REVIEW: “Mama Cuca” by H. Pueyo

Review of H. Pueyo, “Mama Cuca”, Luna Station Quarterly 25 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I was absolutely delighted to come across another story by Pueyo, whose work I’ve enjoyed before. This one did not disappoint, soaked through with Brazilian mythology and cultural history. With a two out of two record for quality short stories, I’m now very interested to read more of Pueyo’s work!

REVIEW: “Tomorrow’s Friend” by Dantzel Cherry

Review of Dantzel Cherry, “Tomorrow’s Friend”, in Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold, eds., A Quiet Afternoon (Grace & Victory Publictions, 2020): 65-68 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

For such a short story, there was a lot packed in here. I think probably many fellow women reading this story will have experienced being ostracized by other girls as a teenager, and share Sabrina’s disbelief in even the very idea of another girl, or woman, who would ever want to be her friend. It wasn’t until my late 30s that I discovered what it was like to be surrounded by women who were truly there to support and uplift each other; it made me glad that Sabrina, at least, got to learn this so much sooner!

REVIEW: “Sarah, Spare Some Change” by Ziggy Schutz

Review of Ziggy Schutz, “Sarah, Spare Some Change”, in Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold, eds., A Quiet Afternoon (Grace & Victory Publictions, 2020): 39-43 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the story of two Sarahs, the right Sarah and the wrong Sarah, who have nothing in common except for their name and the fact that they don’t like the required daily religious exercise in school, where they must separate their souls from their bodies. Together, they rebel, casting bets and trading secrets during that hour instead, and find a secret that changes their world. A sweet little story.

REVIEW: A Quiet Afternoon edited by Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold

Review of Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold, eds., A Quiet Afternoon (Grace & Victory Publictions, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When I was offered a review copy of this anthology, it was described to me as a collection of “gentle SFF stories with satisfying endings, for readers who wanted something cozy and non-stressful” — that is, perfect for reading in the midst of a global pandemic, when sometimes all you want to do is escape from everything and read something happy and satisfying and low-stakes and so completely separated from the current dystopia we live in.

Does that describe you? Then this is totally the anthology for you! I read the stories while Covid-19 deaths were rising at an alarming rate in my adopted homeland, while facing down the reality of a new lockdown, in the aftermath of an attempted coup in the country of my birth. Every single one was a moment of peace and calm: The anthology delivered exactly what it said it would. I can’t wait to read volume 2, though I hope that 2021 will — eventually — be a year that doesn’t need it as much as 2020 needed volume 1.

As is usual, we review each story individually, linking back here when the reviews are published:

REVIEW: “Cicisbeo” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “Cicisbeo”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 243-256. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Harrison is so good at giving us intimate pictures of complete strangers. While some of his stories feel like the narrator is intrusively observing someone else’s life, in this story, it feels like we the reader are the ones intruding. The experience of the reading is somewhat uncomfortably voyeuristic, but I at least couldn’t stop “watching” the unfolding relationship car crash, because there kept being hints of something more, something deeper, something fantastic — and when the reveal finally came in the very last paragraphs, it was worth it.

(It was also worth it just to learn the meaning of the title word, a word I hadn’t come across before. Hurrah for vocabulary expansion!)

(First published in Independent on Sunday, 2003).

REVIEW: “‘Doe Lea'” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “‘Doe Lea'”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 231-242. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

What a strange little story. Alan’s father has died in hospital in London, and he is taking the train back to Dover when there is a train fault of some sort and everyone must disembark at the little town of Doe Lea. Alan explores the town while waiting for the relief train to come, and the way Harrison constructs the scene is full of skill: Everything seems just a little bit off, a little bit strange, and you never find out why.

(Originally published by Nightjar Press, 2019.)

REVIEW: “The East” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “The East”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 217-229. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story, like “The Incalling” earlier in this anthology, focuses on a young man, the narrator, who takes an intense interest in a stranger, striking up a conversation with the man from the East, becoming his friend, and eventually stalking him all over London. I’m really not sure what to make of these stories. There is absolutely no sense on the part of the narrator that what they are doing is intrusive or wrong (only once does he feel “faintly guilty” (p. 224) about pawing through the man from the East’s belongings); it makes you wonder how much this is the narrator’s view and how much the author’s.

(Originally published in Interzone, 1996).

REVIEW: “The Incalling” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “The Incalling”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 173-202 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

It is clear that in this story, we are supposed to find Mr. Clerk’s demeanour and actions (especially his slack-faced tracking of Miss Alice Sprake across London) creepy and unintelligible. He is set off from the very start as an “other”, someone who doesn’t fit in, someone who isn’t quite there. And yet, what I found most creepy and unsettling was not so much Clerk’s actions but the narrator’s, Austin. We would not know anything of Mr. Clerk were Mr. Austin not following him around, in a sort of observant, prurient way that ends up being rather stalker-ish. Like — why is he doing this? The explanation given at the beginning — that as Clerk’s publisher Austin feels an obligation to take an interest in him — rings hollow within only a few pages. What was also strange was how unimportant the titular Incalling ended up being; for such a long story, it was all over almost as soon as the story began. All in all, this was a weird one, all right.

(Originally published in The Savoy Book, 1978.)

REVIEW: “Stiff” by Kellie Coppola

Review of Kellie Coppola, “Stiff”, Luna Station Quarterly 25 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is one of those stories that starts off ordinary and mundane, where you read for awhile wondering where the speculative element will slide in, and then when it finally does, it makes you smile. Despite the mention of aliens in the opening sentence, this isn’t an alien story. It’s rather a story about the titular Stiffs, and I found it to be a clever and unusual take on some traditional tropes.

REVIEW: “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 141-163 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Two things the title invites the reader to ask: Who is the young man, and where (or what) is Viriconium? Neither question is answered explicitly. Is the young man the narrator? Or is it the Dr. Petromax that he meets in his search for Viriconium? Viriconium itself, we are told, is a place that we all want, but “it is the old that want it most” (p. 142). Half the interest in the story is trying to piece together what (or where) Viriconium is, so I shan’t say anything more about it.

This story was told at a more languid pace than some of the others in this collection, and the framework of one person reporting what another person has told him meant I found myself regularly flipping back to remind myself to whom these experiences belonged. I’d peg this one as “good” but not “phenomenal”, like some of the other stories in the anthology are.

(First published in Interzone, 1985.)