REVIEW: “Search for the Heart of the Ocean” by A. J. Fitzwater

Review of A. J. Fitzwater, “Search for the Heart of the Ocean”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 181-198 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story was described in Lundoff’s introduction as “a new installment of [Fitzwater’s] dapper lesbian capybara pirate saga” (p. 6). I can’t say that this naturally inclined me towards the story — despite the fact that I like lesbians, capybaras, AND pirates, the combination seemed…a little farfetched. I’m not against anthropomorphised animals, but I did feel like I spent more effort in the initial stages of the story suspending my disbelief than I would’ve liked; and the use of dialect in the dialogue compounded the feeling of work that went into reading.

Eventually, though, the effort faded away, and I got drawn into the story of Cinrak and the cabin boy Benj and the kraken that Benj befriends, and the heart of the ocean that both Cinrak and the kraken are seeking. There was a lot of beautiful language, and a happy ending. If lesbian capybara pirates tick all your buttons, then this is definitely the story for you.

REVIEW: “Tenari” by Michael Merriam

Review of Michael Merriam, “Tenari”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 168-180 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Captain Reed’s ship, the Black Manta, hasn’t always been black. Decades ago, the ship was just the Manta, an attack ship in the Colonial Defense Forces. At the time, Captain Reed wasn’t captain, merely senior lieutenant, and her current XO, Roger Baldry, was navigator and second officer. But it’s been a long time since Reed and Baldry encountered the mythical alien race, the Tenari, and — when no one else did — lived to tell the tale. Now the Manta is a pirate ship, no longer a military ship, and Reed and Baldry are facing the Tenari again. They were lucky once to escape with their lives; will they be lucky enough to escape a second time?

Merriam’s story is filled with rich detail and a panoply of characters, which I liked. However, two things about this story bothered or confused me. First, half the time the captain was named Kathleen Reed, the other half she was Katherine Reed, and I was never sure if this was intentional or just something that slipped past proofreading. Second, with almost no exception, the female characters were referred to solely by their given name, while the male characters were referred to by either their surname or surname + title. It’s such a small thing, but to see “Janet” (Sobrinski) working side by side (Roger) “Baldry”, “Mr. Roberts” the helmsman working with crewmember “Tilly” (no surname), was a constant reminder of how even when female characters are given equal screen time with male in a story, they are still treated unequally. We’ve come so far in terms of representation in SFF stories; but there is still so much further left to go.

REVIEW: “After the Deluge” by Peter Golubock

Review of Peter Golubock, “After the Deluge”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 156-167 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

It wasn’t a big surprise when New York sank beneath the waves. The surprise was that everyone stayed (p. 161).

When global warming catches up with NYC and the city is deluged, one of the perks of city with many skyscrapers is that the floods only took out a few of the floors, leaving much of the city still high and dry. But with dry land left to the rich, it’s no surprise that the poor took to being pirates on the newly formed water ways, raiding big cargo ships with their little motor boats and dinghies. The Pizza Rat is one such ship, and her captain has been making a successful career as one of the most powerful pirate captains in the five boroughs for some time now. But when the captain of the Pizza Rat receives a tip-off from a trusted source, of an unescorted cargo barge, things don’t go exactly to plan…

Even if cops-and-robbers pirate-chase stories like this aren’t exactly my cup of tea, it was still a fun read.

REVIEW: “A Crooked Road Home” by Caroline Sciriha

Review of Caroline Sciriha, “A Crooked Road Home”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 144-155 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story caught me by surprise. It started off being a relatively ordinary story about space pirates and organised crime and smuggling — the sort of thing you’d find in a typical B-grade SF flick — and ended up turning much deeper and sharper and harsher and more beautiful. This isn’t merely the story of space pirate Captain Jesson out to win his freedom from his mob-boss father to secure a future for himself; it’s the story of how he must face the ugly aspects of his past, the parts he had no control over then but maybe can make restitution for how.

Sciriha tangles together threads of child trafficking, parental loss, and the displacement that comes from being a member of a minority culture in such a way that I was left with a lump in my throat and a lingering sadness for Jesson’s past and hope for his future.

REVIEW: “Rosa, the Dimension Pirate” by Matisse Mozer

Review of Matisse Mozer, “Rosa, the Dimension Pirate”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 128-143 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Jack Hurwitz’s life is boring. He still lives with his dad and step-mom. He doesn’t have a job. He’s failed his classes and won’t be going to community college. There is basically nothing in his life to redeem it.

That is, before an alien satellite lands in his backyard, complete with a refugee alien pirate girl who is the only thing that stands between the earth and its destruction. Suddenly, Jack’s life is anything but boring.

A fun swashbuckling-in-space story with so many double-crossings and double-bluffs that I could hardly keep track of who was a good guy and who was a bad guy, Mozer’s tale was lighthearted and fun to read.

REVIEW: “The Dead Pirate’s Cave” by Soumya Sundar Mukherjee

Review of Soumya Sundar Mukherjee, “The Dead Pirate’s Cave”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 113-127 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

One thing you don’t expect in an otherwise relatively traditional pirate story — i.e., one with revolvers and cutlasses, deserted islands, buried treasure — is robots. Or attempts to obtain immortality by downloading your consciousness and your memories into said robot…

At times I felt that the different threads of Mukherjee’s story fought against each other, not entirely harmonious. Yet at the very end she managed to turn it into something with a delightful, hopeful, happy ending. So I’d say, read it for that, at the very least.

REVIEW: “A Smuggler’s Pact” by Su Haddrell

Review of Su Haddrell, “A Smuggler’s Pact”, in Catherine Lundoff, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space) (Queen of Swords Press, 2018): 102-112 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m not sure whether “depressing patriarchy” needs a content warning or not, but the harassment first mate Maeve suffers at the hands of her captain, Captain Stuart, is so ordinary and normal, probably no woman would be taken off guard reading it. But Maeve and Captain Stuart have a deal and she’s willing to put up with a lot in hopes of eventually commanding a ship of her own. As it is, she’s often the de facto captain of Stuart’s ship, as he spends his time too drunk, and besides, it’s much more convenient that he sends her into danger than go himself.

Some men transporting cargo through the swamps of Arcadia disappeared a few nights ago, and Maeve goes with the next cargo transport — as much as to reassure the crews as to protect them. Little does she know that again she’ll be bargaining, not with her captain, but with the witch of the swamp…a bargain that will get her all she and her future crew could desire.

This story had a lovely hints at the worldbuilding, giving the feeling of the story being a part of something larger, without belabouring the matter or info-dumping, and a satisfying come-uppance at the end.