REVIEW: “The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” by Sarah Monette

Review of Sarah Monette, “The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 21 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

“The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” is a slow-burn, literary, magical murder mystery. The narrator, Mr Booth, is placed in charge of papers written by a celebrated literary figure. Among the papers, he finds a poppet, which he believes has been used to murder the author – Geoffrey Usborne Bryant. Concerned that the perpetrator of this magical crime will hurt others, the narrator sets out to discover who put the poppet in Usborne Bryant’s boxes. While engaged in this detective mission, Booth reflects on the troubled, fleeting association he had with Usborne Bryant when they were at school.

Sarah Monette’s story delicately expresses how Booth’s sleuthing allows him to come to terms with the real shape of a relationship long-past. His quest to find the poppet maker is littered with small, stabbing pains of repressed past hurts and old emotions. Booth’s conversations with Usborne Bryant’s friends, as part of his amature detective work, show that he has developed a clear understanding of how people work. However, he has never quite understood the shape of his own past with Usborne Bryant. As he slowly works his way towards the criminal, Booth untangles the small-scale, but complex, web of interactions and emotions left unaddressed since school. This story is as much a work of emotional detective work as it is a detective story.  

“The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” is also about the importance of acting morally in the face of difficult personal feelings. In keeping with the tone of the story, Monette expresses this theme without any flashy signposts that her narrator is morally compromised, and yet still manages to strongly convey that doing what is right is not always a lot of fun. From the fact that the narrator ‘fled’ when the criminal faints at the end of the story, and the way that ‘something of my emotions bled through in my voice’ at the end of the story, the reader gets the sense that while the narrator’s quest was a success it did not lead him to any kind of satisfaction (beyond a certain understanding of his past).

Strangely, this story reminded me of a favourite Philip Larkin poem – “Dockery and Son“. There’s the similar subject matter of someone thinking back on their school days. And there’s something about the pace of the story, content to dwell on scraps from the past on its way to its destination, which evokes a similar tone to the poem; as does the simple poignancy of the story’s final line. “The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” was weird, and quiet, and slow, and I loved it, readers.

REVIEW: “Time and Space” by Laine Perez

Review of Lane Perez, “Time and Space”, Luna Station Quarterly 34 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story starts off with a contradiction:

When Mira sees the library for the first time, it is exactly as she remembers it.

How can one remember what one has never seen before? But such contradictions are to be expected in a story where one character can see the future.

For all that this is a story about pushing the boundaries of time and space, this isn’t SF. Rather, it has a quiet, almost fairy-tale like quality, and what is at the forefront is Mira and Cy and how they navigate a relationship together: Not just how to fit together when one person sees the future and the other moves unexpectedly through space, but how to build a life within those confines that doesn’t end up feeling utterly fatalistic. The lack of free will or free choice that is apparently entailed by foreknowledge of the future — a problem that has been vexing not only science fiction authors but philosophers for millenia — is deftly handled here by Perez in this satisfying story.

REVIEW: “Suzie Q” by Jacqueline Carey

Review of Jacqueline Carey, “Suzie Q”, Apex Magazine 109 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Suzanne thought she’d escaped her painful past when she passed the summoning exam and was accepted into Holyfields, where she’d learn to summon angels. But when the story starts, she’s living on the streets of the neighboring city, dodging shadows that will eat her and bad people who will feed her to those shadows. Slowly, we learn how she got expelled from Holyfields and why she has a demon inside her. In the end, that demon proves itself to be a surprising strength.

This is a story that works as well as a metaphor as it does as a literal story, and I appreciate that. I can’t say that this is exactly an enjoyable read, dealing as it does with sexual trauma and coercion, followed by betrayal, but it is an absorbing one. The lingering effects of abuse and bullying are realistically portrayed in the character of Suzanne, and the world is tantalizingly sketched out. When she finally finds her power, I nearly cheered. She’s able to find the ways that suffering has made her stronger, and learns to use that for herself. The ending avoids the sin of romanticizing suffering, of making it seem that trauma and abuse were somehow worthwhile, by making it clear that her strength is born not just of the bad things that happened to her, but also her own choices.

This isn’t an easy story, but it is a powerful one, though it could be triggering to people who’ve experienced sexual trauma.

REVIEW: “And Yet” by A. T. Greenblatt

Review of A. T. Greenblatt’s, “And Yet”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 21 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

“And Yet” is an original, creeptastic take on the haunted house story. The protagonist returns to the haunted house of their childhood determined to investigate parallel universes. Aware that the house really is haunted, and that it hates visitors, this is, as the narrative admits, ‘a terrible idea’. This story is full of dread, and anticipation, right from the first section.  

