REVIEW: “Star Tipping” by Jonathan Coolidge

Review of Jonathan Coolidge, “Star Tipping”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 163-176 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Contemplation of suicide, explicit descriptions of pain and injury.

This story starts in media res with a crash and a bang — literally: Church, the first-person present-tense narrator is in a pretty gruesomely described car crash. What follows isn’t much more pleasant, as we’re taken on a trip down Church’s memory lane, filled with unhappiness and hurt.

Just at the point where I was wondering “what is speculative about this?” the story takes a sharp turn into superhero-land as Church discovers — via unexpectedly using them — he has achieved superpowers.

This story wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I can still appreciate the quality of its crafting.

REVIEW: “As Long As You Remember” by Marla Cantrell

Review of Marla Cantrell, “As Long As You Remember”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 81-87 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the story of Chick, an itinerant car-thief who never stays in town more than a few days. It isn’t clear where he is going or why — if he is running from something, or two something. The story is told at an arm’s length remove, being a factual recounting of his actions. It is only when we get brief glimpses of the person who is doing the recounting that any sort of story develops, that we get to see a side of Chick that isn’t quite as unsympathetic as the facts present. Things veer off in a strange direction at the end, leaving the reader (well, me) with an uncertain resolution. I’m still not sure why Chick’s story is one that I should care about.

REVIEW: “Carry On” by Shelby Van Pelt

Review of Shelby Van Pelt, “Carry On”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 49-58 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was a story full of paradoxes. It was full of sharp, fine details that made the setting feel intimate and real, and yet I couldn’t tell you where or when it was set. The first-person narrator continually addresses an unnamed “you”, but that “you” is not me, the reader. Instead, it feels like we’re inside the narrator’s head, overhearing her internal monologue, as she recites her history and how she and her friend ended up stranded in a desert when almost everyone else has moved on, made the long trek to the south.

Even in the ending is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. I think I know what happened — but I won’t spoil the surprise by telling it here.

REVIEW: Beneath Strange Stars edited by David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland

Review of David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This gorgeously thick volume of short stories and poems is a charity anthology supporting the Association for Science Education, the United Kingdom’s professional association for teachers of science and science technicians and “the largest subject association in the UK” (p. 11), with proceeds going to benefit the ASE’s wider educational mission. Hannah Russell, the ASE’s chief executive officer, provides a brief introduction to the volume that stresses the importance of novel ways to engage the wider community with science of all kinds — such ways including, naturally, science fiction and speculative fiction more generally.

I expected more science fiction and less fantasy, and the quality of the stories varied. But even so, as a whole, the stories and poems in this collection made good on what was promised: They both entertain and instruct. And across the board, the poems were the high points. I do not usually have a very high tolerance for poetry, but I really enjoyed so many of the poems in this anthology.

As usual, we’ll review each of the stories in turn, and link the reviews back here when they are published.

REVIEW: “One Lost Space Suit Way” by A. J. Ward

Review of A. J. Ward, “One Lost Space Suit Way”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 138–144 (print) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

This is the story of a self-aware space suits that journeys through a strange and surreal future for over one-hundred years. It goes on to witness the worst of history as humanity tries to make a life in a hostile new world. More than a hundred years later, with what is left of its energy and working parts, the space suit returns to the farm it escaped from and writes down its life’s story.

I really liked the premise of a self-aware “smart” space-suit along with the author’s surreal — almost like a fable — tone of the story, but unfortunately not much else appealed to me. For the most part, the story consisted of large chunks of dispassionate prose describing a rather vague and generic dystopia. I did appreciate some of the quirks the author imbued on the space suit — like the hoarding of forest animals — but at the same time it felt as though it was only a small part of a larger, incomplete metaphor that went nowhere.

Overall, I found it a dull read. However, the premise is original enough that I look forward to reading the author’s future publications.

REVIEW: “All the Turns of the Earth” by Matthew Claxton

Review of Matthew Claxton, “All the Turns of the Earth”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 132–137 (print) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Narrated in the second person, this story features a  young child mysteriously catapulted into prehistoric times.  There, the child finds the abandoned egg of pterosaur and raises it into adulthood. The two forge a strong relationship with each other, but before long, the child falls back into the present day. She grows up grows up wondering if she’ll ever see the pterosaur again.

First, I must confess a personal bias: I don’t really like stories told in the second person. More than often I find second person stories contrived and gimmicky, adding little or nothing to the core of the narrative. That said, Claxton manages to avoid the usual distractions of second person, creating a rather engaging little yarn. The prose is elegant and poetic, and even though at times it verges on the “purple,” it goes a long way at making the scenery come alive. I particularly enjoyed the description of the transition from the past, back to the present:

You stumble, and skin your soft hands on the asphalt.

The story might feel a bit out-of-place to regular readers of Analog, as it belongs more in the realm of fantasy or magical realism than anything remotely resembling hard SF (Analog’s usual cup of tea), but I nevertheless enjoyed it while it was there.

REVIEW: “The Greatest Day” by Eric Choi

Review of Eric Choi, “The Greatest Day”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 92–103 – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

In this story, Eric Choi imagines an alternate past where the damage that brought down the space shuttle Columbia does not go undetected, but is instead caught on time by an eager and highly motivated ground crew. Once they confirm the damage on Columbia’s left wing, ground control works diligently to plan a suitable rescue mission to bring the ship’s crew safely back home.

“The Greatest Day” offers little in the way of originality, but it is nevertheless a well-written tale full of suspense, excitement, and bureaucratic tension — as well as tons of delicious detail regarding NASA’s internal operations. The author does a great job at keeping a crisp pace so that the plot does not get bogged down in technical minutiae (of which there are plenty). The simple and straightforward prose, organized by dates and locations, adds greatly to the realism of the piece, which at times reads like a governmental report. All in all, an entertaining read.