REVIEW: “Where’s the Rest of Me?” by Matthew Cheney

Review of Matthew Cheney, “Where’s the Rest of Me?”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 31-52. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

And I’m looking at you right now, Mr. Reagan, and I know you’re not a queer, so I have to ask myself, as any reasonable man would: If you don’t look like a queer, why do you write like one? This is perplexing to me.

The story is a collection of snapshot vignettes, from a few sentences to a few paragraphs long, each with their own title. The same characters populate the vignettes, but the snippets are not ordered in a way to make a plot or story manifest. The reader must build the story themself while they read the different pieces, figure out how to put them into order in order to understand why we’ve been given these pieces rather than other ones. What’s omitted from the snippets are the answers to the question asked in the title of the story.

I found the story alternatingly startlingly sad and very perplexing. it is full of names and dates, historical details and precise facts — so full, in fact, that half-way through I was no longer able to reconcile what I was being told with what I (thought I) already knew about history, and had to pause and look up various things in wikipedia. That confirmed my own knowledge, and left me then wondering why Cheney chose to change history so much; what was gained by taking real-world historic figures and changing their lives, that would not have been present if Cheney had made up his characters? I don’t know. But I’ve also decided I don’t care about not knowing; even without that, this was a good story.

(Originally appeared in Blood: Stories, 2016).

REVIEW: “Two Tails” by Ransom Noble

Review of Ransom Noble, “Two Tails”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 86-99 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story relies heavily on the standard tropes about twins (e.g., “their twin connection”, p. 97), unfortunately to its detriment, in my opinion. Landry and Bellamy are twins training to become professional mermaids when an accident befalls Landry, leaving Bellamy — who has always been the follower — behind. I found Bellamy to be rather flat and personless, primarily defined in relation to her twin, who exerts significant (and sometimes problematic) control over her. I’ve read enough twin stories for the tropes to be familiar, but reading them again here it makes me wonder how much is trope and how much is real, and also how much the story needs Landry and Bellamy to be twins — could it have worked if Landry and Bellamy were merely sisters rather than twins? I think it could have.

This was a story that I found, personally, merely “fine”. In the context of this anthology, it seemed a bit out of place; it was not clear to me what was the place that had been abandoned.

REVIEW: “Mark Twain’s Daughter” by Cath Schaff-Stump

Review of Cath Schaff-Stump, “Mark Twain’s Daughter”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 117-125 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The first thing the snarky, sarcastic, rather rude commentary in my head had to say about this story was, “Oh, look! It’s a story about a woman whose identity is defined by her relationship to a man!” But it’s unfair to judge a story by its title, and Susy’s story is so much more interesting than her relationship to her father. As I read it, I kept thinking, “She could be anyone’s daughter, and I would still read her story.” The appearance of Mark Twain and other members of the Clemens family in the story is almost entirely incidental.

For awhile I also wondered whether this would be another story where the central theme of the anthology — abandoned places — would not be entirely clear. But in the end, the story fit. Places become abandoned when people are abandoned in them — that is how Susy’s story fits the anthology brief.

(Originally appeared in Curcubital 3, 2012.)

REVIEW: “The Parthian Shot” by Dashiell Hammett

Review of Dashiell Hammett, “The Parthian Shot”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 275 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m not sure if I should confess the following ignorance of not, but fears of what random people on the internet think of me have never really plagued me much, so: I’d never heard of Dashiell Hammett before reading this piece of flash fic, now nearly 100 years old.

It’s hard to evaluate a story that’s only a paragraph, but as a parent myself, I can sympathise with Paulette, and admire her courage as she does what probably every parent considers doing at least once during their tenure.

But I am not sure why this story is in this anthology. It is the final story in the collection, one which I would expect would cap it off, solidify the experience, that it would match well the way in which the collection opened. But while it is a good little story, it lacks an abandoned place. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the collection (that I’ve read so far).

(Originally published in Smart Shot, 1922)

REVIEW: “The Money Book” by Lara Kristin Herndon

Review of Lara Kristin Herndon, “The Money Book”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 239-249 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The setting for this story is a vague, unsettling, unpleasant future: After the bombs, after the wars, after the virus, after so many people have died. It is a time when so many things that used to have intrinsic value — like money — are now worthless in themselves, worthful only in so far as they can be used to create something of value, something like paper. Paper to record the past, to provide a foundation for the future.

Herndon’s story comes with a heavy weight of significance, palpable in every action on every page. Yet, I was never quite sure what it was that was significant; and for that reason, this story just didn’t quite work for me.

REVIEW: “Ratcatcher” by Amy Griswold

Review of Amy Griswold, “Ratcatcher”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 165-179. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“Never mind the sodding dead!” someone shouted, firing from beside him, but the only certainty he had in a world full of flying debris and blood was that the souls needed to come out of the corpses, extracted like rotten teeth. He raised his head, and saw the shattergun pointed at him from across the narrow gap between the ships.

This is the first story in the collection that I’ve read (remember, I’m reading them out of order) that is science fiction/steampunk in nature. The story opens with what could be a classic futuristic space setting, with a man with a shattergun and two airships docking together. But before the story starts, we’re told the time and place: “1918, over Portsmouth”. So this shower…isn’t your ordinary futuristic SF, and with that date “airship” takes on a steam-punk interpretation.

That being said, all the SF/SP/SPEC elements fade to the background in this wonderfully personal story, which focuses on the nature of death and the intimacies of life. It’s a story where the queer element only turns up in the final sentences, but it fits so perfectly and feels so natural that there is no question at all that this story belongs in this anthology.

There was ONE oddity of language in the story that tripped me up because it occurred so soon, and I feel compelled to mention. In the second paragraph, we’re introduced to a character via the rather clunky description “woman airman”. “Woman” isn’t an adjective; this construction doesn’t make much sense and only serves to emphasise the over gendering of the English language.

(Originally published in Mothership Zeta, 2016).

REVIEW: “Making Friends” by Steve Kopka

Review of Steve Kopka, “Making Friends”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 39-56 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m very bad at genres, especially all the finely-sliced sub-categories that are out there nowadays. But the beginning of this story made me go, “Oh! That’s what ‘urban fantasy’ is (when it’s not vampire and werewolf romance).” Everything is ordinary and real and familiar, except everything that is extraordinary and fantastic and strange. The lines between two the are blurred, and the result is unsettling — unsettling enough that I decided in the end to also classified it as ‘horror’. Horror isn’t my cup of tea, but the story was compelling nevertheless.

For me, though, this story was let down by the quality of its writing. The prose didn’t feel as finely crafted, and I kept tripping up on little things — small grammatical errors, a word occurring in two sentences in a row, the feeling that I was being given a recitation of facts — that detracted from my enjoyment.