REVIEW: “Two Dimensional” by Kellee Kranendonk

Review of Kellee Kranendonk, “Two Dimensional”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was, sadly, not the story for me. Our first introduction to the heroine is a scene in which she takes psychotropic drugs. It’s not that I think all fictional heroines should be held to a high standard of conduct, or that drug use should be erased from the stories we tell, it’s just that such stories are not the stories for me. I say this even given that the drug plays an integral role in the plot — or even perhaps because of this.

Despite this, I think I may have been more disposed to positively review the story if the language were beautiful and well-crafted. Instead, I found it a bit stilted at times, and with a couple of rather abrupt info drops. I found the explanation of the relationship between the two races on the planet a bit strained; the concept is interesting, but could perhaps have benefited from being introduced slower and with more words, i.e., perhaps this would’ve been better suited to a novella than a short story. I also found the ending somewhat unsatisfying: I do not understand why Valo would take the risk that he did if he knew, in advance, that these risks would benefit neither him nor Binya.

It’s never fun to write a downer review, but the flip side of reviewing everything a journal publishes is that sometimes you get a story which just doesn’t measure up — by whatever measure is being used — to the other ones in the same venue. Alas, I think for this issue of Luna Station Quarterly, this story might be the one.

REVIEW: “The Waiting Room” by Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin

Review of Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin, “The Waiting Room”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When I was young, all the SFF protagonists were young, and I never even noticed, because I was young, and thus the world was young and their stories could be my stories and my stories could be theirs.

But then I grew older (and 35 is hardly old), and they all stayed young, they did not age, and I found myself becoming increasingly irritated by this. Young heros and heroines often do such stupid things, things that only seem stupid in hindsight. But more than that, there was this implicit assumption that to be a hero or heroine was to be young; once you’d reached my age, my stories were no longer their stories, and their stories could no longer be mine.

Once I realised this, I started making a point of seeking out stories where the heroine was not a young slip of a girl, but someone older, someone with a history, someone with a family, someone with a past. But I know that I am still young and will grow yet older, and that is where stories like Melkin’s “The Waiting Room” come into the fore: When was the last time that you read a story where the heroine was an old, dying woman? That long ago? Well, now is the time to fix it. Go on, click the link above. Read the story. You won’t regret it.

REVIEW: “Ten Thousand Sleeping Beauties” by Jocelyn Koehler

Review of Jocelyn Koehler, “Ten Thousand Sleeping Beauties”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

My first reaction was that I straight up love the title, with its evocation of both European fairy tales and 1001 nights. And while the story itself is not a fairy tale, it certainly involves one, albeit a darker, scarier one than we normally tell our children (even in Grimms’ grim tales, there is always a prince’s kiss to awaken the sleeper).

My second reaction was “how am I going to explain what is so poignant in this story without spoilers?” Let me try: Despite evidence to the contrary, despite the perennial moans throughout the ages that youth aren’t what they were like in our day, humanity as a whole is remarkably optimistic: We persist in thinking that, eventually, things will get better, they have to get better; or at least that they won’t get worse, not really. For example, the entire industry of cryogenics is based on the idea that the future will be better than the present.

But one day, the future will be the present. What then?

My third reaction was that the ending made me cry.

REVIEW: “Far, Far From Land” by Jude-Marie Green

Review of Jude-Marie Green, “Far, Far From Land”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of the hardest parts about short SF stories is conveying everything that is distinctive about the fictional world in which the story takes places without spending all of the words doing so. It is hard to balance between explaining enough so that the reader gets a sense of what is science and what is fiction, but not so much that the reader gets no story, nor so little that the jargon seems mere window dressing and not deeply integrated.

Green’s story starts off too much on the “too little” side; a lot of technical terms and phrases are peppered throughout the opening paragraphs, but there is not enough context to know what an “xyz grid” is or how fractals can bounce, or be juicy.

That being said, I love the idea of big vessels trawling through space fishing for instantiations of mathematical concepts, and the casual ease the crewmates clearly display in their conversation with each other makes it easy to become invested in them, to hope for what they hope for and to mourn when they mourn as well.

REVIEW: “In Strange, Far Places” by Julia K. Patt

Review of Julia K. Patt, “In Strange, Far Places”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What happens when you fare forth into the stars, searching for a new home, but never find one? What happens when you no longer have the resources to go further — and you also no longer have the resources to get back to where you started? So much speculation about space travel seeks for the happy ending, that we will leave this planet and find a new one to make our home. But in truth, the endings of most space travellers will not be happy, they will be “left to live out their lives in the void until the synthetic atmos failed or the oxygenating phytos died or the food ran out.”

