REVIEW: “Time and Space” by Laine Perez

Review of Lane Perez, “Time and Space”, Luna Station Quarterly 34 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story starts off with a contradiction:

When Mira sees the library for the first time, it is exactly as she remembers it.

How can one remember what one has never seen before? But such contradictions are to be expected in a story where one character can see the future.

For all that this is a story about pushing the boundaries of time and space, this isn’t SF. Rather, it has a quiet, almost fairy-tale like quality, and what is at the forefront is Mira and Cy and how they navigate a relationship together: Not just how to fit together when one person sees the future and the other moves unexpectedly through space, but how to build a life within those confines that doesn’t end up feeling utterly fatalistic. The lack of free will or free choice that is apparently entailed by foreknowledge of the future — a problem that has been vexing not only science fiction authors but philosophers for millenia — is deftly handled here by Perez in this satisfying story.

REVIEW: “The Thing in the Wall Wants Your Small Change” by Virginia M. Mohlere

Review of Virginia M. Mohlere, “The Thing in the Wall Wants Your Small Change”, Luna Station Quarterly 34 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I loved the title of this one, because I didn’t know whether to expect horror, humor, or Doctor Who.

What I got was a story of family ties and family love, and the ways in which our lives pull us in two, and which a third of the way through took a sideways turn that left me grinning from ear to ear, and another third later left me gaping speechless at how much power a single act — to take the word of a woman seriously and act on it, no questions asked — can have to make a reader want to cry. A lot of the story made me want to cry.

Read it. It’s sad and good and happy all at once.

REVIEW: “Midsummer Night’s Heist” by Commando Jugendstil and Tales from the EV Studio

Review of Commando Jugendstil and Tales from the EV Studio, “Midsummer Night’s Heist”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 117-140 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This story is jointly written by not one but two writer’s collectives — Commando Jugendstil is “a real-life small collective of Italian solarpunk creators” and Tales from the EV Studio is “a posse of emigrant Italian writers who specialise in historical fantasy”. The two come together to collaborate on a story that blurs the lines between fact and fiction, as the main characters are Commando Jugendstil themselves. As each member is introduced — Loopy, Sparky, Dotty, Sprouty, Stabby, Webby, Leccy — it’s not clear how much of this is made-up and how much of this is autobiographical, leaving the reader to decide. I opted to read the story as closer to fact than fiction, and was well-rewarded in doing so, but I believe it would’ve been just as rewarding to read it the other way: It’s a fabulous heist story that hit all my buttons. I loved it.

REVIEW: “A Field of Sapphires and Sunshine” by Jaymee Goh

Review of Jaymee Goh, “A Field of Sapphires and sunshine”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 105-116 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and I suppose the relevant adage for a short story is that you shouldn’t judge it by its title. But I’m too avid a follower of Your YA Fantasy Series on twitter for the title of this one not to make me smirk (in fact, the day I wrote this review, the most recent tweet suggested the title A Bungalow of Sapphires and Earthquakes).

Snark and smirks aside, parts of the story I really enjoyed, with its eclectic mix of steampunk elements, with their slight sense of antiquation, and rather more traditional futuristic sci fi. On the one hand, there’s almost-entirely-electronically-conducted business, while on the other hand there are airships that take a week to cross the Pacific and are kitted out with suraus for Muslim passengers, and which farm their own fuel so that they never need touch the ground. Parts of the story, I found a bit didactic — there was a lot of “history” being rehearsed in a way that felt rather dry and detached, backstory being added for the sake of backstory rather than for the sake of the actual story, and we are informed rather bluntly that Alina’s mother “knew she was bisexual, of course”. In the end, I felt the story was a little let down by the delivery — and the title ended up not having that much to do with the story itself.

REVIEW: “Women of White Water” by Helen Kenwright

Review of Helen Kenwright, “Women of White Water”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 235-249 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This story ticks one of my buttons right from the start: Berta, the heroine, is in her fifties and “she knew a great many things. It was her job, after all” (p. 235). I am constantly looking for stories that give me models for how to be the heroine in my own future life, and Berta from the start shapes up to be a good one. But this is speculative fiction, not autobiography, and what Berta knows is something more than books and facts; her knowledge comes from her gifts, gifts that other people fear.

