REVIEW: “The Serpentine Band” by Congyun “Mu Ming” Gu

Review of Congyun “Mu Ming” Gu, “The Serpentine Band”, Clarkesworld Issue 179, August (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Clocking in at 18,500 words, this is a novella, and one of the longest ‘short stories’ I’ve ever read. A bit different narrative style than I have come to expect from short works of fiction, but probably only natural since it’s a longer format.

With that luxury of length comes the opportunity to create something greater and brighter, and Gu has done just that. A lovely tale full of evocative metaphors and haunting language (props to the translator too!) that combines the nature of space-time with spirituality and mythology.

The titular serpentine band is about a never-ending loop, creating the illusion of infinity. The father decides to build a garden, a gateway of sorts that follows the same structural rules of existence as the serpentine band. Both father and daughter deal with the knowledge, inferences, and possibilities very differently. They’re also brilliantly written characters. Set in a China of centuries ago, the setting, myth, and history played quite a role in shaping this story.

Having said that, this story took me a long, long while to read. It is written in such a way that you will likely end up in a similar place. The story is full of vignettes, meandering happenings, and the metaphors and haunting language I mentioned earlier. Due to this, I sometimes found that it may benefit from some editing. I still really did enjoy this slipstream novella, and if you have the time for it, or want to experience a uniquely set story – and a translated one at that – try this fantastic tale.

REVIEW: “Recreational WorkHart Use” by Brenna Harvey

Review of Brenna Harvey, “Recreational WorkHart Use” Cossmass Infinities 5 (2021): 57-83 — Read or purchase online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of the longer pieces in this issue, this story nevertheless read quick and easily, with a lovely rhythm and crisp pacing.

The setting is distinctly dystopian (the premise of the WorkHart is deliciously creepy), and yet what shines through is Tev and Hoysel’s friendship, real and brilliant and delightful. A second strong point of the story is Harvey’s insightful social criticism via Tev’s critique of Reetus’s economics — Tev understands much better than Reetus does that just because one is poor doesn’t mean that they are undeserving of joy!

REVIEW: “A Glut of Nothing, and Yet…Something” by Monte Lin

Review of Monte Lin, “A Glut of Nothing, and Yet…Something” Cossmass Infinities 5 (2021): Read or purchase online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Anyone who’s experienced the lows of academia — science denial, departments closing, loss of funding — will find themselves relating strongly to both Jenny the “Taiwanese Pasadena city-rat gone good gone bad” and Tara the “button-down type ready to break out of her box”, the ex-scientist and the scientist thrown together to figure out how to get something — something personal, not science — are both engaging characters with a believable back-and-forth. Other than a few paragraphs that felt a bit claggy and clunky with info dump, I enjoyed this.

REVIEW: “The Clock, Having Seen Its Face in the Mirror, Still Knows Not the Hour” by Adam Stemple

Review of Adam Stemple, “The Clock, Having Seen Its Face in the Mirror, Still Knows Not the Hour”, Clarkesworld Issue 179, August (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Narrated by a clockwork man, who shares snippets of his life with us readers. They are arranged not chronologically, but in an order that makes most sense to him, as he tries to make sense of life. Moments of a rich and varied, yet an almost always unhappy sort of life.

A pensive, rather heavy novelette, but the desolation is broken up by striking moments of kindness and genuine emotion.

REVIEW: “A Thousand Tiny Gods” by Nadia Afifi

Review of Nadia Afifi, “A Thousand Tiny Gods”, Clarkesworld Issue 179, August (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Technology has grown to the extent that nanobots are used for preventative medicine as well as cosmetic treatments.

As with all new tech, there are feelings of general and vague mistrust among the common public, but one much-loved and popular wife of a high-ranking minister is trying to change that perception.

With Manal, our protagonist and a senior programmer for the nanobots, she works towards acceptance. In the process, Manal becomes a stronger, more determined person as well.

A tightly paced story of power, vulnerability, and realizing that real change takes time.

REVIEW: “Osteography” by JL George

Review of JL George, “Osteography” Cossmass Infinities 5 (2021): Read or purchase online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I found this a confusing read, constantly having to scroll back up to connect names to characters, referents to pronouns; it took me more than two pages before I discovered that “Shardon” is the name of a settlement, not of a person. I think I could have enjoyed this more if the set-up and structure had been clearer from the start.

REVIEW: “The Quickening and the Canker” by David Cleden

Review of David Cleden, “The Quickening and the Canker” Cossmass Infinities 5 (2021): Read or purchase online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When “quantum scale weirdness [rises] up to poison the macro-scale world”, things do not go well. That’s the setting/premise for this story, that quantum fluctuations give rise to the quickening, which in turn is linked to the canker, both of which can only be identified, or stopped, through observation. There are too many possibilities until one definite reality is observed.

I really enjoyed this innovative take on quantum uncertainty.

REVIEW: “Ornithomancy” by Elizabeth Hinckley

Review of Elizabeth Hinckley, “Ornithomancy,” Luna Station Quarterly 48 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Tirza has won a lottery place in the next emigration to Sumeria and is unhappy about leaving her father behind, so she goes to an ornithomancer for advice (Ornithomancy is sort of like tarot, but with birds instead of just cards — but unlike ancient Greek divination, doesn’t involve any entrails.) The advice she gets forces her to confront her relationship with her father, in a way which I found extremely personal and touching and very real. Not every person is cut out to be a parent; not every person is very good at being a child. And yet, Tirza and her father find, in the end, a way to make it work. I liked the raw edges of this story, and its hopeful ending.

REVIEW: “Candide; Life-” by Beth Goder

Review of Beth Goder, “Candide; Life-”, Clarkesworld Issue 179, August (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A hauntingly beautiful story. The August issue starts off strong!

Seva is a lovely person – a focused, determined, and talented musician. One day, she experiments with a different form of art called emotion capture, one that she has no training or practice in.

Self-doubt is but a natural part of the process of learning something new, but having people who support you goes a long way. Here, it goes in the other direction. But strength comes to us in many different ways, and so it does for Seva as well.

A story about different types of art, trust, self worth, emotions, feelings, and the particular feeling of taking a leap of faith.

REVIEW: “Indulgence” by Tammy Salyer

Review of Tammy Salyer, “Indulgence,” Luna Station Quarterly 21 (2015): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is a post-apocalypse story, in which the end of the world was heralded by the introduction of biotags, embedded under the skin of every person, containing their identity and all their health information. These biotags are scanned during food purchases, so that permission can be granted for the individual in question to purchase that particular food. It’s a great story premise: Enormously creepy because it is so damn believable that this could happen at some point in the future, and the way things unfold is all so plausible. And despite the premise the story is based on, one of the other great things about it is its enormous dose of body positivity.