REVIEW: “The Visible Frontier” by Grace Seybold

Review of Grace Seybold, “The Visible Frontier”, Clarkesworld Issue 154, July (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

A beautifully written story, with poignant emotions, a wonderful narrative, and wondrous descriptions. There’s a lot of focus on world-building, and I’d love to read more stories in the universe. When the story starts, you’ll assume a certain timeline and setting, but there’s a Reveal in store. When you realize how different things are from what you expected, it adds another layer of depth to this story.

Our protagonist, Inlesh, is a curious and intelligent young man, and we follow his journey of inquisitiveness throughout the story. Which, honestly, is what makes this story so poignant.

Richly woven in terms of both storytelling and world building.

REVIEW: “Recovery” by Kate Sheeran Swed

Review of Kate Sheeran Swed, “Recovery”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

For anyone who complains there are not enough SFF stories featuring eldery women MCs, this is a story for you! We learn in the second paragraph that Penny, the narrator, is eighty-six years old, and soon after that we learn that she — like everyone else — has the option of reliving four minutes of her life but — unlike everyone else — she’s lived 86 years without taking up the option. Most people use their 4 minutes long before they ever get old.

Based on a fun, fluffy premise, the story nevertheless has a good depth, balancing the serious question of what one could (or should) do if they got a four-minute redo with a lovely depth of humor. As Penny and her roommate Molly make their escape from the nursing-home to chase down the Well-Dressed Man, at times I found myself grinning in pleasure, and at times I found myself surprisingly touched.

REVIEW: “Unifications” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Unifications” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 181-193 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

As much as I enjoyed reading the collected published oeuvre of Takács, this story, original to this volume, excited me quite a bit. It’s the only one in the volume to not have a content warning, too.

It’s a story of a holy place, a hidden place, a place bound by rules that must not be broken, which Sára finds, and which she takes her friend Judit to see. But then Sára breaks the rules…

I found this to be quite a scary story, in that creeps-up-on-you-behind-your-back sort of unsettling terror. I loved it.

REVIEW: “The Pet Owner’s Guide to Reptilian Hauntings” by Jerica Taylor

Review of Jerica Taylor, “The Pet Owner’s Guide to Reptilian Hauntings”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I love a good title, and as an erstwhile pet owner of reptiles, this is a very good title. This was a fun rollicking story with a moral — never underestimate the importance of a funeral! It’s also a rather painful reflection on the difficulties of parenting, especially when one parent is deployed or otherwise absent. Funny, real, sometimes pathetic — the story lives up to the promise of the title and I really enjoyed it. My favorite of the issue!

REVIEW: “Recordings of a More Personal Nature” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Recordings of a More Personal Nature” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 125-136 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Mind control, drug use, self-harm, cutting, torture, dissociation, allusions to suicide.

So many things I love about this story:

1. Great background metaphysics — unlike any world building I’ve come across before.
2. The importance of the formation of the self via memories, something I’ve explored quite a bit in my own writing!
3. The way the story combines those two with the way it dwells more on the horror of being cut off from one’s sense of self than on the mechanics of how the archive works.

And I loved the twist at the end, when the reason why this culture depends so on their archive is revealed. This was just an all round very satisfying story.

(Originally published in Apex Magazine November 2013).

REVIEW: The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This debut short story collection by Bogi Takács contains twenty-three stories (what a wealth!). Most of the stories included here have previous appeared in various other journals and anthologies. I know some people complain about “double-dipping”, but in my mind, this is precisely what short story collections are about: Bringing together the oeuvre of an author that had been previously disparately scattered, often inaccessibly a few years after publication, into a single accessible source.

If I were to identify an overarching thread or theme that runs through the stories, it is — sadly — not octopuses but rather a paradoxical lack of care for gender entwined with a deep, abiding care for gender. Many of the stories are in 1st person POV, and we can go an entire story without learning the narrator’s name or gender or anything else; but in others, trans and nonbinary characters are strongly represented, in a wonderfully positive and affirming light. I really appreciated how Takács was able to use the medium of fiction as a means to explore both the importance of gender but also how very unimportant it can be.

I also appreciated very much how many of the SF stories were based in actual science, complete with footnotes at the end of the story for further research or to pieces that formed Takács’s inspiration. The very best of SF fiction is, in my opinion, indistinguishable from fact, and I wish more authors would cite their sources in the way that Takács does!

As is usual, we’ll review each of the stories individually, and link the reviews here when published:

Detailed content notes for the stories are available — but at the end of the collection, which puts the onus on the reader to seek out the warnings to doublecheck that each story will not be problematic. (As opposed to when the notes are either collected and presented before the stories, or when each story is accompanied by its own note.) Some of the warnings cut across stories: There are quite a lot that are labelled with ‘body horror’. I will label each story review with the content warnings from the book.

Though I’ve been a follower of Takács on twitter for awhile now, this was my first exposure to their fiction. It’s also the first time I’ve actually reached out to request an ARC of a book, and doing so all I could think — and all I could think while reading and reviewing the stories in the anthology — was I hope I do them justice. I sometimes marvel at the fact that I get to live in an age when we have #ownvoices books representing so many different experiences. We are privileged to have these authors and their stories, and I’m privileged to read them. You should read them too!