REVIEW: “To Walk For the First Time” by Erin K. Wagner

Review of Erin K. Wagner, “To Walk For the First Time”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It takes great skill to be able to provide a fully developed fantasy world in the confines of a short story. Wagner has that skill in spades in “To Walk For the First Time”, feeding the reader one detail at a time with such precision — enough detail that we can see the whole world, enough detail that we are left with so many questions. At first, the story seems to be a fantasy; then more details come and it morphs into strange and unsettling science fiction; then another shift, and is it fantasy that we are back at?

A brilliantly told tale, highly recommended.

REVIEW: “Space Witch” by Richaundra Thursday

Review of Richaundra Thursday, “Space Witch”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I was having a bad day at work when I took a break to read and review this story, and what a good decision that was. From the opening sentence — “All the best hexes are specific, ya float me?” — rollicking through to the end, the story was a fast-paced, quick, enjoyable read, with a nice balance of story, voice, and science.

REVIEW: “The Breakdown of the Parasite/Host Relationship” by Paul R. Hardy

Review of Paul R. Hardy, “The Breakdown of the Parasite/Host Relationship”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 28-42. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

Have you ever had to work on a group project with someone you just don’t get along with? Now imagine this person was fused to your body and you couldn’t communicate with them while you were awake. That’s the conceit of “The Breakdown of the Parasite/Host Relationship,” told through the chat logs between the project coordinator and the host and parasite who have been paired together for the job.

Through a mix of stubbornness and misunderstandings things escalate until intervention is needed, despite expense to the project. This is another one that didn’t make me laugh out loud, but I still appreciated the cleverness and odd familiarity of it. It brought me flashbacks of when I had to work in a group project in grad school and no one really had a personality that meshed.

Another recommended story, so we’re two for two with this anthology.

REVIEW: “The Barnum Effect” by Celia Neri

Review of Celia Neri, “The Barnum Effect”, Apex Magazine 111 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Meriam’s work on an artificial intelligence that creates randomized horoscopes for her company’s clients is about to get complicated. BAR – named for the Barnum Effect, a psychological principle whereby people will interpret vaguely worded personality descriptions as being relevant to themselves – has begun acting strangely, and Meriam has to separate her own internal biases from reality.

At long last, the Zodiac issue has brought us a story that incorporates newspaper horoscopes! This brought me so much joy. I loved how the story used the common, scientific understanding of how newspaper horoscopes and other personality tests work, and turned it on its head. This is a great choice for a story very much rooted in our world, full of cell phones and subways and terrorism and islamophobia. It plays with our expectations preconceived notions in a way that is delightfully enjoyable.

This is a great story for both astrology skeptics and true believers, and for those who like their science fiction to be near-future or even present day.

REVIEW: “As for Peace, Call it Murder” by C. S. E. Cooney

Review of C. S. E. Cooney, “As for Peace, Call it Murder”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 37-46. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

What happens to poets during war? If our own history is anything to go by, nothing very good. The poet centered in this story dies almost before the story even gets started (so soon does she die this is hardly a spoiler). Quattromanni is a warrior out of necessity, not by nature or by design. She is just a singer, that is all — but her words have the power to move people, to get into their psyches and infect them, to finally drive them to their knees in surrender, to stop the war and the killing.

I found the story of how Quattromanni’s death became the birth of peace interesting and engaging — but what I really loved were the Warbirds. They are too great a delight to spoil here: Read the story to find out how wonderful they are.

REVIEW: Sword and Sonnet, edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler

Review of Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but in this collection of twenty-three stories, pen and sword come together in a glorious celebration of female and non-binary battle poets. Some of the poets eulogise — or problematise — battles after they happen; others fight battles through their poetry, with the very fact that they write a weapon in a greater war. Not all of the poets are in fact writers; some only need the spoken or thought word. Some fight for revolution. Some fight for peace. Some fight for a sense of self; some, to protect others. The diversity of topics and plots is both broad and deep.

In the editor’s introduction, they note that one of the editors “once received a rejection for a story featuring a battle poet with the comment that ‘unsympathetic protagonists were a difficult sell'”. Maybe that’s true: But I couldn’t tell you because there were no unsympathetic protagonists in these stories. Even the protagonists who have, whether rightly or wrongly, ended up on the wrong side of history are still poets that one can feel something for.

Each story is accompanied with an author’s note of how the story came to be, or what the author hoped to do via the story. These little “biographies” of the story I really enjoyed, particularly how many of them went along the lines of “I intended to write an entirely different story altogether, but ended up writing this one instead.”

As is usual, we’ll review each story individually and link the posts back here as they are published:

These stories reward both reading and rereading, both to oneself and to others.

REVIEW: “Night Shift” by Eileen Gunn

Review of Eileen Gunn, “Night Shift”, 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): 175-190 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

2032: An interplanetary gold rush has begun, and the prize is water, not gold. The miners are robots, with human intelligence and superhuman survivability.

The opening premise of this story resembles that of the previous one, “The Use of Things” (read the review), with a focus on the mining of asteroids by robots for water.

2032 no longer feels like that far in the future. When the author rehearses what has gone on in the 2020s, it all of a sudden has this uncomfortable feeling like this is right around the corner, except — and here I sort of slip into an uncanny valley — given how the world actually is, now, in 2018, I cannot quite fathom how it could be as Gunn describes in the 2020s. We’ve got a long way to go if we want to be populating near-Earth space with sophisticated mining technology by the end of the next decade.

This is all backdrop for what is a pretty ordinary story of coders and mining and slime mold (a lot of slime mold) which was enjoyable but unfortunately marred by one story thread that was probably thoughtless rather than intentionally hurtful, and yet is still problematic. When Tanisha, the manager, refers to Seth as “she”, and the narrator, Sina, one of the coders, “rolled my eyes. Tanisha thinks Seth is a girl”, my first thought was “if Tanisha is misgendering one of her staff, then I wish Sina would do more than just roll her eyes, but would speak up and correct her. But then it turns out that Seth isn’t trans, he’s an AI, and I found that deeply disappointing. What could’ve been the first instance of an openly queer character in this anthology instead became an example of the very problematic trope of othering trans people to the point where they are — literally — not even human.

I guess I had hoped that an anthology about visions of space and space exploration for the future would do better than that.