REVIEW: Stories from Daily Science Fiction, September 11-15, 2017

Reviews of stories published in Daily Science Fiction from September 11 through 15, 2017. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

“The Depths To Which We Sink” by Melissa Mead, Sept 11, 2017: Read Online.

A tale of mermaids looking for their souls. Mead creates a pervasive resonance with the darkness of the deep ocean. I found the unfolding of events in this story a bit confusing, but it packs a poignant heroic ending.

“Ships Made of Guns” by MV Melcer, Sept 12, 2017: Read Online.

What would you do if your planet was invaded by an overwhelming force? Would you fight, would you hide, would you plot rebellion? Or would you surrender? A gripping story with a vibrant narrator and a gratifying twist.

“We Always Remember, Come Spring” by Michelle Muenzler, Sept 13, 2017: Read Online.

This action-focused scifi story follows the grueling “races” held by planetary colonists. An enjoyable story marred only by a passing hint of colonialism. Muenzler efficiently delivers backstory and takes a sharp look at people pushing their bodies to the limit. Her narrator strikes a hard-hearted tone that invites us to explore the meaning of sentimentality.

“Smile” by Emilee Martell, Sept 14, 2017: Read Online.

Super-short even by flash standards, “Smile” is a satisfying revenge story for those fed up with being hassled as they walk down the street.

“You Can Adapt to Anything” by John Wiswell, Sept 15, 2017: Read Online.

My favorite story from this week! Check out the full review here.

REVIEW: “You Can Adapt to Anything” by John Wiswell

Review of John Wiswell, “You Can Adapt to Anything”, Daily Science Fiction, Sept 15, 2017: Read Online. Reviewed by Caitlin Levine.

They say that people are endlessly adaptable. Sometimes that is a blessing; but, perhaps it is sometimes a curse. “You Can Adapt to Anything” follows two scientists, Miguel and Juniper, as they develop trans-dimensional travel. The two are the ultimate pair, united in love, purpose, and excitement. But after their portal breaks down, Juniper finds herself stuck in a different dimension – with a different Miguel.

Wiswell takes us on a technology-filled exploration of the nature of love. Alternately sweet, scientific, and sad, this story is an exquisite orchestration of emotions that never becomes sappy or trite. You’ll have to re-read this one to pick apart the layered questions of love and identity.

This is my favorite Daily Science Fiction story from this week because of the detailed relationship between Juniper and Miguel, paralleled by Juniper’s exploration of her own identity. The ending perfectly highlights the emotions of the piece and wraps up the story while opening the door for the characters to continue on.

REVIEW: “The Waiting Room” by Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin

Review of Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin, “The Waiting Room”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When I was young, all the SFF protagonists were young, and I never even noticed, because I was young, and thus the world was young and their stories could be my stories and my stories could be theirs.

But then I grew older (and 35 is hardly old), and they all stayed young, they did not age, and I found myself becoming increasingly irritated by this. Young heros and heroines often do such stupid things, things that only seem stupid in hindsight. But more than that, there was this implicit assumption that to be a hero or heroine was to be young; once you’d reached my age, my stories were no longer their stories, and their stories could no longer be mine.

Once I realised this, I started making a point of seeking out stories where the heroine was not a young slip of a girl, but someone older, someone with a history, someone with a family, someone with a past. But I know that I am still young and will grow yet older, and that is where stories like Melkin’s “The Waiting Room” come into the fore: When was the last time that you read a story where the heroine was an old, dying woman? That long ago? Well, now is the time to fix it. Go on, click the link above. Read the story. You won’t regret it.

