REVIEW: “Settling the World” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “Settling the World”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 1-26 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the Review of the anthology.

This was a great piece to open the anthology with: Reading it you cannot escape the clear and certain knowledge that this is a piece by a master craftsman. Every single part about this story was perfectly developed and perfectly placed, and left me hungering for more. After reading this story, I knew I was going to love the rest of what was to come.

(First published in The New Improved Sun, 1975).

REVIEW: Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020 by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I’ll admit: Prior to receiving a request from the press to review this collection, I had not heard of M. John Harrison. My personal route through SFF has been rather idiosyncratic, and has missed out pretty much all of the “classic” SF authors. This made the opportunity to read a retrospective collection of Harrison’s stories — spanning 50 years — rather more desirable, not less, because it gave me an opportunity to fill a gap in my education. For that, I must comment on how useful I found Jennifer Hodgson’s interesting foreword to the collection; it says almost nothing of Harrison’s biography or history, but focuses more on the experience of reading his stories, and the way in which they reflect the world we inhabit and our experiences within it. Coming ignorant to Harrison and his work, Hodgson’s foreword piqued my interest and whetted my appetite, and set the stage for reading this excellent collection.

In these stories we find many repeated themes, as Hodgson highlights: The theme of dissatisfaction with how things have turned out; the theme of never knowing enough; the theme of always being just outside of things. Some of the stories focus on questioning reality; in others, the reality is so different from our own and yet it is taken for granted. Most of the stories contain at least one of these aspects; many of them contain more. This makes them exceptionally accessible: Even the weirdest of weird science fiction in them is not enough to make the stories themselves unfamiliar or strange, while sometimes the most mundane and ordinary of settings turn out to be home to the strangest and weirdest of stories.

Reading the collection was edifying, and I don’t mean this to be pejorative. I learned a lot about ways people look at the world; but I also learned a lot about the craft of writing stories, because even though I liked some stories better than others (usually the older ones I found more effective than the newer ones), there is no doubt that Harrison is a master of his craft, and one cannot help but marvel at what he has produced.

As is usual, the stories will be reviewed individually, and we will link the reviews back here when the are posted.

  • “Settling the World”
  • “The Gift”
  • “I Did It”
  • “Running Down”
  • “Land Locked”
  • “Yummie”
  • “The Causeway”
  • “Colonising the Future”
  • “The Machine in Shaft Ten”
  • “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium”
  • “Science & the Arts”
  • “The Incalling”
  • “The Ice Monkey”
  • “The East”
  • “‘Doe Lea'”
  • “Cicisbeo”

REVIEW: “Dream Catcher” by Natasha Burge

Review of Natasha Burge, “Dream Catcher”, Luna Station Quarterly 26 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Reference to mass suicide.

Sometimes an implausible premise makes for a great story; otherwise, the premise is so implausible that my struggle to suspend my disbelief interferes with any enjoyment I might have taken in the story. Alas, the premise in this story as of the latter type.

REVIEW: “Halfway Through the Dark” by Alexis Ames

Review of Alexis Ames, “Halfway Through the Dark”, Luna Station Quarterly 43 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was a wonderfully cosy steampunk mystery, which I enjoyed a lot. The characters felt rich and familiar, as if this was but one episode in a series of stories. I’m now interested to see if Ames has written about Kate and David before, or if she’ll write about them again in the future!

REVIEW: “Assyrian Machinery” by Anne Elise Brinich

Review of Anne Elise Brinich, “Assyrian Machinery”, Luna Station Quarterly 43 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The setting of the story in ancient Assyria appealed to me from the start (I have a fondness for the ancient Near East, and I once did some intensive research on ancient Babylon for a story of my own, and I could tell, while reading this, that Brinich has done a similar amount of research, as I recognised a lot of the telltale details), but the story itself was what impressed me: Characters I cared about from the first paragraph, moments that pierced my soul, two threads of building/making and family/sisterhood entwined together in a beautiful manner, and sharp, sudden, unexpected ending. This was another first-rate publication in this month’s LSQ.

REVIEW: “Giant Beach” by Amy Porter

Review of Amy Porter, “Giant Beach”, Luna Station Quarterly 43 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Oh, this was a lovely story! As global warming increases, and more and more icebergs melt, the remains of a long-extinct species come to light, parts of their bodies washing upon the shores of Iceland. One day, an eye, whole and perfectly preserved for so many millennia, washes up — and “After weeks of nothing in my life mattering”, the narrator tells us, “suddenly something did”. The story of their journey to the giant beach, and their experience of looking into the giant’s eye, is both tender and intimate; Porter’s beautiful writing makes it feel like we’re there beside the narrator, watching without intruding. Beautifully crafted.

REVIEW: “The Space Beyond Cubicle Twenty-Nine” by Chelsea Sutton

Review of Chelsea Sutton, “The Space Beyond Cubicle Twenty-Nine”, Luna Station Quarterly 43 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story was a fun mixture of time travel and space exploration. About two years ago from the present day was when humans were first visited by Humans, our own race from the future, come back to the here and now to rescue humanity from a dying earth, so that one day Humanity might still exist. All that humans need to do is follow the Humans — taking flight from earth and heading into space.

Sutton’s recounting of what had happened over the last two years, told through the experiences of Lucy who works at Earth Interface Publishing, was fun and engaging, and full of likeable characters.

REVIEW: “For God is in Sleep Also, and Dreams Advise” by D. L. Podlesni

Review of D. L. Podlesni, “For God is in Sleep Also, and Dreams Advise”, Luna Station Quarterly 43 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: suicide.

It’s a testament to the quality of Podlesni’s story that I didn’t even realise it was a “little green aliens arriving on earth” story until I was flat out told so. The Immigrants that came to Matewan were presented so thoughtfully, and so intriguingly, that stereotypes were entirely avoided. And the rest of the story continued smashing stereotypes — for the most part; I’m not familiar enough with Deaf culture to know what the import of Podlesni’s choice to not capitalize ‘deaf’ throughout is. That caveat aside, this was a lovely story that foregrounds friendship, and I enjoyed it.

REVIEW: “Dead Katherine” by Victoria Zelvin

Review of Victoria Zelvin, “Dead Katherine”, Luna Station Quarterly 43 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Everyone fears the mine-owner William Dawes but the only thing that Dawes fears is the outlaw Dead Katherine. Everyone, that is, but Dead Katherine herself, who has returned to the mine to exact her revenge.

But revenge for what? And why is she called Dead Katherine? These were the two questions that drove my reading of the story, but it took long enough for them to be answered that I read less in anticipation and more in frustration because I couldn’t understand how she had ended up where she was and doing what she was doing. When the answers did finally come (but only to the first question, not the second), it felt a bit too late.