REVIEW: “From the Void” by Sarah Gailey

Review of Sarah Gailey, “From the Void”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 95-104 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

There are so many stories of space ships full of crew in stasis pods, and then inevitable things-going-wrong when they come out. This story is yet another one.

I would’ve sighed and shook my head (and continued reading nonetheless) after seeing that this was the case, were it not for the very interesting way in which religion plays counterpart to the traditional sci-fi model these stories usually fit — there is a lot more praying, creeds, baptisms, and high priestesses in Gailey’s story than in the usual space odyssey story. A lot more religion, and a lot more horror, too. It’s not a pleasant story, though it is finely constructed.

REVIEW: “Pocketful of Souls” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Review of Jennifer Lee Rossman, “Pocketful of Souls”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When you think about it, it’s funny that in administrating something as complex as hell, there aren’t more clerical errors. But whether due to clerical error or the “cursed result of the union between a human and a demon”, Amy was “not like the other demons”. But while on the surface Amy was pure and innocent and childlike, underneath she’s not all that she seems, and she exploited her childlikeness for demonic purposes.

The way the story is set up, I think many people would find it humorous, and laugh at Amy’s antics. For me, it wasn’t to my taste simply because of a personal not liking people who are not children pretending to act like children. I never felt any sympathy with Amy, but neither did I feel any sympathy with her victims. As a result, this story somewhat passed me by rather than brought me in.

REVIEW: “My Life” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “My Life”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 51-94 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Many of the characters in the other stories in Walsh’s anthology felt very shadowing and fuzzy, but in “My Life” I felt like I had a chance to see multi-faceted people with names and lives and backgrounds. This was due in part to the length — a good solid story rather than a 1-3 page gossamer bite.

Erickson and Taylor were college roommates, and unlikely — but believable — friends. (They’d be more than friends if Erickson had his way, but Taylor always laughed off his overtures.) But now things are changing — Taylor’s moving out into his own place, Erickson’s getting a new roommate. Neither is quite sure how to begin navigating this new chapter in their lives, so when Taylor finds a name scribbled on the wall underneath some pealing wallpaper, and a notebook in his bedroom with the same name inscribed in it, he assumes it’s Erickson playing some sort of joke, a parting gift (if you like). First Taylor ignores the notebook, then he starts writing in it, imagining what the story behind the name — Nicholas — written in it is.

But of course, Erickson hadn’t give him any notebook. What follows is Taylor’s plunge into the uncanny as he continues to write Nicholas’s story, getting more and more involved in the fantasy he’s creating than in the reality he’s supposed to be inhabiting. As the lines between reality and fiction blur, what really comes to the fore and shines is the relationship between Taylor and Erickson, complex, delicate, full of pathos, and beautiful. It made the ending even more horrifying when it came.

REVIEW: “Limited Power” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Limited Power”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 27-29 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: This story contains sexual and physical abuse of children by members of the church.

Were it not for the fact that we commit to reading all stories in a venue here at SFFReviews, I would have quit this one after the third paragraph — heck, I was already pretty uncomfortable with the second one, when it became clear that some sort of exorcism was being performed on a young girl in a way that dehumanised her.

But, I did read it through to the end. I feel like the ending was supposed to come across as empowering and triumphant, but to me it felt merely shameful. And while I don’t ever want my negative reaction to a story to be taken as universalisable, this is not a story I could ever recommend someone else to read.

REVIEW: “Footprints” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Footprints”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 17-23 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

One common thread to many of the stories in this anthology is that of someone who is haunted or hunted by something unknown. Sometimes it’s real, sometimes it’s psychological, never is it clearly articulated or identified — either what it is or why it is hunting.

Nick’s hunter leaves footprints in the snow that seems to only fall in his backyard; but how many times it comes and circles his house when the snow is not there, Nick does not know and cannot tell. What he does know is that this is the first time the footprints have lead to his front door, and he cannot bring himself to go inside.

Instead, he runs away, to stay with friends, but even the presence of other people is not enough to protect him from what it is that makes the footprints.

Another common thread in these stories is that the lack of resolution that they have at the end. In a single instance, this can certainly heighten the disquietening feeling one gets reading the story; but when so many stories in the same anthology end in uncertainty, the overall effect is diminished. I think this story would have stood stronger on its own legs than in the anthology.

REVIEW: “Frostbite” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Frostbite”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 10-16 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The opening scene is of a man driving along a deserted winter highway early in the morning, and Walsh uses few words to effectively evoke that sense of emptiness and desolation and cold. But as the man drives along, it becomes increasingly clear that he is not as alone as he thinks — or hopes — and that no amount of turning up the radiator will keep out the cold.

This story hit a sweet spot for me — it was short enough to be a quick fix before bedtime, but long enough to really sink my teeth into — and the carefully placed miniature illustrations contributed nicely to the feeling of foreboding that grew with the story.

REVIEW: “In the Pipes Below” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “In the Pipes Below”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 5-8 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Something is lurking in the pipes. The narrator can’t quite come out and say what it is, can’t even name it, merely calling it it. It slithers out of drains, and hides in toilets, and it is drawn to places where the scent of sweat is heavy.

That’s one problem with it. The other is that no one other than the narrator seems to know that it exists. That doesn’t make it any less fiercesome — and indeed perhaps makes it even more! For how can one escape something that maybe isn’t even there?

This is a straight-up creepy-crawly horror story, ending on a “what if” cliff edge. I didn’t find it particularly scary myself, but for anyone who has their own fears of what lies in the pipes below, this would probably be quite an unsettling story to read.