REVIEW: “Into Nothingness” by T. D. Walker

Review of T. D. Walker, “Into Nothingness”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

My favorite type of science fiction is the sort where it hits close enough to home to be believable. If someone had told me the premise of this story in advance of reading it, I probably would’ve scoffed and said “not really my type”; but the way that Walker drew me in and fed me details, one at a time and not too quickly, I felt like I believed it at every step. So in case you’re like me, I won’t tell you the premise of the story so as not to ruin it for you.

The way the initial premise of the story was developed would alone have won my approval; but the story was further improved by a quadripartite structure that allowed me to see each of the characters from a different perspective. First, we hear Madison’s side of the story, of what happened after her twin sister Mia was in a horrible car accident. Then it is Mia’s turn to give us a lens both into the aftermath of the accident and into their sisterly relation. In the final two parts of the story, it is two outside perspectives that view the sisters — two more versions of what happened. I loved the way the four parts worked together, and the distinctive voices that were present in each.

REVIEW: Fairy Tales and Space Dreams by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I’ve been a big fan of Jasmine Shea Townsend’s Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-Fi ever since the Facebook page launched last year, so when I heard that she was publishing a collection of her stories, I was super excited to have the opportunity to read and review them. This is exactly the sort of stuff I want to see supported and promoted on SFFReviews!

This collection is split in half, with three fairy tales and three space dreams, and as is usual we’ll review each in turn and link the reviews back here when they are posted:

  • Princess Snow White
  • The Sea and the Stars
  • Rapunzel, the Night Maiden
  • Omega Star: Genesis
  • The Cosmic Adventures of Sophie Zetyld
  • Evangelina’s Dream

The fairy tales are three classics, retold fairly closely to the originals. The space dreams branched out a bit further, presenting new tales, and as a result, I found the latter half stronger than the first half — good fairy tale retellings are tough to do well, I am finding out while reviewing for this site! But there’s a reason fairy tales have the longevity they have, and even middle-of-the-road retellings are still enjoyable.

REVIEW: “When We Dream We Are Our God” by Wole Talabi

Review of Wole Talabi, “When We Dream We Are Our God”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A man explains his decision to join his mind with others in a network seeking to connect and learn, inspired by the birth of the first true artificial intelligence. It’s a fairly intellectual story, driven by science and philosophy, but uses that as a vehicle to explore matters of the heart.

In my experience, stories about the singularity tend to posit that AI will either seek to destroy us, or else want to become our friends. This story find a nice middle path between those reactions, though the AI is actually only a small part of this tale. Still, I felt like it did something different with a the concept, which is noteworthy.

I believe that this is, above all, a story about potential, and about hope. Humanity’s potential to overcome our problems. Hope that the universe will be friendly, or can be made so, and hope that sentience can win out over hatred and fear and divisions.

REVIEW: “N-Coin” by Tobias Buckell

Review of Tobias Buckell, “N-Coin”, Apex Magazine 120 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A stockbroker is about to end his life, after losing one billion dollars of his firm’s money money (not to mention his own) on a new crypocurrency: Negrocoin, or N-coin, as he prefers to call it.

This is a unique take on both the volatility of the stock market, and on the complete lack of reparations ever made to African American after slavery was abolished. I did not really understand the details of how this crypocurrency worked, but I had no trouble at all following the historical anecdotes about how former slave owners were compensated for their “lost property,” but the 40 acres and a mule promised by General Sherman never materialized for those freed slaves to make a start at live, how how that has never been rectified, leading to huge differences in generational wealth over time.

This story is short and sweet, getting straight to the point without any meandering. The first person narration works perfectly, capturing the stockbroker’s desperation and lending a personal voice to all of the lessons on history and economics.

This is a good, quick read for anyone interested in a bit of a revenge fantasy for structural inequality, based very closely in reality.

REVIEW: “Blood in Elk Creek” by Alex Acks

Review of Alex Acks, “Blood in Elk Creek”, in Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures (Queen of Swords Press, 2019): 8-84 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

In “Blood in Elk Creek,” we are introduced to Captain Marta Ramos in media res: her aeroplane has crashed and she’s in a pretty bad way — and things are about to get worse if she comes in contact with the Infected. Those who come to this anthology having read Acks’ previous collection of stories about Ramos already know her — this was my first introduction, and even though I didn’t know anything about her or her background and history, Acks was quite skilled at making me interested in her from the very start; and after two dozen pages or so, I began to care about her.

Half-way down the first page we also meet Colonel Geoffrey Douglas, who at first seems almost like a charicature of a steampunk character — mustachioed, military, masking a sword with a cane for his limp. I struggled a bit more to get involved in his story line, in part because military strategising isn’t particularly my thing, especially when much of the activity is predicated on politics that I was not familiar with, not having read the previous anthology. Indeed, there was a while where I wasn’t sure this story would be one for me — not only because of the military line but also due to the presence of the Infected, described only as such but quite clearly fitting into the “zombie” archetype. Zombies and armies? Ordinarily, no thanks. But Acks managed to keep me reading and keep me interested.

(Originally published in Sausages, Steam, and the Bad Things, Musa Publishing, 2015).

REVIEW: Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures by Alex Acks

Review of Alex Acks, Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures, (Queen of Swords Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection of three novellettes is the second book of stories of the pirate captain Marta Ramos. Captain Ramos first showed up in Acks’ Murder on the Titania and Other Steam-Powered Adventures, but the author’s introduction to the present collection assured me that I needn’t have read Murder before reading Wireless. What is necessary is to read the three in this anthology in order, as they are not disconnected stories that happen to center the same character, but rather closely linked stories interlocking into a single arc. Following that, we will review each of the stories in order, linking the review back here once they’re published:

I haven’t read that much steampunk, and almost none set in the American west, so I approached this collection of stories eagerly for that. Even if you don’t ordinarily seek out steampunk stories, you’ll still find something to enjoy in these rollicking tales!

REVIEW: “Genie’s Retirement” by Sarah Newman

Review of Sarah Newman, “Genie’s Retirement”, Luna Station Quarterly 29 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Retirement doesn’t mean quite the same thing for a Genesis Model household AI robot as it does for a human person. It’s not like robots have hobbies, after all, or need to move to warmer, sunnier climes to soothe their aching bones. But robot bodies get old, software gets outdated, and eventually their “life” must come to an end. Newman’s story explores what this end might look like, in a sympathetic and touching way.