REVIEW: “All the Songs the Little Birds Sing” by T. D. Walker

Review of T. D. Walker, “All the Songs the Little Birds sing”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story has one of those slippery settings where it could be radically other, radically elsewhere or elsewhen, or it could also be just around the corner, today or tomorrow.

Some stories make it clear what kind of stories they are from the beginning; not this one, not for me at least. And yet, even without having any idea of where it started or where it was going, I kept reading. Walker’s language is tight and precise and allows us a very clear insight into Alice’s head. Alice herself is the sort of main character I’ve found myself looking for more and more lately — someone who is older than me, who has found a sense of herself, who understands how she fits into the world. “Alice was everything, and she wanted to live that way,” Walker tells us. That’s the sort of heroine I aspire to be.

There was a lot left out of this story, the history of how things got to be this way only hinted at. In some stories, these gaps can be frustrating. In this one, I wanted to know more, of course, but I was also satisfied with what I got.

REVIEW: “Everybody and His Mother” by Agrippina Domanski

Review of Agrippina Domanski, “Everybody and His Mother”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I struggled with this one. I struggled with reading the story, to the point where I eventually gave up about half-way through, and then let it sit for another month before coming back to reread it. It’s not that it was poorly written, it’s not that it contained elements I found problematic, I just found it a difficult story to engage with. Part of it is that it seems quite atypical for Luna Station Quarterly‘s usual offerings; it very much felt like an ordinary story, of ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary places and that’s all it was for the first three-quarters of the story or so. In another venue, this wouldn’t have even been worth mentioning; but reading this story in a spec fic journal, I found myself waiting for more, wanting more. So I’m in the strange position of having to say that even if the story itself is good, the venue choice isn’t. It just didn’t work for me, and that ended up affecting my interaction with the story.

The story deals with the permeability of memory, and involves a lot of double-talk; I’m never quite sure what or whom to believe, never quite sure what the truth is. Part of this is because the narrator, Jemima, is not entirely reliable; part of it is simply because many useful pieces of information are omitted from where I would want to have them, or even omitted altogether. For example, both “Jack” and “the kid” play central roles both in the story and in Jemima’s life, but it was unclear for quite awhile what the relationship was between the kid and Jemima, or between the kid and Jack, or between Jack and Jemima. Clues and puzzle pieces were given, but I put them together in the wrong way, only to find a significant portion of the story later that I’d missed the mark. All of these things conspired to my finding this a difficult piece to read.

REVIEW: “Running Straight” by E. K. Wagner

Review of E. K. Wagner, “Running Straight”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a story of dreams, of strength, and of slavery, told in beautiful colors. The story draws you in and draws you along at each moment becoming more and more fraught. Brilliantly written, and a brilliant story. The ending that happens is the ending you want to happen, and yet it is still quite a kicker when it comes.

One thing I really enjoyed about the story is how little details can have such a big impact. Sometimes, all that is needed to set a story in a foreign and unfamiliar place is to change one simple thing that is familiar, one thing you would never expect to change. That one thing in this story is the length of the years. Some years are longer than others, some shorter, and because Cinti’s culture, like ours, revolves around the length of a year, this one small difference has a dramatic effect on how strange and foreign the story setting feels.

This one was a good one — best in the issue in my opinion.

REVIEW: “The Smile” by Irene Grazzini

Review of Irene Grazzini, Joyce Myerson (trans.), “The Smile”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What I often find frustrating about short stories is that they are just so…well, short. It’s hard to do a lot in not many words. So when I get a story like this, where all it takes is the title, a name, and a few words from the first paragraph to make me go “I know what this is going to be about!”, it makes me very happy.

The story did not live up to this initial rush of happiness as much as I wished it would, though. It takes quite a long time to get started, with the narrator spending a lot of precious words on description. Now, this complaint is squarely situated in my mouth as someone who tends to skip over a lot of purely descriptive scenes. In novels, I don’t mind them as much as they’re easy to skip, but in a short story, it sort of feels like a waste. I want the action, not the descriptions!

This story is translated — I assume from Italian but do not know for certain. If there is one thing harder than writing speculative fiction, I’ve always thought it must be translating it, because you have to be true to the original story and the original voice, and neither of these is a trivial matter. There is an added layer of difficulty when rendering a story in another language that arises from distinguishing what must be translated from what must be not. Names, in particular, must be handled with care. Given that I knew from the start of the second paragraph who the narrator was, the naming of her child as “Andrew” jarred me. Knowing what I know about the narrator, and especially given that her husband is named as “Francesco” a few sentences later on, this makes me wonder if “Andrew” in the original was “Andrea”; a later pair of names had me wondering the same thing, where it felt like one had been translated but not the other. Were I standing in Myerson’s shoes, I would probably have translated either all of the names (Andrew, Catherine, Francis etc.) or none (Andrea, Caterina, Francesco, etc.).

REVIEW: “In This Life and the Next” by Katherine Inskip

Review of Katherine Inskip, “In This Life and the Next”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I struggle with second-person POV so much. I can totally understand why an author would choose it — I’ve had my own fair share of writing something that simply need to be written in that voice — but as a reader I find it so often off-putting, because if the “you” is “me”, then the narrator has gotten something totally wrong, this isn’t me, this isn’t my story.

So I always start a second-person POV story with a healthy dose of trepidation. Maybe this one will be the one where the “you” is in fact me.

It wasn’t, oh, it wasn’t. But when I realize who the narrator is, and who she is talking to…I’ll forgive the author pretty much anything, because there is no way this story could’ve been written in anything but second-person POV, and it’s brilliant.

REVIEW: “Goners” by Hannah Sternberg

Review of Hannah Sternberg, “Goners”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One thing that ties a lot of SFF/Spec Fic together is a distinct lack of place. The anonymity of the setting allows the readers to fill in the gaps however they need to to make the story their own. Sternberg’s “Goners” introduces its setting from the very start — and though it’s been nearly 13 years since I left Wisconsin, I always have a little nostalgic soft spot for that state. (I do wonder a bit at why the narrator went from Wisconsin to North Carolina via the Great Plains — or how he knew to put vinegar on a jellyfish sting). But it is precisely the specificity and the namedness of the geography that Sternberg hangs her speculative twist on. That twist, making up the middle third of the story, was where I thought the story shone the most; the beginning was a bit ordinary, and the ending was a bit explanatory, but during the middle I was wholly uncertain as to how things would go, which I love in a story.

REVIEW: “Baug’s Hollow” by Cathrin Hagey

Review of Cathrin Hagey, “Baug’s Hollow”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The story has many echoes of the traditional Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” which puts me in mind of Edith Pattou’s East, one of my favorite books. So I really enjoyed reading this. I also enjoyed it for the optimistic view it paints of happiness at the end of life, after the death of a spouse. It is a sweet story of how love transcends boundaries, both literal and physical, and Hagey needs only a few words to paint neat pictures of each of the characters.