A circus of cyborgs coming to perform for an audience of lumberjacks on the planet Hathor — that description both perfectly summarises the central plot of this story, and completely fails to capture the way in which this story felt weighty and serious, not haphazard and humorous, as you might expect from such a description. This story had a real quality to it; well done.
Thumbs up for a great title. Another thumbs up for beautiful imagery that made me feel like I was watching a ballet. And because I keep spare thumbs around just for such purposes, a third one for giving me a bittersweet but still hopeful story.
Review of Rachael Maltbie, “After Bots”, in Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold, eds., A Quiet Afternoon (Grace & Victory Publictions, 2020): 27-34 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
Content note: Death of a partner.
The robots in this story are quite different from the personable robots of Agner’s story immediately preceding Maltbie’s in the anthology. These, it’s hard to tell if they are even robots or if they are just statues of robots. But either someone is moving the sculptures, changing their head and hand positions, or the robots are moving themselves…and Agatha Streusel has got to find out which.
This story was definitely more on the “sad” than “contented/happy” side of things, but it ends on a hopeful note.
Review of Mary Alexandra Agner, “Rising Tides”, in Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold, eds., A Quiet Afternoon (Grace & Victory Publictions, 2020): 17-26 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
This story totally nailed the brief of the anthology. A simple plot: A magical robot has been left, leg broken off so it cannot move, on the shores of a beach in the face of the rising tide. But it’s amazing how easy it is to empathise with a left-behind robot, and my heart was in my throat the whole time I read this, anxious that it would have a happy ending. (Of course it did. This is a book of happy endings. And this was a very happy ending!)
When I was offered a review copy of this anthology, it was described to me as a collection of “gentle SFF stories with satisfying endings, for readers who wanted something cozy and non-stressful” — that is, perfect for reading in the midst of a global pandemic, when sometimes all you want to do is escape from everything and read something happy and satisfying and low-stakes and so completely separated from the current dystopia we live in.
Does that describe you? Then this is totally the anthology for you! I read the stories while Covid-19 deaths were rising at an alarming rate in my adopted homeland, while facing down the reality of a new lockdown, in the aftermath of an attempted coup in the country of my birth. Every single one was a moment of peace and calm: The anthology delivered exactly what it said it would. I can’t wait to read volume 2, though I hope that 2021 will — eventually — be a year that doesn’t need it as much as 2020 needed volume 1.
As is usual, we review each story individually, linking back here when the reviews are published:
- “The Baker’s Cat” by Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom
- “An Inconvenient Quest” by Rebecca Gomez Farrell
- “Rising Tides” by Mary Alexander Agner
- “After Bots” by Rachael Maltbie
- “It’s All in the Sauce” by Elizabeth Hirst
- “Sarah, Spare Some Change” by Ziggy Schutz
- “Ink Stains” by Tamoha Sengupta
- “Salt Tears and Sweet Honey” by Aimee Ogden
- “12 Attempts At Telling About the Flower Shop Man (New York, New York)” by Stephanie Barbé Hammer
- “The Dragon Peddler” by Maria Cook
- “Tomorrow’s Friend” by Dantzel Cherry
- “Hollow” by Melissa DeHaan
- “Of Buckwheat and Garlic Braids” by Adriana C. Grigore
There was a lot I liked about this story — the central idea of lexical engineering, wherein words once written down must become true, meaning a trained lexical engineer can make a plane fly simply by using the right words — but a lot that also didn’t quite work for me. There were abrupt shifts in focus from one character to another, and also inexplicable shifts in tense. In the end, I was left with a feeling that it was a great idea that could have been better.
There was some absolutely delicious world-building in this story, introduced to the reader in a deft and accomplished manner, with a heart-breakingly beautiful ending. This is a masterpiece of a short story!
This is a quick read which is very satisfying. There is a point in this story — near the beginning — where I broke into a sudden grin. Most people living on earth believe that humans are the only sentient life in the universe; but one lucky man knows that aliens exist — he’s won the lottery!
Review of M. John Harrison, “The Crisis”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 257-271. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
And here we come to the final story in the anthology. Despite being one of the more recent ones, it has the feel of his earlier work, from the 70s and 80s, more gritty SF less vague speculative fic. But even Harrison with all his skill can’t make me like 2nd person POV narration.
(Originally published in You Should Come With Me Now, 2017.)