REVIEW: “Making the Magic Lightning Strike Me” by John Chu

Review of John Chu, “The Library of Lost Things”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 79-94 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Charlie Tsai’s job is one that needs a man with height, and strength — two things Charlie didn’t have and always wanted and that’s why he got the job. Because his new employers would “make the lightning strike” and even if it didn’t give him the body he wanted, it was close enough that Charlie would always be beholden to them.

This was a story full of contrasts and tensions — on the one hand, it almost feels like a superhero origin story. On the other hand, for a story involving big burly men who lift weights and are described as being like WWF fighters, it is unexpectedly and surprisingly tender. It is finely crafted, and that brings with it its own layer of pleasure, to watch a master story-teller plying their trade.

(Originally published in Uncanny Magazine, 2017).

REVIEW: “Sea of Dreams” by Cixin Liu

Review of Cixin Liu (Translated by John Chu), “Sea of Dreams”, Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February (2018): 75-93 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

This is a beautiful, strange story.

An alien being interrupts an ice and snow art exhibition and wants to create its own work on earth, using the earth’s seas as its medium. Yan Dong, the artist whose work the alien liked most out of the exhibition, strikes up a connection with the alien which changes as the alien’s artistic vision is realised and the earth has to live with the aftermath of its creation.

This is really a story about art and the place art has in a society. Through conversations between the alien and Yan Dong, Cixin Liu considers whether art is the most important thing for a society to be doing, whether society exists solely for the purposes of allowing art to be created, and whether sometimes there are more important things than art.

The alien’s artwork and the challenges it poses for the earth are original and compelling. This novelette covers a lot of ground in the short amount of words it’s working with – space travel, planet-wide experiences, and events that take place over decades. I liked Yan Dong as an emotional voice for humanity, too – his reactions and decisions felt satisfying and correct and happened in the right way at the right times. The science elements of the story are smart, too, and support the fictional story rather than driving it.

There’s a lot to think about here and it’s wonderfully told with images I’m certain will stick with me.