REVIEW: “Cleaning House” by Angela Boswell

Review of Angela Boswell, “Cleaning House”, Luna Station Quarterly 40 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This story is one half of a conversation, from Lottie to her dead grandmother’s partner Maris. Ordinarily I’m not a huge fan of either monologues or 2nd-person narration, but since it was made clear from the start that I, the reader, was not the object of Lottie’s observations, these two stylistic choices didn’t bother me as much as they often do. I liked the intimate way Boswell explored the fall-out of the death of a loved one, and what we learned of Grandma Al, and I liked the ambiguity surrounding Maris. However, I did feel like the story was strong out longer than it needed to be, and that it might have been improved by tightening it up and making it tauter. Personal opinion, though.

REVIEW: “Your Future is Pending” by Matthew Kressel

Review of Matthew Kressel, “Your Future is Pending”, Clarkesworld Issue 158, November (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

This is a slice of life story about a dystopian future where people get even more engrossed in technology than they already are at present. Virtual reality has taken over, and people stay plugged in for days at a time. To the extent that people have service bots that clean them, because they’re too busy being plugged into the virtual world to even bother with basic hygiene.

Martha works for one of these companies, and her life is real life. She knows the temptations of VR, and actively rejects it. It’s a bleak, allegorical story, and oddly engaging because of it.

Martha’s life, as contrasted with the lives of those who are completely into virtual reality, is much more difficult, ordinary and frustrating. An illuminating insight into the ever increasing gulf between the haves and have-nots.

REVIEW: “National Center for the Preservation of Human Dignity” by Youha Nam

Review of Youha Nam, “National Center for the Preservation of Human Dignity”, Clarkesworld Issue 157, October (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Set in a future dystopian timeline, this story focuses on acceptance, dignity and death. A world where, if you can’t pay survival tax, you’re. In effect, poor people who can’t afford it are taken to the National Center for the Preservation of Human Dignity.

When our protagonist gets the final letter asking for payment, she knows this is it. Her hours, not even days, are now numbered. The story is a peek into how she handles this, knowing her own time and manner of death.

The National Center is a place of mild luxury, for people to her to enjoy their last hours. Everyone handles this news and revelation differently, and our protagonist seeks dignity.

Her dignity is a character of the story in itself, something that she clings onto quite strongly.

REVIEW: “The Time Traveler’s Husband” by A. C. Wise

Review of A. C. Wise, “The Time Traveler’s Husband”, Shimmer 46 (2018): 61-68 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Regarding the title, it’s nice to see the man identified purely by his relationship to someone else, for once! (And while it isn’t immediate from the title, that “someone else” is herself a woman.)

But if you came to this story from its title hoping for time-travel, you might end up being disappointed — it really truly is the story of her husband, the story of the one who is left behind and who has to make a life living each moment in time successively. We never know his name, but we learn intimate details of his life, his relationship with his wife, and also his relationship with his father. The time traveling isn’t incidental, but it is definitely the backdrop for the telling of the relationships, not the story itself.

It was a beautifully sad story, and also a beautiful story. Midway through, it felt like it could continue in the vein it opened in without any resolution, but then it looped back on itself coming around full circle. I found the ending satisfying.

REVIEW: “A Princess, a Spy, and a Dwarf Walk Into a Bar Full of Nazis” by Patrick Bollivar

Review of Patrick Bollivar, “A Princess, a Spy, and a Dwarf Walked Into a Bar Full of Nazis” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 184-200 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Casual ableism, homophobia. And more Nazis.

I’m not entirely sure I needed back-to-back Nazis stories. Look, I get that there is a certain power in stories which cast them as the villains which they are and which show different ways that they can be overcome and defeated. But there is also something to be said for letting them slip slowing into darkness, never forgotten but never mentioned. In a world where we have to deal with current Nazis, I’m not entirely sure of the merit of providing more stories for them to feature in — even if it is as unmistakable villains, there will always be someone who reads such stories and thinks “actually, maybe they were on the side of the right”.

All that being said…the Nazis got punched by the third page, and I can hardly complain about that. Also, the ending made me laugh.

REVIEW: Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales edited by Rhonda Parrish

Review of Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection of 18 stories was my first introduction to the subgenres of dieselpunk and decopunk. Parrish in her editorial introduction defines diesel- and decopunk in opposition to steampunk (the characteristic difference between them being time-period), but this approach only works for a reader who already has a comfortable grasp on steampunk — something I’m not sure I yet have. What makes a story “-punk”? I wasn’t sure before I started reading, and I’m not sure I had any better an idea by the time I was done.

Does this mean I felt the anthology failed? No. As a collection of interesting stories with a strong fairy-tale influence (stronger in some stories than others, but overall the inspiration was obvious), overall I enjoyed reading it. I think that there is a lot of “scope for the imagination”, as Anne Shirley would say, in setting stories in the 1915-1945 era, and further that the World Wars, with important roles that Germany played in both, provide a unique perspective on retellings of what are ultimately very German fairy tales. (Not that all the fairy-tale inspirations in the book come from Grimm, but the Grimms’ tales lend themselves well to transposition of setting in this way). That being said, I did feel that the quality of the stories was uneven — some more successful than others in both plot and presentation. Were any of them bad? No. Was the entire collection outstanding? Alas, no also.

As usual, we’ll review each story individually, and link each back here when the review is posted:

REVIEW: “All Electric Ghosts” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “All Electric Ghosts”, Clarkesworld Issue 157, October (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Right off the bat, the world building is detailed and intense. Benny is a man in grief, taking the help of whatever he can to help him survive his loss. There is mention of drug usage, but in a very matter of fact way, which lent yet another nuance to the story. Make no mistake, this is a very nuanced story already. In fact, it feels like the beginning of a much larger story. I would definitely like to read the larger work this seems to be a part of.

Benny gets involved with some aliens, and he quickly forms a bond with them, because they’re the best way he has found to deal with his grief and survive in a better way. He needs them for his next hit, and they need him for vaguely nefarious purposes. Along the way, he finds a tenuous friendship, which hints at the possibility of it turning into a stronger one.

This story will leave you wanting more.