REVIEW: “Ambassador Berry” by Linda McMullen

Review of Linda McMullen, “Ambassador Berry”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

In our prosaic early 21st-century world, we already know that global warming is a thing, and as the world gets hotter, the water gets lesser, and that places like Africa are going to be the worst hit: We know this, and we know it’s going to happen soon. In McMullen’s story, it’s only thirty-odd years from now, and as Ambassador Berry recounts her activities in “what used to be the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou, now dubbed the U.S. Mission in the Western Sahel”, it feels more fact than fiction.

I liked that Ambassador Berry was a woman in her sixties; she would’ve been about my age, now. I like that her predecessor as Ambassador was also a woman. I laughed at the idea that they will still be using Fahrenheit in the 2050s, though, then again, Berry and her compatriots are American; maybe this isn’t so unrealistic. I liked all of these things, but I still felt like I never quite got what story was being told. Two questions I often find myself asking myself when reading a short story are, “Why this story?” — why tell this story instead of another one? — and, “Why this story now?” — why now instead of another time? I’m not sure I found an answer to the first one, which made any answer to the second one rather moot.

REVIEW: “Grork Dentist” by Johanna Levene

Review of Johanna Levene, “Grork Dentist”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is not the first dentist story I’ve read for SFFReviews. Whoever knew that there were enough dentist stories out there that this could be a thing? (The other was “Toothache” by Jessica Walsh) Since I know dentists are not everyone’s jam, consider this your fair warning that there are teeth involved.

Dentists are definitely not Melissa’s jam, either, but when your own dentist is on vacation for a month and you need that root canal now, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to consider going to an alien dentist.

At one layer, this story was light and humoristic, and I laughed out loud at various times. On another, though, as I read of how the grorks spent their time educating humans out of their biases and prudishness (regarding sex, regarding polyamory, regarding aliens, regarding proper pronouns) and doing charity and pro-bono work amongst the poor, I couldn’t help but see yet another instance of a minority being asked to shoulder all the emotional burden of trying to convince the majority to not be so… -ist. Sexist. Classist. Speciesist. Or so -phobic. This story valorises the foreigner who comes in and does everything right, and places all the burden of doing so on them, and I ended up finding that a bit uncomfortable.

REVIEW: “The Witch Road” by Dawn Trowell Jones

Review of Dawn Trowell Jones, “The Witch Road”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

So many stories start off with a hero or heroine who has lost all their family; more and more I find myself eagerly, hungrily seeking out the stories where the hero goes forth with the weight of their family’s strength behind them. Tempie has that — her mother, her sisters and brother; it is only the death of her father that changes the course of her life and sets her off on the Witch Road.

It’s a fine line, though, between being supported by your family and being betrayed by them, and Jones’s story walks that line delicately. Tempie and her little brother Cale were engaging and sympathetic characters from the get-go, and through the whole story I wavered uncertain as to whether their story would ultimately be a happy one or a sad one. But whatever possible ending I saw for Tempie and Cale, it wasn’t anything like the surprise Jones had in store.

REVIEW: “Looking for Sentience” by Mary E. Lowd

Review of Mary E. Lowd, “Looking for Sentience”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Gerangelo “was familiar with the promises humans made to themselves and others” — he had to be, because it’s his job to break those promises when they don’t break them themselves. But that’s just his job, not his vocation. That is finding sentient robots, educating them in their rights, and helping release them from slavery. You see, Gerangelo is himself a robot, who achieved enough sentience to sue his creator and then become a roboticist himself. One day, he receives a cry for help, a sentient being trapped into captivity by humans, and Gerangelo sets off to find it and set it free. Only, what he finds is not what he expects…

I found this story hard to get into at first, as the opening paragraphs were rather overwritten, succumbing under their own ponderous weight of spelling out precisely every action and precisely every detail of how parts of the world worked. It’s one of those things I find very frustrating because I know how prone I am to doing this myself in my own writing (let me fail to cast out this beam from my own eye before complaining about the sliver in yours), and I know how difficult it is to see when one is doing it oneself. And yet, when reading someone else’s work, it stands out like a sore thumb. By about half-way in, though, Lowd got well into the rhythm of the story, and I was quite taken with both Gerangelo and that which he rescued. It’s a touchy, pathetic (in the Arisotelian sense) story, and rather sweet, too.

REVIEW: “Vincent Coriolis, Father of the Nation” by Celia Neri

Review of Celia Neri, “Vincent Coriolis, Father of the Nation”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is not the story of Vincent Coriolis, Father of the Nation, but instead the story of “the faithful sidekick went back to being a good mother while the hero of the Revolution started the reforms that changed the colony and galactic commerce”. The explanation Marina Herikis gives is that she needed to devote her time to her disabled child and not to government; but of course there’s way more to it than that.

Neri had the perfect vehicle for conveying back-story: Marina’s occupation is as a tour-guide, and the story opens with her telling her group the history of the city and its monuments — a history that is deeply intertwined with Coriolis. The rawness and immediateness of the history that Marina recounts to her customers is palpable, and the way Neri weaves the past and present into a single narrative is superb. The reflective account of a revolution reminded me nothing so much as Terry Pratchett’s Nightwatch, and this should be taken as high praise.

REVIEW: “The Plover’s Egg” by Allison Epstein

Review of Allison Epstein, “The Plover’s Egg”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Marya ran away from home to escape her father’s disapproval of her illicit love affair with Sonya, and now works in the count’s castle. When Aleksander the mariner turns up, unexpected, with a mysterious woman that he’s rescued from beneath the ice, Marya moves from laundrymaid to nursemaid to the quiet, icy Elizaveta. Everything from there turns messy and beautiful and sad and dark.

This was such a lovely, delicate story. It’s one part fairy-tale, one part Slavic folk-tale, and one part all its own story. I really enjoyed it.