Told in the second person, and focused on an unnamed protagonist, the narrative feels reminiscent of the ‘choose your own adventure’ genre. The main character moves through the house choosing doors, and unlocking scenarios. Each room shows a new nightmare vision of the past, or a possible past which they have thankfully never had to experience. The narrative refers to the protagonist as ‘you’ which means the reader can easily insert themselves into the story, and this makes the horror of the story feel all the more immediate and effective.

At the same time, “And Yet” relates an intensely personal, specific story about the main character’s loss, personal growth, and disability. The house draws on their pain, and fear, as it attempts to push them into leaving, and the protagonist’s journey through the house allows A. T. Greenblatt to slowly construct a picture of her protagonist’s life for the reader. It’s a young life that was dogged by abusive, difficult family members, bullies, and tragedy. However, the story shows that the main character has largely escaped that past, and built a new life, with hard work, the support of new roommates, and a personal trainer. Still, one formative incident has irrevocably shaped their present, and their current scientific work.

“And Yet” is a real gut-punch of a story on multiple levels, partly due to the smartly built structure of the piece. The horror of being forced to repeat traumatic incidents will resonate with just about every reader, as will the idea of parallel universes which contain a poor imitation of a much happier life. The main character’s past is so tough it hits hard. And all of this is carefully layered into a claustrophobic, slowly ratcheting piece of horror through the device of the inescapable house. The story culminates with a a poignant heart-breaker of an ending which will wreck you in the best way. Run, don’t walk, to this house of horrors.

REVIEW: “The Volcano Keeper” by Jenny Wong

Review of Jenny Wong, “The Volcano Keeper”, Luna Station Quarterly 34 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a relatively short story, filled with descriptions. There is only one character, Ari, but the way in which she interacts with nature, including the volcano, with her history, and with the looming future makes the story feel richer.

It’s a quiet little allegory of ecology balance, quick and pleasant to read.

REVIEW: “Conversation, Descending” by Richard Dansky

Review of Richard Dansky, “Conversation, Descending”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 25-28. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

Reading Richard Dansky’s profile in the magazine, I fully expected to like this story. He’s a veteran video game writer and has seven novels and a story collection under his belt as well. Do I think this is a bad story? Not necessarily. All I can say for sure is this one was a bit of a dud for me, but I’d still recommend reading it yourself and forming your own opinion.

“Conversation, Descending” is a steampunky fantasy that opens with a fellow falling through the sky after he’s ejected from an airship. As tends to (in my opinion, unfortunately) come with the territory there’s a lot of pseudo-Victorian/Romantic era stilted language that in other subgenres might be pegged as thesaurus abuse. The first page is almost all repetition of the fact that our main character is falling and he’s just in his underwear.

There is a conversation with another character further in, as well as a few moments that would have struck me as particularly humorous or clever if the writing style, particularly that of the main character didn’t remind me so much of Harold Lauder from The Stand, chock full of m’lady-ish phraseology that I could all but see this character in a trench coat and fedora, fingerless gloves grasping the edge of his hat as he talked to other damsels along his way.

There is a nice sort of bait-n-switch toward the end but I hate to admit by that point I’d sort of half checked out. I do still recommend checking this one out for yourself, as hopefully you don’t have my hangups. There is humor and wit in here, so I hope you are able to appreciate that more than I was.

REVIEW: “The End of the World on the Cutting Room Floor” by Fraser Sherman

Review of Fraser Sherman, “The End of the World on the Cutting Room Floor”, Space and Time #130 Winter 2017 pp. 17-23. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

Remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or that one movie with Brad Pitt and the cartoon cat. This story is a lot like that, though definitely better than the Brad Pitt movie. The world has ended and everyone seems to have “come back” as movie characters of some sort or another. There’s some cheesiness involved, but it comes with the territory when some of these realms are straight out of B-movie schlock.

There are black and white B-movie horror characters, blacksploitation nods, film noire, but not so much by way of “modern” cinema nods other than a few name drops. Still if you grew up watching schlocky films, especially if you watched some of those by way of Mystery Science Theater 3000, then you’ll get a few chuckles out of this.

The story is fairly clever and tongue in cheek, though for me personally it doesn’t stand out as much as other Space and Time Magazine stories I’ve read before. However, like everything else put out by this publication, it’s still an interesting and well-written story and I’d still recommend giving it a read.