When your resources are used up, when you’re left to the mercies of the passing ships who might stop and pick you up and take you home, that is when this story starts. Em recounts her history and that of her comrades in simple, straightforward words; this is her life, and she knows that she is lucky. Not every story will have a happy ending, and yet this doesn’t mean that the story itself is not happy. But happy or sad, who knows what lurks behind the stars…

REVIEW: Iraq+100, edited by Hassan Blasim

Review of Hassan Blasim, ed., Iraq+100: Stories from a Century After the Invasion, with support of Noor Hemani and Ra Page (Comma Press, 2016). Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I discovered this book last year via a random tweet and was immediately intrigued by the premise. Editor Hassan Blasim asked ten Iraqi writers to consider the question “What might Iraq look like in 2103, a century after the British/American invasion?” The result is an eclectic collection of speculative stories, in the most literal sense of the term, which nevertheless are tied together by a very clear and distinctive thread, a thread that Blasim identifies as “the tragedy of modern Iraq—the tragedy of a people that is desperate for just a solitary draught of peace”. It is a sobering read, but it is also a delightful and entertaining read.

The book begins with an introduction by Blasim, describing how the collection came about, but also discussing the state of Iraqi science fiction:

Iraqi literature suffers from a dire shortage of science fiction writing and I am close to certain that this book of short stories is the first of its kind, in theme and in form, in the corpus of modern Iraqi literature (p. vi).

Blasim discusses why he hopes that this will change in the coming years, but also speaks to the question why there is such a dearth of science fiction in Arabic literature more generally. He notes that:

Perhaps the most obvious reason is that science fiction in the West was allowed to track the development of actual science from about the middle of the 19th century onwards (p. vi),

and that during this period, there was no similar corresponding technological growth in Iraq, so Iraqi science fiction is still in a sense playing catch-up.

I wonder, though, if one couldn’t dig a bit deeper. Just as the roots of contemporary western science fiction go back further than the 19th century (Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World (1666) is often hailed as a forerunner of modern science fiction), speculative stories have a long and venerable history in an Arabic tradition—it’s just that these stories weren’t necessarily written or told as fiction! Instead, the very best of historical Arabic speculative story-telling can be found in the medieval Arabic philosophical tradition. To give just one example, in his Kitab Al-Shifa (On the Soul), ibn Sina (Avicenna) begins the following story:

One of us (i.e. a human being) should be imagined as having been created in a single stroke; created perfect and complete but with his vision obscured so that he cannot perceive external entities; created falling through air or a void, in such a manner that he is not struck by the firmness of the air in any way that compels him to feel it, and with his limbs separated so that they do not come in contact with or touch each other (Read the Arabic here).

This is the beginning of the so-called “Floating Man” or “Flying Man” thought experiment, but one philosopher’s “thought experiment” is another speculative author’s “science fiction”: For what is science fiction other than a great big “What if?” thought experiment by another name?

This is all to say that if one digs just a bit deeper, there is a wealth of speculative and science fiction material ripe for the delving in the Arabic tradition. Blasim’s collection may very well be unique in its kind right now, but I dearly hope it won’t be for long. I would love to read more stories like these, by more authors like these.

Some of the stories were written in English; some of them have been translated for this collection. Below is a list of the contents; I will review each story individually and when the reviews are published, link to them from this post.

  • “Kahramana”, by Anoud.
  • “The Gardens of Babylon”, by Hassan Blasim.
  • “The Corporal”, by Ali Bader.
  • “The Worker”, by Diaa Jubaili.
  • “The Day by Day Mosque”, by Mortada Gzar.
  • “Baghdad Syndrome”, by Zhraa Alhaboby.
  • “Operation Daniel”, by Khalid Kaki.
  • “Kuszib”, by Hassan Abdulrazzak.
  • “The Here and Now Prison”, by Jalal Hassan.
  • “Najufa”, by Ibrahim al-Marashi.

REVIEW: “The Salt Debt” by J. B. Rockwell

Review of J. B. Rockwell, “The Salt Debt”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What struck me first about this story was the beautiful language, with a handful of phrases painting a detailed picture. What struck me next was how Rockwell can make the extraordinary seem ordinary. Too often that which is foreign to our own lived experiences appears in stories as foreign as well; but not here. Whether it is an old man with a clockwork heart, a girl with the body of a kraken, or a knitted cat, each of the extraordinary characters in “The Salt Debt” are presented as utterly ordinary. The story the narrator tells is also utterly ordinary — we grow old, we love, we die — and that ordinariness is what makes the ending sweet rather than grotesque.

It is a short story, but at the end I am left with a fleeting happiness of having read it and a desire to read more by this author.