REVIEW: “Wireless” by Alex Acks

Review of Alex Acks, “Wireless”, in Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures (Queen of Swords Press, 2019): 131-184 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I feel like I should have written this review much faster than I ended up writing it (from start to finish, over a month!) but that’s because this story turned out to be one that I read in bits and pieces rather than devouring in one go — not because it was difficult, or boring, or any other negative trait, but because it was, strangely, comforting. I kept a copy of it on my phone, and read it a few pages at a time, every few days, when I needed something solid yet positive. I’m not sure I’ve ever consumed a story so slowly and enjoyed it so much.

In true steampunk fashion, “Wireless” had a lot more wild train chases than I ordinarily require for perfect enjoyment of a story — I may have glossed over one or two details of the exploits — but the politics surrounding the trains added a depth to the story and the world-building that I enjoyed. But what did I love best about this? The deep, steadfast, true, and abiding friendship and love between Ramos and Simms. They know each other intimately well, they are the perfect foibles for each other, and it’s just so refreshing to have such a strong relationship between two characters without any sexual tension encroaching upon it. Moar relationships like this, plz kthnx. Wrap them up with a bunch more well-rounded figures with interesting backstories and a twist on modern technologies that was quite clever and inspired, and you get something that is just a very good story.

REVIEW: “Omega Star: Genesis” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “Omega Star: Genesis”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 49-63 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Rape (albeit off-page).

There’s a lot of science fiction out there rooted in the recognition that things are not going well for the human race on our current planet, and if we hope to survive, we’re going to have to go elsewhere (because, of course, going elsewhere is easier, and more reasonable than trying to fix the mess we’ve made here…) Captain Alex Pulsar is doing her best to live up her name, “defender of mankind”, and is piloting a ship across the cosmos to find a new home. The first leg is a 10-year journey, and a lot can happen on a spaceship in 10 years.

I found this story, the first of Townsend’s “space dreams”, more successful than the fairy tale retellings. There was a liveliness to the language and a good pacing. I was interested in Alex and her history ()and her future) from the first page, and the other characters who were introduced were done so in an engaging and sympathetic way. These plusses were enough to make up for a few inconsistencies and plot holes that I couldn’t make sense of (if the people on the ship were tested weekly for disease, how did it take two weeks to notice that someone had died? how could a ship like tis not have an up-to-date manifest of all workers and passengers?). Overall, recommended.

REVIEW: “The Sea and the Stars” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “The Sea and the Stars”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 11-16 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“The Sea and the Stars” is the classic fairy tale: The poor/lonesome/ugly peasant girl/princess/mermaid is given a wish (or three) and wishes for her heart’s desire — and the wish is granted. Under the sea, the merpeople are celebrating the spring equinox. All around Moonray, everyone is having fun and enjoying themselves, including her friends Shell and Lily, while Moonray herself is stuck feeling like a third wheel and overwhelmed by her introversion. But everything is about to change for her when she wishes upon a falling star…

What I enjoyed about this story was that while it followed the very classic fairy-tale set-up and structure, it incorporated into it unexpected and unusual aspects. I did sometimes feel a bit like I was drowning in the lush, detailed description, but I’ve come to recognise that this is a fairly idiosyncratic complaint: I tend to skip over highly descriptive prose in order to get to the actual movement of the story, so when a piece has a high descriptive prose:actual story ratio, it means I tend to zone out more than I would like. For those who don’t mind a bit of purple prose, this story will probably appeal to you!

REVIEW: “The Plover’s Egg” by Allison Epstein

Review of Allison Epstein, “The Plover’s Egg”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Marya ran away from home to escape her father’s disapproval of her illicit love affair with Sonya, and now works in the count’s castle. When Aleksander the mariner turns up, unexpected, with a mysterious woman that he’s rescued from beneath the ice, Marya moves from laundrymaid to nursemaid to the quiet, icy Elizaveta. Everything from there turns messy and beautiful and sad and dark.

This was such a lovely, delicate story. It’s one part fairy-tale, one part Slavic folk-tale, and one part all its own story. I really enjoyed it.

REVIEW: “Into Nothingness” by T. D. Walker

Review of T. D. Walker, “Into Nothingness”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

My favorite type of science fiction is the sort where it hits close enough to home to be believable. If someone had told me the premise of this story in advance of reading it, I probably would’ve scoffed and said “not really my type”; but the way that Walker drew me in and fed me details, one at a time and not too quickly, I felt like I believed it at every step. So in case you’re like me, I won’t tell you the premise of the story so as not to ruin it for you.

The way the initial premise of the story was developed would alone have won my approval; but the story was further improved by a quadripartite structure that allowed me to see each of the characters from a different perspective. First, we hear Madison’s side of the story, of what happened after her twin sister Mia was in a horrible car accident. Then it is Mia’s turn to give us a lens both into the aftermath of the accident and into their sisterly relation. In the final two parts of the story, it is two outside perspectives that view the sisters — two more versions of what happened. I loved the way the four parts worked together, and the distinctive voices that were present in each.

REVIEW: “Do Shut Up, Mister Simms” by Alex Acks

Review of Alex Acks, “Do Shut Up, Mister Simms”, in Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures (Queen of Swords Press, 2019): 87-130 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

In “Blood at Elk Creek,” we’re introduced to Mr. Simms as Captain Ramos’s right-hand man, the voice of sanity to her wild ways, whom she very specifically left behind when she headed north to the Black Hills. While not physically present, he still managed to have

In the present story, Mr. Simms takes center stage. His one instruction from Captain Ramos, before she headed north, was Don’t do anything silly.

The very idea. Simms didn’t do silly things, ever. The whole point of his existence, it often felt like, was to stand by in horrified fascination as Captain Ramos did every silly thing her more cracked mental faculties could invent, as if natural law demanded the presence of a witness at all times (p. 88)

Neither these instructions, nor Mr. Simms’ natural predisposition to not being silly, though, prevent him from striking a bargain with Deliah Nimowitz — she’d help him spring one of his men from prison, he’d scrub up clean and attend a ball as her plus one — both of these, from a certain point of view, very silly things.

I think I enjoyed this story even more than the first one; Mr. Simms is a charming, engaging character, and Acks did a stellar job of introducing his backstory and history with references to the previous set of Ramos stories (I’m presuming; not having read them myself yet) without getting bogged down in oversharing. The result was a character far more three-dimensional and complex than you usually get in a novella.

And Deliah is deliciously amusing. I think pretty much anyone could read this story, not knowing anything of either Captain Ramos or Mr. Simms, and enjoy Deliah.

(Originally published in Sausages, Steam, and the Bad Thing, 2015.)

REVIEW: Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures by Alex Acks

Review of Alex Acks, Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures, (Queen of Swords Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection of three novellettes is the second book of stories of the pirate captain Marta Ramos. Captain Ramos first showed up in Acks’ Murder on the Titania and Other Steam-Powered Adventures, but the author’s introduction to the present collection assured me that I needn’t have read Murder before reading Wireless. What is necessary is to read the three in this anthology in order, as they are not disconnected stories that happen to center the same character, but rather closely linked stories interlocking into a single arc. Following that, we will review each of the stories in order, linking the review back here once they’re published:

I haven’t read that much steampunk, and almost none set in the American west, so I approached this collection of stories eagerly for that. Even if you don’t ordinarily seek out steampunk stories, you’ll still find something to enjoy in these rollicking tales!