REVIEW: “The Siege of Battle-Station Camelot” by Patrick S. Baker

Review of Patrick S. Baker, “The Siege of Battle-Station Camelot”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 119-131 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Sometimes, what the myth being retold is is obvious from the title, so it will come as no shocker here that the pin is placed in England and that this is the story of Arthur Pendragon, excuse me, Captain Arturo Penn Dragon, his wife, Lieutenant-Commander Gwen Dragon, maverick fighter pilot Commander Lance Lake, and an omniscient AI named Merlin — plus a huge host of other characters that are not so familiar from traditional Arthurian myths, such as strike leader Mai Kono and merchantship owner Dirk van Doorn.

And that is where part of my issue with the story lies. Half-way into the story, we know more about the ships and the weapons and the battle than we ever know about any of the characters; it sometimes feels as if the author feels he doesn’t need to tell us anything about the characters because they are already known to us — and that works for the ones which are known, but for the ones which are new additions or are not immediately correlatable to someone known, it leaves them mostly flat. (Though not entirely: we learn a little bit about Mai Kono’s backstory, and she develops into a character worth knowing. But it is precisely this development and backstory, so out of place from the standard Arthurian cycle, that makes her insertion puzzling.)

The most peculiar part about the story is the end, and the fact that Camlann is nowhere mentioned. (I’ll say no more, for fear of spoilers).

There are a handful of typos, including one sentence that ended up being utterly unparsable, and it should also be noted that the pagination in the table of contents does not match the actual pagination (given in the header above).

REVIEW: “This World Is Full of Monsters” by Jeff VanderMeer

Review of Jeff VanderMeer, “This World Is Full of Monsters, (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

Well, this story certainly gave new meaning to the word “face-plant.”

This odyssey of a short story (or possibly a novella–it’s rather long) follows our narrator as he is taken over by a “story-creature,” some kind of alien being that takes over the Earth and transforms our narrator bit by bit into something more like itself.

VanderMeer has a wondrous mastery of description, and the tale reads like a vivid nightmare or hallucination. His word choices paint an exquisite picture of a world gone mad and a narrator struggling through a metamorphosis he does not comprehend until the very end.

It also contains beautifully poetic moments, such as when the narrator remembers that he used to write obituaries; in a sense, this story is the narrator’s own obituary for his past life. There’s a sense of loss buried here, but also a sense of wonder and joy and potential in this new world. Indeed, the narrator wonders if he had slept a century and returned to a still-human world, would he have recognized it any better?

This weird tale manages to take what should be frightening body horror and alien invasion and turn it into something oddly uplifting by the end. It’s well worth your time to read.

REVIEW: “The Suited Prince” by CB Droege

Review of CB Droege, “The Suited Prince”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 189-190 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story is the shortest in the collection, barely two pages. The pin for its inspiration is stuck somewhere in Germany, but because the story is so short it is hard to tell what the root tale is — after all, there are many German fairy tales and folk tales that involve giant chickens!

The story was good for a laugh, in a way that many of the other tales in the book don’t seemed designed to be for. Sometimes, it’s good to read something whose only goal is entertainment.

REVIEW: “The Last Dance” by Jack McDevitt

Review of Jack McDevitt, “The Last Dance”, Asimov’s Science Fiction November/December (2017): 68-74 – Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

The Last Dance refers to contemporary technology and social developments such as Facebook pages as memorials for those who have died, or chat bots created from data from text conversations had while a person was alive.

Ethan’s wife, Olivia, died in a car accident and as part of his grieving process he orders a replacement AI program from a company called Celestial. AI “Olivia” has her voice, mannerisms and memories and allows Ethan to live with her makes it as if she never left. Almost.

The story premise is a bit “Black Mirror” but not quite so grim. It explores grief, the difficulties of letting someone go, how the echoes of people we love and miss haunt us, and how this can handled in ways that are both healthy… and not.

I found the core idea and themes were expanded on well, if a little overtly. Ethan’s unwillingness to move on was honest and Olivia’s actions in the end fitted with her motivations through the story, (though I found the final beat a bit flippant). Ethan’s daughter’s reaction to the whole thing was a particularly nice touch.

