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.

REVIEW: “The Doomed Amulet of Erum Vahl” by Ed Grabianowski

Review of Ed Grabianowski, “The Doomed Amulet of Erum Vahl”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 43-51 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Captain Jagga of the Hammer of Triel may have a brutal reputation, but it covers a soft heart — soft enough to rescue a beautiful, helpless, nubile young woman in distress when one is discovered on a deserted coast. Neri brings with her a fine black amulet — an amulet that the god Erum Vahl wants, and will stop at nothing to get. It isn’t long before Jagga is torn between her desire for Neri and her desire to keep Neri safe…

Unfortunately, this story didn’t really do it for me; I found the way that Jagga objectified Neri, viewing her primarily as a beautiful thing that she could sleep with, problematic, and Neri herself was flat and lacked agency. Towards the beginning of the story, she felt so much like a Mary Sue that I almost expected the story’s twist to be that she was the source of the evil and horror that plagued Jagga’s ship, not the god who was chasing her. But, alas, that was not the twist.

REVIEW: “Saints and Bodhisattvas” by Joyce Chng

Review of Joyce Chng, “Saints and Bodhisattvas”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 30-42 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Within the opening lines of the story, we learn that the titular saints and bodhisattvas meet at “the confluences of currents and trade routes [that] was the famed Golden Chersonese” (p. 30).

This type of story is one of my favorite types: Fantasy, yet firmly rooted in our reality. I’ll admit, I had never heard of the Golden Chersonese before, and assumed, at the outset, that Chng had made it up; only when the narrator speaks of encountering Sanskrit and Pali speakers did I wonder “what if this is real?” Off to wikipedia I went, to find out that “Golden Chersonese” is an ancient Roman name for the Malay peninsula. A few paragraphs later, distracted by the narrator’s father giving them a perahu, “rare for a girl, but I was never a girl, never a boy either” (p. 30), I was back in wikipedia reading about ships. Some people might find it distracting to constantly have to look up these things (and other people might just simply read past and not feel the need for the details!), but pausing to read up on things I’d not otherwise come across is almost as good as an informative footnote, and loyal readers of this site will know how much I love an informative footnote.

This isn’t to say the only reason to read the story is to spark wikipedia visits; even those who don’t look up every word they don’t recognise will find a story to engross and enrapture them. Highly recommended.

REVIEW: Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) edited by Catherine Lundoff

Review of Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space), (Queen of Swords Press, 2018) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When my sister and I were children, our Lego collections were strictly demarcated. She had the knights and castles, I had the pirates. While my interests have shifted from the piratical to the chivalric, I still hold a soft spot for pirates and all the wonderful stories I enacted with my ships and forbidden treasure and lost islands on my parents’ dining room table. I also am always At Home for feel-good stories that allow me to escape my daily cares and wind down at the end of the day — which basically describes every story in this anthology. Reading this collection was just good fun. There were Viking pirates, ancient Greek pirates, women pirates, queer pirates, space pirates, feminist pirates, and everything in between. The pirate prizes range from treasure to slaves to simply freedom to live and love another day. And while the basic premise of the stories were all the same (those activities which count as piratical are actually rather constrained!), the reading of the stories was in no way monotonous or repetitive. Quite the contrary — these stories are like candies, you can’t stop at just one, you have to pop an entire handful!

One of the things I enjoyed about this collection was the number of new authors it introduced me to; the only one I was familiar with in advance was Lundoff herself. As is usual, we will review each story in turn, and link the reviews back here as they are published:

If there is one negative note that I would raise, it is that many of the stories ended right when I felt like they were just getting started; they seemed episodic rather than full and complete. Such stories always made me a little disappointed, because they ended and left me wanting more.

REVIEW: “Cracks” by Xen

Review of Xen, “Cracks”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 113-154 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’ll admit, I started this story, struggled some ways into it, quit, and moved on to the next one in the anthology, promising myself to revisit it soon. “Soon” ended up being more than a month later, after I’d finished all the other stories, and had only this one left to review.

The second go at it went better, because it was more familiar; I wasn’t constantly double-checking who was who, or trying to compile all the little details of world-building that I was being fed, sometimes too obliquely to really understand how they fit together. But I still struggled; the process of reading it was simply a lot of work and I never felt like I was getting close to the characters. It’s also long — one of the longest, if not the longest in the anthology — and ended up taking me two nights to get through. Finally, by about 3/4 of the way in, I felt like I’d slipped into the rhythm of it, and knew enough of the background/history to be able to follow what was happening.

Ordinarily, it’s not a story I would have finished, but I did, and the ending rewarded my persistence. It has the sort of sweet, hopeful ending that marks out so many of the stories in this anthology, and in the 2017 edition of the same. That sort of happiness in the face of bleak despair is worth reading for.

REVIEW: “A Bouquet of Wonder and Marvel” by Sean Eads

Review of Sean Eads, “A Bouquet of Wonder and Marvel”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 267-283 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Marvels are constructed — engineered — while wonders happen naturally (p. 270).

So says the Irishman visiting Leadville, CO, to Benson, desperate to find anyone who can help out him and his employer against everything that’s going wrong in Georgetown. And who is the Irishman who’s willing to take Benson’s money when no one else will? Why, Oscar Wilde himself!

This is a queer story, in the very most old-fashioned sense of “queer”. At times it is a gunslinging romp; at other times, it is a commentary on magic vs. science; while at still others it turns almost didactic.

But for all it’s uncertainty as to what type of story it was, the tale makes a good ending, not only to the anthology but to the Wilde Stories series. Oscar Wilde will always be the patron saint of gay literature, and having lent his name to the series for a decade, it’s only fair that he got a starring role in the final story.

(Originally published in Georgetown Haunts and Mysteries, 2017).