REVIEW: “Increasing Police Visibility” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Increasing Police Visibility”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 111-115 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Policing.

In this story, Takács plays on the different ways “alien” can be interpreted in a way that chills this immigrant’s heart. Although first published in 2015, the story holds even more resonance now, given the increasing hatred and xenopobia of countries like the USA and the UK.

(Originally published in Lightspeed June 2015.)

REVIEW: “Forestspirit, Forestspirit” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Forestspirit, Forestspirit”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 53-64 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: racism, warfare.

The first thing I noticed about this story (since I had to scroll to the end to find the ending page) was it has notes! Regular readers of this blog know my love of an informative footnote (I’ll even forgive that these were endnotes rather than footnotes). They simple note that the story was inspired by two arXiv papers on neural networks, which made me super excited to read the story itself.

You might think, given the notes, that this is a science fiction story, and perhaps it is that, but it’s also a ghost story. You might also think, given the title, that the ghost in the story is the titular Forestspirit, and perhaps it is that, but they are not the only ghost, the only unseen, incorporeal mechanism that is wreaking havoc on those who have been left behind living after the great human-alien war.

(If you want to know more about how bad neural nets can be at classification tasks, check out Janelle C Shane on twitter, who pranked her neural nets with sheep.)

(First appeared in Clarkesworld 105, 2015).

REVIEW: “This Shall Serve as a Demarcation” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “This Shall Serve as a Demarcation”, in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 15-23 — Purchase hereReviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: warfare, injury, colonialism, suicide, blood.

In the opening story of the anthology, we are dumped immediately into a chaotic world of struggle between land settlements and sea settlements. Î-surun, the narrator, is in the captivity? care? it’s not clear of Enhyoron, and they themself are like a microcosmic reflection of the external struggle between land and sea. Just as land converts to sea and sea converts to land, so has the narrator’s own body been first opened at the veins and filled with metal, and then had that metal removed, carefully, by Enhyoron.

This is a story of the horrors of colonialisation, patriotism and a desire to serve, and coercion, but also a story of redemption, escape, and how to make decisions.

(Originally published in Glittership no. 3, 2015).

REVIEW: The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This debut short story collection by Bogi Takács contains twenty-three stories (what a wealth!). Most of the stories included here have previous appeared in various other journals and anthologies. I know some people complain about “double-dipping”, but in my mind, this is precisely what short story collections are about: Bringing together the oeuvre of an author that had been previously disparately scattered, often inaccessibly a few years after publication, into a single accessible source.

If I were to identify an overarching thread or theme that runs through the stories, it is — sadly — not octopuses but rather a paradoxical lack of care for gender entwined with a deep, abiding care for gender. Many of the stories are in 1st person POV, and we can go an entire story without learning the narrator’s name or gender or anything else; but in others, trans and nonbinary characters are strongly represented, in a wonderfully positive and affirming light. I really appreciated how Takács was able to use the medium of fiction as a means to explore both the importance of gender but also how very unimportant it can be.

I also appreciated very much how many of the SF stories were based in actual science, complete with footnotes at the end of the story for further research or to pieces that formed Takács’s inspiration. The very best of SF fiction is, in my opinion, indistinguishable from fact, and I wish more authors would cite their sources in the way that Takács does!

As is usual, we’ll review each of the stories individually, and link the reviews here when published:

Detailed content notes for the stories are available — but at the end of the collection, which puts the onus on the reader to seek out the warnings to doublecheck that each story will not be problematic. (As opposed to when the notes are either collected and presented before the stories, or when each story is accompanied by its own note.) Some of the warnings cut across stories: There are quite a lot that are labelled with ‘body horror’. I will label each story review with the content warnings from the book.

Though I’ve been a follower of Takács on twitter for awhile now, this was my first exposure to their fiction. It’s also the first time I’ve actually reached out to request an ARC of a book, and doing so all I could think — and all I could think while reading and reviewing the stories in the anthology — was I hope I do them justice. I sometimes marvel at the fact that I get to live in an age when we have #ownvoices books representing so many different experiences. We are privileged to have these authors and their stories, and I’m privileged to read them. You should read them too!

REVIEW: “The Witch in the Woods Falls in Love a Third Time” by Kate Lechler

Review of Kate Lechler, “The Witch in the Woods Falls in Love a Third Time”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 21-23 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of my favorite fairy tales is the tale of the two sisters, the one cursed by a witch so that toads and frogspawn fell out of her mouth whenever she spoke, the other blessed by the same witch so that jewels and gold fell out of her mouth whenever she spoke. Lechler’s story is a completely different telling of this story, a short but sweet — but at the same time ugly and harsh — story of a witch and the two girls she loved.

REVIEW: “An Astronaut Lights a Candle” by Megan Neumann

Review of Megan Neumann, “An Astronaut Lights a Candle”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The most curious and intriguing aspect of this story, for two dozen or so of paragraphs, is the title — without the information that the character lighting the candle is an astronaut, we would never know from the narration itself. What we know from the start is that Siobhan, the narrator, is the one who must put out the candle — but is she the one who lights it?

Who lights it, who the astronaut is, why Siobhan must douse the candle, all these questions are wrapped up in a story of cancer, time travel, and love, a solid, engaging story.

REVIEW: “Wired” by Tianna Ebnet

Review of Tianna Ebnet, “Wired”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

In this story, people are hired to become “the Wired”, a short-term lucrative job in which they give up their body and autonomy to become cogs in a giant human-AI machine, keeping systems running efficiently, purifying and filtering air, running security interference.

The narrator of the story tells his experiences in the second-person — you, you, you — a narrative choice I usually dislike. (I don’t like people telling me what to do and feel, or do feel.) But here the “you” doesn’t feel directed at the reader; it feels more like a way of one person explaining how radically othered this portion of their life feels — there is continuity of something between Before and After becoming one of the Wired, but it’s certainly not bodily continuity, and it’s not entirely mental/personal continuity either. So the choice for the narrator to tell their own story with “you” rather than “I” serves to emphasise this split, as if the narrator is telling the story to himself, in a way which felt both realistic and sympathetic. The story only got stronger and stronger as it went on, and this one definitely wins ‘best in issue’ from me.