REVIEW: “A Strange Heart, Set in Feldspar” by Maria Haskins

Review of Maria Haskins, “A Strange Heart, Set in Feldspar”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 57-72 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I love the title of this piece — it is stuffed full of possibility.

The story is told in alternating points of view, from above, from beneath, from between. These voices provide the shape of the mine that is the titular abandoned space of this story. At first, I thought it was a horror story, with all the horror that comes from being a parent myself and imagining it is not Alice but me in the mine, dark, claustrophobic, uncertain of where my children have gone. (Such simple things so terrifying.) And that horror is just a shadow horror that Alice must face: The choice between whether she wants to find her children or find her way out of the mine. But then, at the very end — I don’t want to say for fear of spoilers, but the ending makes me need to revise my original classification.

A powerful, real, and disturbing story — probably my favorite of the anthology so far.

REVIEW: “When We Sleep, We Kill the World” by Adam Lock

Review of Adam Lock, “When We Sleep, We Kill the World”, Syntax and Salt #5, December 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Tiffany Crystal

Here’s one that will get you thinking. Artificial Intelligence and the future of robots/robotics can be a bit of a hot button topic, especially with the news story of the robot who opened a door for a “friend.” You have the people who are convinced that robots are going to try and take over the world, and then you have people who will turn it into a debate over what makes a person real. The Turing Test only tests a machine’s ability to mimic human behaviour. What happens when it becomes less of a mimic, and more of a truth? That is – what happens when the emotions are no longer perceived to be fake – to the robot or the human observer? What is it that sets humans apart from an AI that advanced?

“When We Sleep, We Kill the World” hits on that debate like it’s a massive gong at the mouth of a valley – you will feel the questions it brings up in your bones and will stay with you many miles down the road. I cannot recommend it enough.

REVIEW: “Where’s the Rest of Me?” by Matthew Cheney

Review of Matthew Cheney, “Where’s the Rest of Me?”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 31-52. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

And I’m looking at you right now, Mr. Reagan, and I know you’re not a queer, so I have to ask myself, as any reasonable man would: If you don’t look like a queer, why do you write like one? This is perplexing to me.

The story is a collection of snapshot vignettes, from a few sentences to a few paragraphs long, each with their own title. The same characters populate the vignettes, but the snippets are not ordered in a way to make a plot or story manifest. The reader must build the story themself while they read the different pieces, figure out how to put them into order in order to understand why we’ve been given these pieces rather than other ones. What’s omitted from the snippets are the answers to the question asked in the title of the story.

I found the story alternatingly startlingly sad and very perplexing. it is full of names and dates, historical details and precise facts — so full, in fact, that half-way through I was no longer able to reconcile what I was being told with what I (thought I) already knew about history, and had to pause and look up various things in wikipedia. That confirmed my own knowledge, and left me then wondering why Cheney chose to change history so much; what was gained by taking real-world historic figures and changing their lives, that would not have been present if Cheney had made up his characters? I don’t know. But I’ve also decided I don’t care about not knowing; even without that, this was a good story.

(Originally appeared in Blood: Stories, 2016).

REVIEW: “Two Tails” by Ransom Noble

Review of Ransom Noble, “Two Tails”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 86-99 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story relies heavily on the standard tropes about twins (e.g., “their twin connection”, p. 97), unfortunately to its detriment, in my opinion. Landry and Bellamy are twins training to become professional mermaids when an accident befalls Landry, leaving Bellamy — who has always been the follower — behind. I found Bellamy to be rather flat and personless, primarily defined in relation to her twin, who exerts significant (and sometimes problematic) control over her. I’ve read enough twin stories for the tropes to be familiar, but reading them again here it makes me wonder how much is trope and how much is real, and also how much the story needs Landry and Bellamy to be twins — could it have worked if Landry and Bellamy were merely sisters rather than twins? I think it could have.

This was a story that I found, personally, merely “fine”. In the context of this anthology, it seemed a bit out of place; it was not clear to me what was the place that had been abandoned.

REVIEW: “Mark Twain’s Daughter” by Cath Schaff-Stump

Review of Cath Schaff-Stump, “Mark Twain’s Daughter”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 117-125 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The first thing the snarky, sarcastic, rather rude commentary in my head had to say about this story was, “Oh, look! It’s a story about a woman whose identity is defined by her relationship to a man!” But it’s unfair to judge a story by its title, and Susy’s story is so much more interesting than her relationship to her father. As I read it, I kept thinking, “She could be anyone’s daughter, and I would still read her story.” The appearance of Mark Twain and other members of the Clemens family in the story is almost entirely incidental.

For awhile I also wondered whether this would be another story where the central theme of the anthology — abandoned places — would not be entirely clear. But in the end, the story fit. Places become abandoned when people are abandoned in them — that is how Susy’s story fits the anthology brief.

(Originally appeared in Curcubital 3, 2012.)

REVIEW: “The Parthian Shot” by Dashiell Hammett

Review of Dashiell Hammett, “The Parthian Shot”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 275 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I’m not sure if I should confess the following ignorance of not, but fears of what random people on the internet think of me have never really plagued me much, so: I’d never heard of Dashiell Hammett before reading this piece of flash fic, now nearly 100 years old.

It’s hard to evaluate a story that’s only a paragraph, but as a parent myself, I can sympathise with Paulette, and admire her courage as she does what probably every parent considers doing at least once during their tenure.

But I am not sure why this story is in this anthology. It is the final story in the collection, one which I would expect would cap it off, solidify the experience, that it would match well the way in which the collection opened. But while it is a good little story, it lacks an abandoned place. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the collection (that I’ve read so far).

(Originally published in Smart Shot, 1922)

REVIEW: “The Money Book” by Lara Kristin Herndon

Review of Lara Kristin Herndon, “The Money Book”, in Abandoned Places, edited by George R. Galuschak and Chris Cornell (Shohola Press, 2018): 239-249 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The setting for this story is a vague, unsettling, unpleasant future: After the bombs, after the wars, after the virus, after so many people have died. It is a time when so many things that used to have intrinsic value — like money — are now worthless in themselves, worthful only in so far as they can be used to create something of value, something like paper. Paper to record the past, to provide a foundation for the future.

Herndon’s story comes with a heavy weight of significance, palpable in every action on every page. Yet, I was never quite sure what it was that was significant; and for that reason, this story just didn’t quite work for me.