REVIEW: “Nora’s Potion Jar” by Emilee Martell

Review of Emilee Martell, “Nora’s Potion Jar”, Luna Station Quarterly 40 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The titular potion-maker Nora is six years old, living with her two dads, mixing potions to make the sunflowers tell her the truth or to lend some extra bravery to an abused and neglected cat. The trials and tribulations of a six year old are just as big and important as the ones adults face, and Nora must use all her cleverness and skill to face them.

I can often be found on twitter longing for more cosy short SFF — stories about extraordinary people doing ordinary and extraordinary things and being happy. To anyone else who wants the same, I can happily recommend Martell’s story.

REVIEW: “Make This Water No Deeper” by Blake Jessop

Review of Blake Jessop, “Make This Water No Deeper” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 257-274 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The setting of this story is the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, which I enjoyed reading up on before getting mired in the story itself; having some knowledge of the dam’s history and strategic importance helped me appreciate the role that it played in the story. I enjoyed the way Jessop wove impossible creatures — “there are no such things as girls who live forever and drown unfaithful men” // “there are no such things as women engineers, either” (p. 264) — in his story, and the way in which Yulia and Maritchka came alive in each other’s presence.

REVIEW: “A Princess, a Spy, and a Dwarf Walk Into a Bar Full of Nazis” by Patrick Bollivar

Review of Patrick Bollivar, “A Princess, a Spy, and a Dwarf Walked Into a Bar Full of Nazis” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 184-200 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Casual ableism, homophobia. And more Nazis.

I’m not entirely sure I needed back-to-back Nazis stories. Look, I get that there is a certain power in stories which cast them as the villains which they are and which show different ways that they can be overcome and defeated. But there is also something to be said for letting them slip slowing into darkness, never forgotten but never mentioned. In a world where we have to deal with current Nazis, I’m not entirely sure of the merit of providing more stories for them to feature in — even if it is as unmistakable villains, there will always be someone who reads such stories and thinks “actually, maybe they were on the side of the right”.

All that being said…the Nazis got punched by the third page, and I can hardly complain about that. Also, the ending made me laugh.

REVIEW: “Bonne Chance Confidential” by Jack Bates

Review of Jack Bates, “Bonne Chance Confidential” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 77-100 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was quite the mishmash of references to fairy tales and folk tales, with a sheriff from Nottingham, a Rumple-without-a-stiltskin, fairies named Fee, and a plot that was unsure whether it was Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. My feelings about the story were also a bit of a mishmash — on the one hand, there were a lot of info dumps, I’m pretty sure women weren’t snidely called “plus-sized” in the 1920s, the use of spells felt a bit clumsy, and I was really put off by the pompous author’s note. But on the other hand, I loved how the main character, a private detective in the 1920s, was female without any sort of narrative apology and another character was non-binary, and both of these things went a long way to mitigating the other issues, in terms of enjoyment.

REVIEW: Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales edited by Rhonda Parrish

Review of Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection of 18 stories was my first introduction to the subgenres of dieselpunk and decopunk. Parrish in her editorial introduction defines diesel- and decopunk in opposition to steampunk (the characteristic difference between them being time-period), but this approach only works for a reader who already has a comfortable grasp on steampunk — something I’m not sure I yet have. What makes a story “-punk”? I wasn’t sure before I started reading, and I’m not sure I had any better an idea by the time I was done.

Does this mean I felt the anthology failed? No. As a collection of interesting stories with a strong fairy-tale influence (stronger in some stories than others, but overall the inspiration was obvious), overall I enjoyed reading it. I think that there is a lot of “scope for the imagination”, as Anne Shirley would say, in setting stories in the 1915-1945 era, and further that the World Wars, with important roles that Germany played in both, provide a unique perspective on retellings of what are ultimately very German fairy tales. (Not that all the fairy-tale inspirations in the book come from Grimm, but the Grimms’ tales lend themselves well to transposition of setting in this way). That being said, I did feel that the quality of the stories was uneven — some more successful than others in both plot and presentation. Were any of them bad? No. Was the entire collection outstanding? Alas, no also.

As usual, we’ll review each story individually, and link each back here when the review is posted:

REVIEW: “Tyrannocora Regina” by Leonie Skye

Review of Leonie Skye, “Tyrannocora Regina”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 71-83 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

If you’re looking for time-traveling lesbian dinosaurs who do roller derby, have I got a story for you…

That collection of words almost feels like the result of a challenge, like the author pulled them out of a hat and then had to write a story about them. Whether or not that’s the case, the resulting story was moderately successful. Time travel narratives are always difficult, and I had to reread the beginning parts a few times before I figured out how to make sense of them, but the threads came together in the end.

REVIEW: “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 241-256 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: blood, injury, masochism, kinkshaming, misgendering, warfare, mention of slavery.

Take the content note seriously: We are dropped immediately into the midst of blood and destruction when an unexpected visitor arrives on the narrator’s doorstep, begging their assistance.

There are so many aspects of this story that I could highlight, but I will pick out just one, and that is how intensely physical it is, deeply, gut-wrenchingly, in a way that is entire unerotic and unsexual. It hit me at a very visceral level, touched me in a way that no other story in this volume did — as much as I enjoyed all of them — and I have a hard time articulating just how good this story is — one of the best I’ve read this year — in the context of a review. My words fail. I loved it.

(First published in Capricious 2015).