REVIEW: “Diamond Cuts” by Shaoni C. White

Review of Shaoni C. White, “Diamond Cuts”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

The first person protagonist of “Diamond Cuts” is magically forced to perform in a two-person play where they must act out real, physical harm. When their former partner dies, their new partner, a hasty replacement with more knowledge of the outside world, makes a plan to break the spell and leave the theater. But his plan might be more likely to kill them than save them, and even if they succeed, it will have far-reaching consequences…

The story begins with a sparkling, visceral paragraph about the narrator eating a star: plucking it from the sky, biting down, and spitting out “shards of glass coated in spittle and blood.” It is terribly beautiful and remains my favorite part of the piece. From that point on, I was a little disappointed in the main plotline of the story and particularly in its conclusion. I was getting ready for an expansive space opera narrated by some sentient heavenly body that could (masochistically) consume stars, but I was given a play about magic, a story trapped within the four walls of a theater house. This subversion of expectations feels deliberate: it brings the reader into the magic of the theater for a moment, since they assume the events of the play are a real part of the story. Still, that opening set up an expectation that I felt wasn’t quite fulfilled. While the physical pain and danger of our narrator’s acting comes up throughout the piece, I wanted more exploration of what it meant to them and why it had to exist in this world. 

Without giving away the exact events of the ending, it leaves many possibilities open and revolves around a theme that doesn’t have a lot of relevance to the rest of the story. It’s just classic; you’ve likely read some version of it before. I wanted more.

REVIEW: “The Graveyard” by ​​Eleanor Arnason

Review of ​​Eleanor Arnason, “The Graveyard”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

When Magnus Thorvaldsson, a Lutheran Icelandic-American, profanes a pagan graveyard with a Christain cross, the angry ghosts come clamoring to haunt a nearby farmer, Atli. Will he be able to appease the ghosts? More importantly, will he be able to appease Magnus as well?

This contemplative and humorous ghost story was a nice light read after some of the more tear-jerking and action-packed stories in this issue. While it is a little formulaic, it holds hidden gems: sprinkles of Icelandic culture, history, and literature that support the story and weave in unique elements. Between Atli’s droll, practical comments and the slightly bratty ghosts, it put a smile on my face many times. 

The story is told from the perspective of an Icelandic-American narrator rediscovering stories about her ancestral homeland, yet it features a stereotypical wealthy, meddlesome Icelandic-American character. Indirectly, it asks interesting questions. How are people raised in privileged America perceived when they try to learn about their ancestral cultures? Is there a way to do this appropriately and respectfully? While the story only hints at answers to these questions, the judgemental voices of Atli’s distant ancestors provide a fascinating backdrop for this exploration.

REVIEW: “The Wishing Pool” by Tananarive Due

Review of Tananarive Due, “The Wishing Pool”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

When Joy visits her ailing father in the family cabin that she lived in as a child, she is forced to confront her memories about a small puddle in the forest that seemed to grant wishes in unexpected and sometimes tragic ways. Now that she’s an adult, Joy knows that the pool doesn’t really have any power, but is she desperate enough to wish for something anyway?

This heart-wrenching story confronts the realities of ageing parents head-on. While it’s definitely not a lighthearted read, I would recommend it for those who would like a more gritty and realistic take on a classic fairy tale theme. If nothing else, the ending will hit you right in the gut.

REVIEW: “The Sidhe” by Elizabeth Archer

Review of Elizabeth Archer, “The Sidhe,” Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I felt like this story rather confused sidhe with dryads. More precisely, I didn’t see what made the sidhe characteristically a sidhe — she could have been any type of woodland spirit. I would have liked to see something that was a bit more distinctive and fleshed out than what I got.

REVIEW: “Southside Gods” by Sarah Grey

Review of Sarah Grey, “Southside Gods,” Flash Fiction Online 87 (2021): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

These are the southside gods — gods of the slums, of the working class. This is Holloway, god of water, who fixes washing machines and “is every plumber in the directory”; but he doesn’t do air conditioners. He just might be able to recommend a colleague, though…

Fresh, humorous, and with just the right of pathos, this was a little gem of a story.

(First published in Intergalactic Medicine Show September 2013).

REVIEW: “On Aerdwen Green” by Sandi Leibowitz

Review of Sandi Leibowitz, “On Aerdwen Green,” Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Great-King Donnil lost the Chalice of Plenty and now his great-grandson Great-King Bardo has commanded the Masters or Mistresses of every House to go on a quest to find it again. Most houses didn’t follow the command, but House Dilvan did, despite (or perhaps because…) its young Mistress Beldaria being only 16 years old. But Beldaria is not the focus of the story, rather, that’s Enzi, her maidservant.

Two things I really liked about this story: One was the sharp, deft way that Leibowitz depicted class distinctions, how one and the same quest could be experienced so differently by the gentry and by their servants. It’s easy to feel sympathy for Enzi and to disapprove of Beldaria and the other Masters and Mistresses. The other was what actually happened on Aerdwen Green, and the way in which the reader was held so long in ignorance of the significance of those events. It was magical.

REVIEW: “The Five Snowflakes” by Rebecca Harrison

Review of Rebecca Harrison, “The Five Snowflakes”, Luna Station Quarterly 24 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What an excellent, novel fairy tale this was, told in beautiful and imaginative language.

Katla, the daughter of the Snow King and Snow Queen, grew up in a life of magic and luxury, learning the stories of her past and dreaming up stories of her future when she would inherit the Arctic kingdom.

Until her little brother is born and displaces her as heir, and she is married off to the ruler of a southern kingdom. When heartbroken she leaves her frozen realm, she brings with her five snowflakes. As you’d expect with a proper fairy tale, these snowflakes contain within them all the power necessary for Katla to bring about her happy ending.

REVIEW: “The Backwards Princess of Unusual Parentage” by Allison Mulder

Review of Allison Mulder, “The Backwards Princess of Unusual Parentage”, Luna Station Quarterly 47 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of my favorite genres of speculative fiction is “pick a minor character in a fairy tale and turn them into a major character”, and Mulder’s story fits squarely in that category. The minor character in this case is the mirror from Snow White — who is he? How did he get in the mirror? Why does he do the bidding of the one who looks inside him? These are all questions you’ve probably never thought of before but Mulder faces them head on in this delightful, intriguing, and unexpected fairy tale. I loved it.

REVIEW: “Gentle Ways to Kill a Dragon” by Kit Harding

Review of Kit Harding, “Gentle Ways to Kill a Dragon”, Luna Station Quarterly 47 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of the reasons why I like reading modern SFF is the way it interrogates the sexist and patriarchal structures that are embedded in so much of the fiction I grew up on. You read enough of it, and you tend to think the way they depict their worlds are is the only way the world can be. But what’s brilliant about stories like Harding’s is the way they don’t just subvert problematic tropes, but also point out that the tropes are problematic. It’s empowering to read Ella explicitly go through the thought process from “I should be complimented that the dragon hunter thinks I’m pretty enough to be his ‘reward'” all the way to “fuck that, Imma kill that dragon myself”. Want a great story that teaches the importance of consent? This is it.