REVIEW: “Minor Mortalities” by EJ Sidle

Review of EJ Sidle, “Minor Mortalities”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

As the opening line of this story tells us, “Theo Everett is not a hitman”. His quarry, Alec Whitemore, is a werewolf — and having a panic attack.

I liked the way the story opened, and the way Theo conscientiously helped Alec through his anxiety. But then Sidle introduced the “wolves imprint on their soul mates” trope, and…I have to admit, I kind of lost interest.

REVIEW: “Moonlight Plastics” by Rachel Brittain

Review of Rachel Brittain, “Moonlight Plastics”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I found this story a little too in the mind of the MC, Sana — there was a lot of reflection and recrimination and meta content that would’ve made sense if I were properly situated in Sana’s world, but unfortunately, I wasn’t. So I had a hard time putting together all the pieces to figure out who she was and what she was doing, and why it mattered.

I also struggled with the abrupt shift in tone: It started off as a commentary on our modern-day tendency to flood the ocean with plastics, and then suddenly it jumped left and became a mermaid romance.

All in all, not the story for me.

REVIEW: “The White Place” by Dana Berube

Review of Dana Berube, “The White Place”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Berube’s story drew me in right from the opening paragraph. I felt the cold of the snow, felt Ti’s hunger, want to know more of how he ended up in Berron’s bed, who the Ordermen were and what sort of church law they maintained. It was the perfect balance of engaging characters, poignant description, and a heart-breakingly sweet and heart-breakingly sad plot that I enjoyed all the way through to the end.

REVIEW: “Depth and Meaning” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Review of Jennifer Lee Rossman, “Depth and Meaning”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Rossman’s stories appear in LSQ not infrequently — but after a couple of years of reading and reviewing LSQ stories, seeing her name attached to one of them is guaranteed to make my ears perk up, as her stories are pretty reliably good ones.

This present story is the story of Emi, a pictomancer like many others in her town, but unlike them, her paintings don’t take on the same magical life as theirs, the potential once seen in her (“People used to tell me I’d be an elder by the time I was twenty.”) trapped and inaccessible.

No one, least of all Emi, talks about what happened to make her this way. But even before she finally articulates it to her sister, it’s easy for reader to fill in the gaps, at least for anyone who has experienced how depression can prevent you from exercising your creative outlets.

That being said, I wasn’t especially keen on the way depression was treated in this story. Dex, Emi’s sister, tells her that it’s a good thing she’s depressed, that suffering is what gives art depth and meaning. Emi’s friend Ronaldo warns her against taking medication for it. Parts of the story felt heavy-handed and preachy at parts, and I’m not sure I liked the message.

REVIEW: “The Honey of the World and the Queen of Crows” by Dimitra Nikolaidou

Review of Dimitra Nikolaidou, “The Honey of the World and the Queen of Crows”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 304 (May 21, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Ever hear the one about the nun and the soldier who enter a bar and can’t see their reflection, or that of the bartender, in the mirror on the opposite wall? Neither had I until I read this wonderful story. Magdalene is the nun and Leandros the soldier. He and a fellow soldier he loves (Yiorgos) have just suffered mortal wounds in battle and now Leandros finds himself on what Magdalene describes as “the border.” While they sit there, drinking honeyed raqi (him) and whiskey (her), Magdalene offers him a chance to live again and escape the war with Yiorgos. Leandros can’t help thinking of the offer as a bargain with the Devil. To convince him otherwise, the nun magically stops time and tells him the very unnunlike story of her life and death and the price she paid for the opportunity to tell it to him. It’s a remarkable story, told in a compelling narrative voice, marred only slightly by the somewhat jarring, though ultimately satisfying, point-of-view shift toward the end.  

REVIEW: “Fox Red, Life Red, Teeth Like Snow” By Devin Miller

Review of Devin Miller, “Fox Red, Life Red, Teeth Like Snow”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 303, May 7, 2020: listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

In this brief but interesting story, a changetroll named Hryggda is returning home to her wives shortly before dawn with a human baby she secretly “traded” a changeling-babe for. Along the way she meets a wolf hungry for more than animal prey. Somehow, “wolves have been hunting the sun since her autumn waning, but she has escaped, hidden herself in a den to sleep until spring like a bear. And now, it seems, the forest’s hunters aim to eat the moon.” Hryggda is determined to protect the moon, much as the moon protects her during her late night excursions. She is, however, hampered by her even greater need to protect the newborn she carries. 

