REVIEW: “A Vision” by Art Ó Riain

Review of Art Ó Riain, “A Vision” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 233-237 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This story, originally written in Irish and newly translated by the editor, is ostensibly a story of the Professor and a new-fangled device that he has modified so that “you can see anything you want” through it now. His friend, the narrator, is the first to see the results.

But the story is less about the technology and more about…I guess I’d describe it as being about the futility of life. That no matter how far we move forward, we always come back to where we began. It’s the circle of life, but not in an uplifting, positive, Lion-King sort of way.

(Originally published in 1927.)

REVIEW: “With These Hands” by LH Moore

Review of LH Moore, “With These Hands”, Apex Magazine 116 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Simeon, a free black man, is working on the construction of the White House, as a bricklayer. While he daydreams about a quiet life after this job, perhaps meeting a nice woman and settling down to have children, his friends Eugene and Clifford are not so lucky. They are slaves, on loan from their master, and will have to return to Virginia when this project is over. The speculative element of this story comes from what they decide to do to avoid that fate.

Simeon is a quietly perceptive narrator, but he can not see everything. Because the story is told through his point-of-view, we never find out exactly what Eugene and Clifford did or who they struck their bargain with. That uncertainty provides the impetus for Simeon to write down this story.

Juxtaposing the White House – symbol and seat of the U.S. government – with the reality of slavery, is a bold and decisive move. It forces the reader to confront just whose labor built so many of our monuments, all while telling an emotionally compelling story.

REVIEW: “A Story Without an End (For N.C.)” by Dorothy Macardle

Review of Dorothy Macardle, “A Story Without an End (For N.C.)” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 225-230 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This is a story designed to intrigue before one even reads the first word. How can one write a story without an end? Who is N.C.? And what is the significance of the note following the author’s name in the table of contents: “Mountjoy Gaol, December 1922”?

The latter question is answered in Fennell’s brief introductory notes to the story. In December 1922, Macardle was in prison for Anti-Treaty activities (the treaty in question being the Anglo-Irish treaty that split the Irish island into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State). When Fennell picked this particular tale for the collection, he could not have known just how important the ramifications of that treaty would be, just a few years shy of a century later, as the question of the “Irish backstop” plagues the British government as it tries to extract the United Kingdom from the European Union.

All that, before we even read the first word! The story opens, not in Ireland as one might expect, but in Philadelphia, where Nesta McAllister has recently arrived to join her husband Roger. She is a quiet woman, not accustomed to grandiose speech, but there comes a night when in the company of a circle of friends she speaks of dreams that she has had, dreams that have come true. Then she speaks of another dream she’s had, one of which has only partially come true, and which she fears the future will someday bring the second half.

The “story without an end” ends quite simply, on a precipice of fear for the future. But it also does not end, because the Irish troubles did not end with the treaty, or the civil war that followed, and even now, a century later, still plague us. What would Macardle have made of that?

REVIEW: “Salamander Six-Guns” by Martin Cahill

Review of Martin Cahill, “Salamander Six-Guns”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 95-111 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I remember this story getting quite a bit of buzz when it first came out (we’ve even already reviewed it on this site!), and it was the only one of the anthology that I recognized, so I was super interested in reading it for myself.

Usually I come to the stories I review here without any preconceived notions of what they are about; not so this one. But while I’m not sure I could tell you what I thought it would be about or be like, what it was about/was like was not anything like it.

I found Copper, the MC, deeply unsympathetic. He is insecure and xenophobic, and at times reading his prejudice to the newly arrived stranger, known as the Mayor, hurt — even while at the same time I marvelled at Cahill’s skill in developing such an unlikeable character. Copper does get a bit of a redemption arc, over the course of the story, and I liked the way how both men, both Copper and the Mayor, ended up becoming what they feared most. But I’m not sure that I enjoyed the story.

(Originally published in Shimmer Magazine no. 38, 2017.)

REVIEW: “The Great Train Robbery” by Lavie Tidhar

Review of Lavie Tidhar, “The Great Train Robbery”, Apex Magazine 116 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Train robberies are a staple of the movie western, a genre most people are at least passingly familiar with, and so sometimes they find they way into speculative fiction, warped and changed when divorced from their original context. This is a particularly trippy example.

On one level, this is about two gunslingers –one older and grizzled, the other young and reckless – on a train that’s about to be robbed. That part of the story is normal. Beyond that, we have a mysterious drug that gives people glimpses into parallel lives in another world – our world. We have monsters and thieving acrobats and a war between unexplained factions warping their world.

Reading this, I was tempted to ask which world was real – the fantastical one that contains most of the plot or the simulacrum of our mundane reality – but I suspect that is missing the point. My interpretation is that reality is fluid within this story, and can not pinned down by logic. Both worlds are real. Maybe differently real, but real all the same.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes their fiction on the mind-bending side.

REVIEW: “The Summer Mask” by Karin Lowachee

Review of Karin Lowachee, “The Summer Mask”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 47-60 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a beautiful, tender story written with a delicate sense of trauma and recovery, and a level of archaity (is that a word? or is it ‘archaicity’? Or neither — what I mean is “that which makes something feel archaic”). You can certainly read it as a horror story, as I think it was originally intended to be, but to me it had no more horror in it than you find embedded in every love story ever.

(Originally published in Nightmare Magazine, no. 62, 2017.)

REVIEW: “Pan and Hook” by Adam McOmber

Review of Adam McOmber, “Pan and Hook”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 41-45 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This short little story mixes old myths with modern ones, and gives a twist to both. I loved the idea of re-envisioning Pan as the god of non-toxic masculinity; he is the perfect choice for that. So perfect, I wished he could’ve gotten a happy story instead of the sad one this was.

(Originally published in Vestiges:Mimesis, Winter 2017.)