REVIEW: “Master Brahms” by Storm Humbert

Review of Storm Humbert, “Master Brahms”, Apex Magazine 114 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Seven versions of Master Brahms live together – six synths, or clones, and the original. Synths don’t like to think about being synths, so the original allows them each the illusion of such as much as possible. Things come to a head when six Brahms find that the seventh has been murdered by one of the remaining six, and the house computer has been compromised by whichever is the killer.

This is a satisfying closed room murder mystery. The murder is intriguing, but is also not the main point. No, the real question of this story is: which Brahms is the original? Deep down, that is the only question that matters to any of them, and the murder is just a way to bring that question into the foreground for them. I’ve read plenty of stories about clones, but I don’t recall ever seeing one about how a clone would psychologically cope with being a clone before. This is fresh, fascinating territory.

REVIEW: “Neon” by M. Raoulee

Review of M. Raoulee, “Neon”, in Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was, edited by Dave Ring, (Mason Jar Press, 2018): 7–27 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This, as they say, is a story with all the feels. Wonder, uncertainty, tugging at heart-strings, strangeness, confusion, delight, tenderness.

“Neon” is the story of motorcycle-builder, combustion-lover, financial-advisor, heretic Quinn, who lives in a realm where electricity has taken over everything, including and most especially motors; few people, any more, care about the old combustion engines, and those that do — the riders — are tarred as misfits and outcasts. His city is filled with Sylphs and Fulminations and Undines and Shades who travel through the aether, and who can be called from the aether to perform services. Quinn’s world is one where enchantment and sorcery is entwined with electricity and salt and heresy. So much of this we can see on the surface of the story; and so much more is hinted beneath. I loved the way that Raoulee built such a detailed picture of the unknown city, and yet so much of the details to the reader to fill in. I loved seeing the way in which Quinn interacted with his friends, associates, and employers, and from the moment he stumbled into Archae and Archae got onto Quinn’s motorcycle behind him, I loved Archae. A stellar start to the anthology!

REVIEW: Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was edited by Dave Ring

Review of Dave Ring, ed., Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of the City That Never Was (Mason Jar Press, 2018) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I first learned of this anthology late fall 2017, when the call for submissions went out. The concept immediately caught my interest:

We are looking for stories that explore the edges of urban fantasy through queer stories. While the city these stories are set in should be vast and unnamed, highly specific neighborhoods and landmarks are encouraged and sought after. We welcome a broad interpretation of the genre that is inclusive of postmodern folk tales, future/ancient noir, and stories that happen both behind closed doors and in plain sight. Throughout, we’re looking for rich, varied and nuanced understandings of gender, family and ethnicity.

I loved the idea of a series of stories that are all connected, but the ways in which they are connected are left to the reader, and not the writer, to specify. So I was extremely delighted to be offered a review copy of the anthology, because now I get to see how that original conception came to fruition.

The 10 stories in this collection spam the gamut of gritty to sweet to sensual to sad. As a whole, they give a sense of a complex and rewarding city, some place I’d like to visit, some place I’d like to set a story of my own in. In his editor’s note, Ring points out the important power of fiction “to bear witness”, and the importance of witnessing queer characters in the forefront of stories, not on the sidelines. These stories come together in a powerful way to bear this witness, and I highly recommend this collection.

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

REVIEW: “Godzilla vs Buster Keaton, Or: I Didn’t Even Need a Map” by Gary A. Braunbeck

Review of Gary A. Braunbeck, “Godzilla vs Buster Keaton, Or: I Didn’t Even Need a Map”, Apex Magazine 114 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Glenn’s sister, Janice is dying of AIDS. She is raunchy and funny and loud, and refuses to sanitize her experience for anyone’s else’s comfort. Glenn is withdrawn and hurting and really, truly trying his best, but he doesn’t think it’s good enough. Before she goes, she arranges for him to receive a gift that she hopes will help him.

This story is a poignant, realistic depiction of people dealing with death in all of the messy, ugly, ways that real people do. And yet, in the end, the story circles around to a kind of peace that defies expectation. If I give you too many hints into how we get there, it might deprive you of fully experiencing the journey, and that would be a shame.

REVIEW: “Dark Clouds & Silver Linings” by Ingrid Garcia

Review of Ingrid Garcia, “Dark Clouds & Silver Linings”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 309-319. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

What a peculiar story. It’s a strange mix of stream of consciousness, name-dropping, song lyrics, and snippets of poems. There are characters, and a narrative driving the main one, Ada, forward, but I found the telling of the narrative very blunt; at times the piece read more like notes for a story than an actual story.

I suspect others will enjoy the experimental nature of this piece more than I did; I kept wanting more to sink my teeth in to than I got. But I applaud the inclusion of it in this anthology, because it was distinctive from all the other stories in both form and content, and helps demonstrate the diversity of ways a single theme can be interpreted.

REVIEW: “Shikasta” by Vandana Singh

Review of Vandana Singh, “Shikasta”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 207-240 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was one of the longest stories in the anthology, and it has one of the most distinct voices. It opens in the 2nd person — a narrative mode I often struggle with, but which works here because the reader is explicitly cued in to the fact that we are not the addressee, but rather Chirag’s dead cousin:

This is the first time I am speaking to you, aloud, since you died (207).

The narrative switches between Chirag, Kranti, and Annie, the three friends that remain of the four that met at university at Delhi and imagined what it would be like to crowdfound a space exploration project. Chirag’s cousin, though dead, is as present as anyone else in this story, as the narrative keeps circling back to a central question: What is life? What does it mean to be alive?

Like “Death of Mars”, earlier in the anthology (read the review), this is first and foremost a story about people, and only secondarily a story of space exploration; it reads more like a memoir than anything else. This is not to say that the science is in any way incidental, but rather that Singh focuses on the human aspects, and highlights that the human and the scientific need not be opposed to each other:

You taught me that a scientist could also be a poet (208).

This story, more than any of the others in the anthology, merges fiction and science in a way that shows how truly intertwined they are; how we cannot escape the need to create stories in order to understand facts. All of these factors came together so that this story really spoke to me.

REVIEW: “This Lexicon of Bone and Feathers” by Carlie St. George

Review of Carlie St. George, “This Lexicon of Bone and Feathers”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 291-307. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is a peculiar little story that I enjoyed very much and have a hard time describing or summarising. Where to begin? There are so many little bits and pieces and aspects of it that if I try to highlight one of them I’d be leaving out crucial others. Shall I start with the difficulties facing inter-species academic conferences? Or how everything changes when the unthinkable happens? Or perhaps the very distinct characters, each drawn from very distinct species, with distinct modes of communication, not just in their languages but in the way they interact with the world. Any one of these things that I could choose to talk about wouldn’t begin to give a proper picture of the complexity that went into this story.

Perhaps if there is one thing that sums up the story it is this: The poetry made from teeth. Wanna know more? Read the story.