I won’t tell you what happens, but I will say that the story ends too quickly and too conveniently for my taste. It would have benefited from a deeper examination of the lives of the changetrolls and the world they inhabit.  

REVIEW: “Who Goes Against a Waste of Waters” by Eleanna Castroianni

Review of Eleanna Castroianni, “Who Goes Against a Waste of Waters”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 302 (April 23, 2020): Listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

On the surface, this story portrays the struggle of the titular narrator and her brother to survive while living on their own in a dead giant’s skull in a graveyard located in a war zone. The kids are barely hanging on. Their parents, without explanation, have long ago departed, “headed eastward, to the Deep Night. No one fully alive knows what lies there.” It’s a brief, strange, dream-like story which, toward the end, seems to hint at delusion. Regardless, the story has an ominous, rather nightmarish quality. It’s certainly not a fun piece, but it’s worth reading. 

REVIEW: “Never a Butterfly, Nor a Moth With Moon-Painted Wings” by Aimee Ogden

Review of Aimee Ogden, “Never a Butterfly, Nor a Moth with Moon-Painted Wings”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue 300 (March 26, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

In an earlier review, I said that C.C. Finlay’s “The Hummingbird Temple” might be the best story in this special, 300th issue of BCS. Perhaps it is, but this story is at least a close second. It is told in the form of a never-sent letter, written in code, recalling the life of a mother, Shemi, and the hopes and fears she had—and still has—for her much-loved daughter, Oya. The story begins with an account of how Shemi and her people, wartime refugees, were driven out of their land and forced to settle in a matriarchal, but decidedly puritanical society. There, Shemi’s People of the Butterfly are seen as second-class citizens, at best.  

Interesting though this part of the story is, however, it pales before the account of how Shemi came to accept her daughter for the person she is, something “new and strange and wonderful,” rather than the person Shemi once hoped Oya would become. But it’s not just the story itself that delights. Ogden’s language is beautifully poetic. At one point, for example, she describes her then unborn daughter as “a secret moon riding high in my belly.” At another, Ogden offers a convincing explanation for why Butterflies prefer one-night stands. If that doesn’t get you to read the story, I don’t know what will. 

REVIEW: “To Balance the Weight of Khalem” by R.B. Lemberg

Review of R.B. Lemberg, “To Balance the Weight of Khalem”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 300 (March 26, 2020): read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Belezal—the name the narrator bestows upon themselves in the course of the story—is a student refugee on the strange world of Khalem, “a carven globe of gold floating in the sky, tethered to the ground with ancient linked chains.” They and their family had been allowed to enter Khalem only because “the government needed more people to balance the weight of the city on its chains.” Balance with their bodies, in other words.  

One evening, Belezal unwittingly discovers “a sidewise market” similar to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, but more fantastic. There he is given a magic onion and begins a journey during which he encounters many strange places and people, including Nayra, the woman who cooks, and most importantly, The Maid of Murur. This is a lovely, poetic story of people adrift and largely unwelcome but who are nevertheless determined to find a place for themselves. 

REVIEW: “Only the Messenger” by Emily C. Skaftun

Review of Emily C. Skaftun, “Only the Messenger”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue 299 (March 12, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

World weary, perhaps even universe weary, is one way to describe Astrill, the first-person narrator of Skaftun’s excellent story. More specifically, Astrill is chief engineer on a starship carrying illegal cargo. They have been reincarnated so many times, in so many forms—mammalian, reptilian, avian, etc.–and in so many different corners of the universe, that they have begun to feel life is pointless and love forever disappointing. Then they hear a knock on the porthole outside their cabin. It’s Ennesta, a cute, furry-looking, seemingly cat-like creature whose true nature is one of the story’s major plot points and the source of a profound moral dilemma for Astrill.  

My one problem with this story is its slow start. Had I been reading solely for pleasure, as opposed to the somewhat different responsibilities of a reviewer, I might have put it down without finishing. I’m glad I didn’t, since within two or three epub pages, Skaftun’s story becomes much more interesting.