taterra’s assignment on Hecate III, an old prison moon, isn’t exactly first-contact, but it is “first-in-a-long-time contact”, and Taterra is there to observe and gather data, as any good anthropologist and social scientist would. But of course she cannot only observe, and the way in which Taterra gets sucked into the court life on Hecate III, how her guise as mystic and seer shapes and changes the future of the royal family and the entire colony, how her prophesies come true, is gripping and fascinating. It’s not just a story of science and magic, it’s a story of how wanting something can make it happen, how belief in magic creates magic itself, and how the birth of a girl-prince can change everything. I loved it.

One warning for those who wish to avoid it: The story features underage marriage, and death in childbirth.