REVIEW: “The Artist” by Koji A. Dae.

Review of Koji A. Dae, “The Artist”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

All too often, art has no — or not enough — place in science, both in science fiction and science fact. In Dae’s SF story, the titular artist plays a central role: Karla Becker is the one who had the important breakthrough in crystallography, she’s the one that people know that value. But when she cannot replicate her breakthrough of two years ago, her single-minded experiments on the very same crystals end up costing her job. What role, then, can the artist play?

The story started off feeling like it was going to be rather depressing and hopeless, but it did not end that way. I loved the feeling of hope, that art, and life, is worth fighting for, that pervading the ending.

REVIEW: “Tonghai” by Linda H. Codega

Review of Linda H. Codega, “Tonghai”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Jian is sailing west down the Tonghai river, “toward the asterism her ancestors called Tiger King”, in search of fresh water. It’s been fifty-eight days since she’s seen another person, and four hundred and eighty-six since she last saw a tellerite.

This was a quiet, reflective story of living in the aftermath of the worst parts of climate change. At times it was beautiful — phrases like “picking up the afterbirth of a hundred civilizations” really resonated with me — and at other times it was cold — not yet hopeless, but serving to remind the reader that the world Jian lives in could be our own in the future. Parts of it touched upon myth, and other parts were calmly pragmatic. I really enjoyed this one!

REVIEW: “Three Partitions” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Three Partitions” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 155-180 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Cis- and intersexism, vomiting, body horror, shunning, death, self-injury, injury, blood.

This story fulfills my desire to see religion incorporated into SF — not just as an incidental, but as fully and strongly as the science itself. (Why do so many SF authors seem to forget the central role that religion plays in human lives?) It opens on Chani attending service, which is at once both chaotic — where is the kohen? A levi must read the prayers instead — and closely constricted — “Men below, women above, and…those who were neither in the right corner of the balcony” (p. 156). In that third partition is Chani’s friend Adira.

It’s an intimate story, full of monstrous details and quiet exclusions, tightly focused on Chani and Adira, but also on a bigger question of who can be Jewish, and what it means to be Jewish, and woven in with little gems of humor. I really am in awe of the way Takács is able to combine the unfamiliar and the familiar, the grotesque and the ordinary, in such powerful ways.

(Originally published in Gigantosaurus April 2014.)

REVIEW: “Ironheart” by Jonathan Mayberry

Review of Jonathan Mayberry, “Ironheart”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 119-141 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Ironheart is fabulist science-fiction set in a near-future America, where technology has progressed enough that robots can be used to work farms and artificial hearts can be used to keep people alive, but the social and political landscape hasn’t changed at all. The protagonist, Duke, is a veteran in a recent war, whose life-saving artificial heart is bankrupting his family to the point that they can no longer maintain their farming robots. It reminds me a little of Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse by S. B. Divya, in that it follows a disabled character through practicalities as their life starts to collapse.

I’m not sure whether the story is in dialogue with the “good patient” tropes – Duke is angry, especially at the doctors for saving his life, for the fact that he’s expected to be grateful despite the fact that his robot heart is failing – or whether it’s engaging with the present state of social care and the military industrial complex. It’s a story where robots have replaced labourers, but humans are still being recruited as soldiers, I would believe either. I will also accept arguments that what I’m describing as a fabulist element could be pure scifi (nanobots!), but the way that the robot is finally activated feels like something from a fairytale despite the fact that I can see where it was set up earlier in the story.

Ironheart has interesting imagery and a very political core, but I’m not sure it was a story for me. It didn’t bore me, but I admired it more on a technical level than an emotional one.

[Caution warnings: medical bankruptcy, transplant failure]

REVIEW: “The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto” by Annalee Newitz

Review of Annalee Newitz, “The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto”, Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Gallery / Saga Press, 2018): 83-98 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Susan T. (Read the review of the anthology.)

RealBoy is a manufacturing robot in a toy factory, who wakes up one day to find that the titular Blue Fairy is infecting them with malware in an attempt to bring them around to the cause of the robotic revolution. It is an interesting story, and I think I can appreciate what it’s doing – RealBoy, once they have done their research, is in favour of choice, free will, and working with others, while Blue Fairy is a propagandist who wants short cuts to revolution.

(Why put the work in to change minds when you can inject your propaganda directly into your targets and force them to believe as you do? Why take part in incremental progress or the work that other people are doing, when you can just burn it all down overnight and damn the consequences? Why do your research when you can just cherrypick the things that agree with you? … Why does this all sound familiar from arguments on twitter?)

I’d be interested in knowing more about the world setting – all of the robots in the factory appear to have been salvaged from other roles, for example, and there’s very little sense of scale until RealBoy gets out into the real world – but on the whole, I found it to be equal parts fascinating and exhausting as a political allegory.

REVIEW: “This Secular Technology” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “This Secular Technology” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 137-153 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Blood, injury, cutting, body horror, vomiting,
suffocation, mentions of slavery and death.

Ah, this story…first, I started reading it and then got interrupted and by the time I could get back to it, I had to reread it from the beginning. Then, I wrote up a lovely review of it late one night, only to find in the morning an errant copy/paste had lost it all.

Normally reviewing isn’t quite such a struggle. But in this case, I found it beneficial to reread the beginning parts of it. Takács’s stories are so full of detail that sometimes it can be hard to pick out, on the first go, which ones are important for the story and which are just part of the rich world-building. This one is no exception. In particular, what I really enjoyed about this story was the strong Jewish cultural elements threaded throughout: Many were catalysts for the story, but many were also just part of the background world. So much contemporary SFF is set against a generic Christian background — even generic pagan backdrops are constructed in opposition to Christianity as the dominant religion — and I think this is a such a shame. We need more stories like this one, which remind the reader that the dominant paradigm is not the only one.

(First appeared in Mirror Shards, ed. T. K. Carpenter, 2012).

REVIEW: “Good People in a Small Space” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Good People in a Small Space” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 117-123 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Sadism, masochism, cheerful body horror, blood.

A strange little story, with a lot of very distinct and distinctive characters — truly weird and unfamiliar aliens, truly weird and unfamiliar humans. This story really showcases Takács’s exceptional ability at depicting the unknown.

(Originally published on Patreon, 2016.)