REVIEW: “And No Torment Shall Touch Them” by James Patrick Kelly

Review of James Patrick Kelly, “And No Torment Shall Touch Them”, Asimov’s Science Fiction November/December (2017): 75-85 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.

What happens when a loved one uploads themselves after death and hang around the family affairs afterwards like a bad smell?

We open with Carli’s Nonno interrupting his own, very formal and religious, funeral. Carli’s Nonno’s consciousness from just before he died has been uploaded and is able to manifest as a hologram at will to continue to observe and comment on his family’s lives and decisions. After a lifetime of running the family, Nonno’s uploaded ghost continues on to continue commenting. And he’s not restricted to observing only when he’s visible. He’s there, always, omnipotent – in some ways more controlling and present than in life.

The perspective shifts in this keep the pacing quick and allow the constraints that having Nonno around in perpetuity as they apply to each family member contrast and reveal themselves slowly. This is a story driven by layered internal conflicts – interpersonal, inter-generational, and individual. The religious and family themes here are deliberate and used effectively. The idea of consciousness uploading after death is not new, but the angle Kelly has chosen here of inter-generational family bonds and restrictions prevented from progressing in the natural order – some emerging and some breaking down – is very clever and took a second read for me to really appreciate.

REVIEW: “Seeds of Discord” by Tod McCoy

Review of Tod McCoy, “Seeds of Discord”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 167-173 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The pin for this story is someplace in Nigeria, as best as I can tell, and this immediately piqued my interest as I knew it would be a story that I was not familiar with.

The story was so good I pretty much utterly failed to take any notes while reading it. The only hint I will give is this: This is the story of what happens when you give agency.

REVIEW: “Making Us Monsters” by Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly

Review of Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly’s, “Making Us Monsters”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 19 (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

Do you enjoy weeping? Well then, I highly recommend you read “Making Us Monsters”. Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly have written a correspondence across the ages between wartime poets, and lovers, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. If you’re not crying yet there’s a good chance you will be by the end of the story.

The science fiction element in this story is quite subtle. In 1932, Sassoon suddenly begins to receive letters from beyond the grave. Front line missives from Wilfred Owen are delivered by post or appear mysteriously among other correspondence, in pockets, or among the pages of books. These letters, delivered by an unknown hand after all these years, is all the sci-fi the story includes, but such a small otherworldly touch yields a deep, examination of two men, their relationship, and war.

Sassoon documents these finds in his diary, and is soon speaking directly to ‘Will’ in his entries. It is clear that Owen thinks Siegfried has forgotten him, as he receives no reply in 1918. Siegfried fears what each letter will bring but also longs for each new word from his former lover.

The idea of letters supernaturally appearing from beyond the grave alludes to the growing interest in spiritualism that followed WWI, as people sought solace, understanding, and connection in the face of such large scale tragedy. And there is so much to dig into in this story. The distanced correspondence sharply dissects Sassoon, a man often torn between hatred of the destruction war brings, and a belief that war somehow uplifts and unites men to make the feeling beyond soldiers finer than anything else. And the writing style does a fabulous job of emulating the way the poets wrote about war – often full of tragedy, emotion, and lush, dark imagery that seduces the reader into seeing war through the prism of gothic romance before it rams home the utter, brutal hell of battle.

Sassoon’s relationship with Owen – as mentor, lover, and stirring influence – is laid bare, and is heartbreaking. Was I wrong to hope that the science fictional aspect of this story might lead to a happier conclusion? A letter that allows Sassoon to find some peace? An entirely out of this world reunion with Will? Sadly, it was not to be. Instead I was left sad, although in other ways quite satisfied, by “Making Us Monsters”. The horrors of war, especially the way the men in charge aim to create soldiers who suit their bloody purposes, are brought to the fore. And I found this story a fascinating take on the First World War, and on these two men in particular. If you enjoyed Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy about the war poets make this your next read.