REVIEW: “Suzhou River” by Cai Jun

Review of Cai Jun, Frances Nichol (trans.), “Suzhou River”, in Jin Li and Dai Congrong, ed., The Book of Shanghai, (Comma Press, 2020): 131-146 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

C’s trip down the Suzhou River in his white steel bathtub is one of the more speculative stories in the anthology. His journey is layered with surrealism and dreams within dreams, leaving the reader uncertain, at the end, whether he managed to meet up with his beloved Z or not.

(Originally published in The Lover’s Head, 2003.)

REVIEW: “Transparency” by Xiao Bai

Review of Xiao Bai, Katherine Tse (trans.), “Transparency”, in Jin Li and Dai Congrong, ed., The Book of Shanghai, (Comma Press, 2020): 123-129 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Xiaotong is a PI whose been hired by a woman named Malin to track her husband and send her updates on his life. What is the secret he has been hiding from her? Who is Xiaohua, Malin’s best friend or the woman her husband is seeing behind her back? None of the answers Xiaotong finds are what you’d expect, or what they seem in this quick little mystery story.

(Originally published in Shanghai Literature, 2019).

REVIEW: “The Lost” by Fu Yuehui

Review of Fu Yuehui, Carson Ramsdell (trans.), “The Lost”, in Jin Li and Dai Congrong, ed., The Book of Shanghai, (Comma Press, 2020): 95-122 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was a strange, wondrous story, that can be read on many levels. On the one hand, it’s a simple interrogation of our modern society’s reliance on our technology, tapping into the fear that pretty much all of us probably have, of what it would be like if we lost our cell phone.

On the other hand, there’s a weird layer of fantasy overlying everything, the parts of the story where it’s not clear if they’re really happening or not. Despite being one of the longer stories in the anthology, this was one of the most gripping; it sucked me in and kept me interested from the opening paragraphs right up to the bizarre and unexpected ending.

(First published in October, 2012).

REVIEW: “Les Korrigan” by JBMulligan

Review of JBMulligan, “Les Korrigan”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 365-376 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Good stories play with stereotypes and turn them on their head. Think of a fairy: What do you imagine? Small, fluttery wings, probably female…this is about as far from Les Korrigan as you can get! Les is a tough old manual laborer, powered by alcohol and full of “groaner” jokes, filing reports on the so-called “self-contemplative beings” to headquarters three times a day.

But being a fairy didn’t always use to be like this. In the story we learn about the Old Way and the New Way, and that Les’s father was caught in the transition from one to the next. Beyond that, though, I felt like I didn’t get much context for the story, nor very much character development or action. It was a strange little piece.

REVIEW: “Legato” by Brian A. Salmons

Review of Brian A. Salmons, “Legato”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 363-364 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This poem, described as “a pantoum after a line from Ursula K. LeGuin’s Planet of Exile, is a beautiful one full of sweet longing. I wasn’t familiar with pantoums before reading this poem, but I have decided I love the style — full of ripples and repeats like the tide ebbing in and out.

REVIEW: The Book of Shanghai edited by Jin Li and Dai Congrong

Review of Jin Li and Dai Congrong, ed., The Book of Shanghai, (Comma Press, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The Book of Shanghai is part of a series of books which pick a city and then collect stories from/of that city. In the introduction to this volume, Jin Li provides a nine page overview of the history of literature and authors from Shanghai, from the late 19th century to the early 21st century, charting the evolution of the modern period of Shanghainese literature and the influence of western culture upon its development. It was fascinating and accessible and I learned a lot about a topic I had previously known very little. Thumbs up for that alone.

This isn’t the sort of collection that we normally review here, as most of the stories in it are of a more straight-up literary flavor, with little to no speculative elements in them; only a few stories fall under the spec-fic umbrella, to a greater or lesser degree, despite the blurb on the back making the stories sound much more fantastical than some of them are. Nevertheless, when I was offered a review copy, I jumped at the opportunity, having previously read and deeply appreciated two of Comma Press’s spec fic/SFF anthologies. This volume also didn’t disappoint. As usual, we’ll review each story separately and link to the reviews below as they are published. As is not usual, however, we’ve put an asterisk (*) next to the stories that do fall in the SFF/spec fic remit of this blog, so that if for whatever reason you wish to avoid the non-speculative stories, you can (though we don’t recommend that — they’re all good).

REVIEW: “Net Loss” by James Sallis

Review of James Sallis, “Net Loss”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2020): 107–108 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

The protagonist is unfairly sent to jail when a  “smart” TV hears an argument between him and his girlfriend and calls the police. From then on, his life takes a serious turn for the worse. After he gets out of jail, his girlfriend leaves him, his landlord evicts him, and his name ends up on a sex offenders list. As such, he decides to give in and turn into a real criminal.

Except for the “smart” TV that calls the cops, there’s hardly any speculative elements in the story, so its place in Analog may be questionable. That aside, it was a pleasant read. The prose is written in stream-of-consciousness style, which makes the rather sardonic twist at the end (if one may call it that) work surprisingly well. It felt like navigating through an unstable mind, which I imagine is what the author intended. However, I’m not sure what the title “Net Loss” refers to in the story.

Overall, this was an enjoyable piece of flash fiction.

REVIEW: “Candida Eve” by Dominica Phetteplace

Review of Dominica Phetteplace, “Candida Eve”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact May/June (2020): 96–101 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Susana is the last surviving member of a terraforming expedition to Mars. An unexpected fungal pandemic claimed the rest of the crew while on flight, in addition to claiming millions of lives back on Earth. Despite the tragedy, Susana must find the courage and will to carry out her mission and create a new home for the future of humanity.

The story’s subject matter — i.e. a deadly pandemic — certainly makes it a relevant read at the time of publication (I’m guessing that is why it was included in this issue). There are startling similarities between the plague in Candida Eve and Covid-19. I’d be very surprised if all of it was just a coincidence.

Aside from that initial impact, however, “Candida Eve” leaves a lot to be desired. The prose is clear but relatively dry, making for a less than engaging read. Almost half the story consists of info-dumping about the details of Susana’s mission and the unexpected pandemic that devastated humanity. There’s little that actually happens in the story, and by the end, little gets resolved in a satisfying manners. There’s little sense that Susana overcame any of the challenges of her mission as she displays very little agency throughout the story.

REVIEW: “A Deal is a Deal is a Deal” by Beth Anderson

Review of Beth Anderson, “A Deal is a Deal is a Deal”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 349-362 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was probably the most hilarious story in the volume. I laughed out loud more than once at this clever take on two people who bargain their first-born child for everything their heart could desire.

REVIEW: “What the Gods Left Behind” by Genevieve Gornichec

Review of Genevieve Gornichec, “What the Gods Left Behind”, Luna Station Quarterly 41 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content warning: Death (including death of children and parents; oblique mention of war).

Apocalypse, ghosts, a destructive plague, a lone walker, a talking dog, Norse gods…there’s a lot crammed into this story. I’m always a little wary of stories that open with a single person striking out on their own after an apocalypse, because it’s hard for a single character to carry an entire story, even a short one. But despite Katla being “more or less the last woman on Earth”, there’s a rich cast of characters, and enough interaction for Katla to become sympathetic.

I think I would’ve gotten more out of the story, though, if I knew my Norse myths better.