REVIEW: “How Lady Nightmare Stole Captain Alpha’s Girlfriend” by Kristen Brand

Review of Kristen Brand, “How Lady Nightmare Stole Captain Alpha’s Girlfriend”, Luna Station Quarterly 29 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I love a good title, and this is a great title.

From such a title, one might think that the feature characters would be Lady Nightmare and Captain Alpha. But instead, it’s the unnamed girlfriend (who gets her name, Sara, in the first sentence of the story) that is the center of things. The tone that the narration takes, through a close 3rd person POV focused on Sara, is chatty and accessible, even when Sara is in the midst of experiences few readers can relate to (how many people have been taken hostage not once, but twice? And by a supervillain?). I found myself grinning intermittently (how can you not grin at sentences like “If Sara had known someone would be breaking into her home today, she would have cleaned”?) and rooting for Sara from the get-go. It didn’t take very long into the story before I’d formed a hope of how the rest of it would go, and Brand did not disappoint: I got exactly the happy ending I wanted. This was one of the most enjoyable, laugh-out-loud-able stories I’ve read recently, and I’m so glad I went back into the LSQ archives and found it.

REVIEW: “Rose Briar, Briar Rose” by Miranda Schmidt

Review of Miranda Schmidt, “Rose Briar, Briar Rose”, Luna Station Quarterly 29 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I love fairy tale retellings, especially when the retelling tells a part of the story that the traditional tale omits. The inspiration for Schmidt’s story is Sleeping Beauty, but it is the story of what happened in a period often glossed over — after she fell asleep and before she was awakened. How many princes came and kissed an unconsenting princess before one finally woke her up? Well, in this story, it wasn’t a prince at all that woke her, but woman who loves the princess for her thorns, and not in spite of them.

An unusual twist on a usual tale, I enjoyed Schmidt’s interpretation of Sleeping Beauty very much.

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: “Lovely Decisions” by Jessica Walsh

Review of Jessica Walsh, “Lovely Decisions”, in Little Creepers (Sewn Together Reflections, LLC, 2018): 95-98 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Summary in one sentence: In a setting that could be either post-apocalyptic or merely futuristic (one sometimes looks at the world’s current trajectory and wonders if there’s any difference), Ash and her lover Rebecca are forced to come to terms with the consequences of decisions that neither of them really wanted to make.

I found this story raised more questions than it answered; it felt lacking in details needed to help me understand the importance of the situation that Ash and Rebecca found them in. As a result, I never quite felt like I was following the conversation properly. This was particularly bothersome in the opening paragraphs when I was unable to tell whether the topic of their conversation was rape, or not — something pretty important to determine so that I can put appropriate content notes on reviews! In this case, I think the answer is “not rape”, but the story still involves a degree of sexual violence that some might wish to stay away from.

REVIEW: “The Mare of the Meuse” by Janna Layton

Review of Janna Layton, “The Mare of the Meuse”, Luna Station Quarterly 37 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The first third of this story is straight-up historical fiction, tracing the lives of two young men caught up in the French Revolution, with little speculative about it (it is, however, gorgeously, shamelessly queer!). About a third of the way in, though, René and Armand pause in a field and encounter the titular mare, who is not at all what she seems.

The threads of René, Armand, and the mare weave together throughout the French countryside, as the two men seek to find a way to Armand’s mother’s village, and thence to Germany and safety and security away from the blood of revolution. No path can be straight or easy where the Mare of Meuse travels, but when Armand and René’s hopes are dashed, she is there to find a new way into the future for them.

This was a lovely and emotional story.

REVIEW: “Rib of Man” by Geonn Cannon

Review of Geonn Cannon, “Rib of Man”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 90-101 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Henriette Talmadge captains the Rib of Man, a former slave trader ship that she captured and made her own. It’s a suitable name for a ship that is captained by a woman and whose crew contains many other women. On the one hand, the rib of man from which woman was created (according to one story, at least), is

curved and sharp, like a sword. A man’s rib is a weapon, crafted while he lay naked and exposed…The women standing before you are descendants of that brutal moment. We are weapons who have been taught we are weak, fragile, helpless. The weaker sex (p. 93)

But on the other hand,

ribs are also protection: a shield that is always with you, protecting your most vital organ, your heart (p. 100)

Henriette Talmadge captains her ship as both a weapon and a shield. While some pirates prefer to ransack for treasure, she’s happy to capture slave ships and free the slaves, for no profit of her own. But sometimes profit comes in unexpected quarters, as happens when the Rib of Man encounters the Rebecca and comes away with a new navigator. Genevalisse knows not only how to pilot the ship safely through treacherous waters, but she also know navigate the careful passageways into Henriette’s heart.

REVIEW: “Serpent’s Tail” by Mharie West

Review of Mharie West, “Serpent’s Tale”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 52-64 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Looking for a story about polyamorous Viking pirates with strong familial bonds and a disabled MC? Look no further, have I got the story for you!!

I loved this story; from the description given above, you might thinking cynically to yourself “looks like someone was playing ‘diversity bingo'”, but you would be totally wrong to do so. Yes, the cast of characters is more diverse than in your usual pirate story, but each of the characters is so beautifully crafted, and their interactions with each other are so real. Each facet is integral to the story, and yet none of these aspects (except perhaps Thorgest and Makarios’s relationship being treated as illicit) is a “plot point”. Authors take note: This is how you do diversity well. If this story is representative of West’s other writing, then I’m definitely going to have to find more stories by her.