Kenwright’s story explores head-on a dimension of mind-reading which is often addressed only sideways and slantways: The notion of consent. When you Know everyone’s inner secrets, how do you navigate your life so as to intrude as little as possible? Berta has created a set of rules that she follows, that dictate when she allows herself to act upon the information she has gleaned without permission, and this is part of the craft that she tries to teach her apprentice, Andrea: The difference between knowledge and wisdom.

With that as the focus of the story, everything else fades into the background. It is not clear how Berta and Andrea are able to know things the way they do, whether this is innate or learned; the specifics of place and time are left vague; we are introduced to a whole panoply of people with no more than a name and a detail or two; even the story itself is told in a series of short scenes, which the reader must stitch together herself. In some stories, this might feel irritatingly lacking; in this story, however, I thought it provided an excellent framework for exploring these questions.

REVIEW: “Iron Aria” by A. Merc Rustad

Review of A. Merc Rustad, “Iron Aria”, Podcastle: 518 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

A fantasy of ecological catastrophe and the need for skills and approaches outside the default to heal the land. Kyru has a talent for speaking with metals. He might have spent his life simply as an excellent blacksmith, except for the part where flaws in a dam threaten to destroy his entire community when it fails and no one else can sense the looming peril the way he can. Both the problem and its solution are conveyed in the impressionistic experiences of the protagonist–although told in the third person, it has a very first-person feel to the point of view. I loved the imaginative worldbuilding and poetic language used to describe it.

This next bit is more of a meta-commentary on storytelling within our particular present moment and is only slightly relevant to the content of the story. There’s another entire layer to this work, separate from the functional man-against-nature plot, involving non-default identities and negotiating how to exist in a world not designed for you.

Two central characters are trans and their recognition of each other’s experience is a key part of their bond. The protagonist is also neuro-atypical, which is tied in with–though not equated with–his unusual metal-sensing/healing skills. The ways in which these aspects are integrated into the story point up some of the awkwardness of our current balance point with regard to representing non-default identities in fiction. We aren’t yet at a stage where representation can be successful simply by casual and neutral inclusion because–to many observers–that approach can feel a bit too similar to erasure. It’s perfectly possible to write a story featuring a trans character where their transness is never explicitly addressed because it’s not relevant to the plot, but at our current moment in the cultural timeline, it’s hard to count that as representation.

All of this is to say that, within the context of the storytelling, it felt to me that the communication of both trans identity and neuro-atypicality were over-telegraphed within the story and that the over-telegraphing interrupted the flow of the storyline. But at the same time, I recognize that dialing those narrative aspects back to a level that wouldn’t have felt overdone would have made it possible (perhaps even likely) for a majority of readers/listeners to miss them entirely. I see what the author is trying to do, and I appreciate the approach, and at the same time I would have loved to see how this story could be told in a context where the potential presence of those aspects of character identity could be more taken for granted rather than needing to be fronted in the way they were here.

Originally published in Fireside Fiction.

REVIEW: “Caught Root” by Julia K. Patt

Review of Julia K. Patt, “Caught Root”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 1-7 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

What took my breath away from the very first paragraphs was the depth of hope in this story. The future that both Hillside and New-Ur occupy is quite a bit different from the present we are currently in, but true to the anthology’s self-description of “optimistic science fiction”, Dr. Orkney of Hillside and Dr. Khadir of New-Ur meet not as antagonists but “for an exchange of ideas”, in hopes that each settlement can benefit the other. Every single thing about how Orkney and Khadir meet, grow to trust each other, and forge a future together is hopeful, and reading this story made me happy.

There was one strange aspect about reading it, though. The story is narrated in the first-person, and I, somewhat surprisingly for my usual reading habits, defaulted to reading the narrator as being a woman. It wasn’t until the second page when Dr. Orkney’s given name is mentioned that I was jarred from this default; and even then, only when his name or some other explicit reference was made was I reminded that he was a man. On the one hand, it sort of felt like a trick might have been missed, that the story could only have been made stronger by the presence of a female scientist as the lead. On the other hand, without Ewan being who he was, the sweet romance that developed would not have been the same. I would like to complain about the fact that I couldn’t have both, but it’s churlish to expect authors to perform contradictions, so I will be satisfied with being contented with how the story was written.