REVIEW: “The Space Traveler’s Tense” and “The Space-Traveler’s Husband” by Benjamin S. Grossberg

Review of Benjamin S. Grossberg, “The Space-Traveler’s Tense” and “The Space-Traveler’s Husband”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 145-148 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m not sure if these two back-to-back poems were meant to be read as a set, but given their titles and proximity I decided to read them as such.

As an amateur linguist, I loved the premise of the first poem — a new tense for “nouns in the process of passing”, a tense to speak of dying friends, of dinners being eaten, of “a planet you no longer stand on // but which still exerts on you its // considerable tug” (p. 145). It is also the tense that the space-traveler uses to talk of a planet dweller they once shared their couch, and their years, with.

Nothing more detailed is said of this planet dweller, other than his gender, but I prefer to think that he is the husband that the second poem refers to. This poem was not as evocative as the first one, but the two complement each other well — I would be interested in reading the entire story of the space-traveler and their husband, told through such poems.

REVIEW: “Nothing Lasts” by David Estringel

Review of David Estringel, “Nothing Lasts”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 79-80 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

If the hope of this anthology is to engage the wider public with science through the media of fiction and poetry, then the lesson we are to apparently learn from this poem is that “Nothing lasts”, which is both the title and the refrain at the end of each verse. It is a depressing and hopeless message.

REVIEW: “We Feel Autumn in Our Bones” by Joe Butler

Review of Joe Butler, “We Feel Autumn in Our Bones”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 73-78 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Contemplation of abortion.

To my taste, the story was slightly overwritten — I kept feeling like a just a few fewer words in each sentence would’ve tightened and sharpened everything up — but it was premised upon such an intriguing idea that by the end of it, I forgave the overwriting. There are many different ways that authors can contemplate solutions to the every growing population on Earth; Butler’s was a take I’d not seen before, and I enjoyed that.

REVIEW: “Dark Constellations Beneath Electron Microscope” by Carla Durbach

Review of Carla Durbach, “Dark Constellations Beneath Elecron Microscope”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 59-60- — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Lately I’ve been struggling about what makes a poem a good SF poem. Durbach’s poem is just that: It tells an undeniably and intrinsically science fiction story, but in a way that enhances the beauty of the poem rather than distracts.

REVIEW: “Another Heart” by Bryan Arneson

Review of Bryan Arneson, “Another Heart”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 61-71 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the kind of SF that I really like — the science is subtle and in the background, but it emphasizes our most basic questions: What makes us human? What are emotions? These and others were brought to the fore through the lense of the character Rosco, whose own status (robot? enhanced human?) remains uncertain right until the very end.

REVIEW: Beneath Strange Stars edited by David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland

Review of David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This gorgeously thick volume of short stories and poems is a charity anthology supporting the Association for Science Education, the United Kingdom’s professional association for teachers of science and science technicians and “the largest subject association in the UK” (p. 11), with proceeds going to benefit the ASE’s wider educational mission. Hannah Russell, the ASE’s chief executive officer, provides a brief introduction to the volume that stresses the importance of novel ways to engage the wider community with science of all kinds — such ways including, naturally, science fiction and speculative fiction more generally.

I expected more science fiction and less fantasy, and the quality of the stories varied. But even so, as a whole, the stories and poems in this collection made good on what was promised: They both entertain and instruct. And across the board, the poems were the high points. I do not usually have a very high tolerance for poetry, but I really enjoyed so many of the poems in this anthology.

As usual, we’ll review each of the stories in turn, and link the reviews back here when they are published.

REVIEW: “Around a World in Ninety-Six Hours” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “Around a World in Ninety-Six Hours”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 145–151 (print) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Polly Wynne is on a scientific mission on Venus, while her brother, Casper Wynne, is on a similar mission millions of miles away on Mars. Fueled by a healthy dose of sibling rivalry, the two place a friendly wager: whoever can complete a full revolution around their respective planets the fastest wins a free dinner. While the first 24 hours look very promising for both parties, the excitement does not last long. A violent wind storm knocks Casper’s communications out and leaves Polly uncertain of his fate. Polly must now use every tool in her arsenal to figure out a way to help her brother.

The story was more or less a middle-of-the-road piece for me: an interesting premise (e.g. flying airship on Venus) brought down by a not so interesting execution. The author structures the plot cleverly enough to maintain a well-balanced thread of suspense throughout the story, keeping the stakes high until the very end. On the other hand, I found the prose clunky and filled with unnecessary exposition. I can’t help but think that another round of editing would have benefited this story greatly.

Lastly, I’ve never been one to nitpick the science in science fiction, but there are a few things here that might make the reader raise an eyebrow or two. For instance, why did the Mars rover have to resort to Morse code to send its distress signal? If the mic was broken, couldn’t they have send a written message? Or shouldn’t the rover have a dedicated — and separately powered  — SOS system? The use of Morse code instead does not seem sufficiently justified.