REVIEW: Iraq+100, edited by Hassan Blasim

Review of Hassan Blasim, ed., Iraq+100: Stories from a Century After the Invasion, with support of Noor Hemani and Ra Page (Comma Press, 2016). Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I discovered this book last year via a random tweet and was immediately intrigued by the premise. Editor Hassan Blasim asked ten Iraqi writers to consider the question “What might Iraq look like in 2103, a century after the British/American invasion?” The result is an eclectic collection of speculative stories, in the most literal sense of the term, which nevertheless are tied together by a very clear and distinctive thread, a thread that Blasim identifies as “the tragedy of modern Iraq—the tragedy of a people that is desperate for just a solitary draught of peace”. It is a sobering read, but it is also a delightful and entertaining read.

The book begins with an introduction by Blasim, describing how the collection came about, but also discussing the state of Iraqi science fiction:

Iraqi literature suffers from a dire shortage of science fiction writing and I am close to certain that this book of short stories is the first of its kind, in theme and in form, in the corpus of modern Iraqi literature (p. vi).

Blasim discusses why he hopes that this will change in the coming years, but also speaks to the question why there is such a dearth of science fiction in Arabic literature more generally. He notes that:

Perhaps the most obvious reason is that science fiction in the West was allowed to track the development of actual science from about the middle of the 19th century onwards (p. vi),

and that during this period, there was no similar corresponding technological growth in Iraq, so Iraqi science fiction is still in a sense playing catch-up.

I wonder, though, if one couldn’t dig a bit deeper. Just as the roots of contemporary western science fiction go back further than the 19th century (Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World (1666) is often hailed as a forerunner of modern science fiction), speculative stories have a long and venerable history in an Arabic tradition—it’s just that these stories weren’t necessarily written or told as fiction! Instead, the very best of historical Arabic speculative story-telling can be found in the medieval Arabic philosophical tradition. To give just one example, in his Kitab Al-Shifa (On the Soul), ibn Sina (Avicenna) begins the following story:

One of us (i.e. a human being) should be imagined as having been created in a single stroke; created perfect and complete but with his vision obscured so that he cannot perceive external entities; created falling through air or a void, in such a manner that he is not struck by the firmness of the air in any way that compels him to feel it, and with his limbs separated so that they do not come in contact with or touch each other (Read the Arabic here).

This is the beginning of the so-called “Floating Man” or “Flying Man” thought experiment, but one philosopher’s “thought experiment” is another speculative author’s “science fiction”: For what is science fiction other than a great big “What if?” thought experiment by another name?

This is all to say that if one digs just a bit deeper, there is a wealth of speculative and science fiction material ripe for the delving in the Arabic tradition. Blasim’s collection may very well be unique in its kind right now, but I dearly hope it won’t be for long. I would love to read more stories like these, by more authors like these.

Some of the stories were written in English; some of them have been translated for this collection. Below is a list of the contents; I will review each story individually and when the reviews are published, link to them from this post.

  • “Kahramana”, by Anoud.
  • “The Gardens of Babylon”, by Hassan Blasim.
  • “The Corporal”, by Ali Bader.
  • “The Worker”, by Diaa Jubaili.
  • “The Day by Day Mosque”, by Mortada Gzar.
  • “Baghdad Syndrome”, by Zhraa Alhaboby.
  • “Operation Daniel”, by Khalid Kaki.
  • “Kuszib”, by Hassan Abdulrazzak.
  • “The Here and Now Prison”, by Jalal Hassan.
  • “Najufa”, by Ibrahim al-Marashi.

REVIEW: “The Salt Debt” by J. B. Rockwell

Review of J. B. Rockwell, “The Salt Debt”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What struck me first about this story was the beautiful language, with a handful of phrases painting a detailed picture. What struck me next was how Rockwell can make the extraordinary seem ordinary. Too often that which is foreign to our own lived experiences appears in stories as foreign as well; but not here. Whether it is an old man with a clockwork heart, a girl with the body of a kraken, or a knitted cat, each of the extraordinary characters in “The Salt Debt” are presented as utterly ordinary. The story the narrator tells is also utterly ordinary — we grow old, we love, we die — and that ordinariness is what makes the ending sweet rather than grotesque.

It is a short story, but at the end I am left with a fleeting happiness of having read it and a desire to read more by this author.