REVIEW: “Failsafe” by Karen Bovenmyer

Review of Karen Bovenmyer, “Failsafe”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 195-238 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the longest of all the stories in the anthology, and makes for a stellar capping off of the collection. The pin is somewhere in the Caribbean, and the story is a classic creepy zombie story. It is totally not the sort of story that I would ordinarily seek out to read, because I’m not a zombie story person. I’m also not really a lonely-space-traveler-with-companion-AI story person either, or a horror story kind of person, and this story was all three of these. And yet, it was also exactly the sort of story I want, not because it was a horror-zombie-lonely-traveller story, but because of the way it was these things, because of the diversity of characters, because of the one who thinks like me, because of the roller coaster of hope and despair that Bovenmyer takes us on. It was very satisfying.

REVIEW: “The Siege of Battle-Station Camelot” by Patrick S. Baker

Review of Patrick S. Baker, “The Siege of Battle-Station Camelot”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 119-131 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Sometimes, what the myth being retold is is obvious from the title, so it will come as no shocker here that the pin is placed in England and that this is the story of Arthur Pendragon, excuse me, Captain Arturo Penn Dragon, his wife, Lieutenant-Commander Gwen Dragon, maverick fighter pilot Commander Lance Lake, and an omniscient AI named Merlin — plus a huge host of other characters that are not so familiar from traditional Arthurian myths, such as strike leader Mai Kono and merchantship owner Dirk van Doorn.

And that is where part of my issue with the story lies. Half-way into the story, we know more about the ships and the weapons and the battle than we ever know about any of the characters; it sometimes feels as if the author feels he doesn’t need to tell us anything about the characters because they are already known to us — and that works for the ones which are known, but for the ones which are new additions or are not immediately correlatable to someone known, it leaves them mostly flat. (Though not entirely: we learn a little bit about Mai Kono’s backstory, and she develops into a character worth knowing. But it is precisely this development and backstory, so out of place from the standard Arthurian cycle, that makes her insertion puzzling.)

The most peculiar part about the story is the end, and the fact that Camlann is nowhere mentioned. (I’ll say no more, for fear of spoilers).

There are a handful of typos, including one sentence that ended up being utterly unparsable, and it should also be noted that the pagination in the table of contents does not match the actual pagination (given in the header above).

REVIEW: “The Suited Prince” by CB Droege

Review of CB Droege, “The Suited Prince”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 189-190 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This story is the shortest in the collection, barely two pages. The pin for its inspiration is stuck somewhere in Germany, but because the story is so short it is hard to tell what the root tale is — after all, there are many German fairy tales and folk tales that involve giant chickens!

The story was good for a laugh, in a way that many of the other tales in the book don’t seemed designed to be for. Sometimes, it’s good to read something whose only goal is entertainment.

REVIEW: “Seeds of Discord” by Tod McCoy

Review of Tod McCoy, “Seeds of Discord”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 167-173 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The pin for this story is someplace in Nigeria, as best as I can tell, and this immediately piqued my interest as I knew it would be a story that I was not familiar with.

The story was so good I pretty much utterly failed to take any notes while reading it. The only hint I will give is this: This is the story of what happens when you give agency.

REVIEW: “Doorways to Death” by Dick Yaeger

Review of Dick Yaeger, “Doorways to Death”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 161-163 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This tale is another Homeric retelling, albeit one much shorter than the other — it’s one of the shortest stories in the anthology. One of the advantages of retelling well-known myths is that it is a lot easier to build a lot of back story with far fewer words. For example, when the “Trojans” are mentioned, we know them, we know their war, and we know how it all started (and how it will end). Similarly with a casual reference to a horse. But this puts a large burden on the reader; those who don’t know the references will be lost. I think that is why this story worked for me, but the other very short story (“Hills Like Teeth”) didn’t, because I didn’t know the myth being adapted. Even so, this story was more a vignette than a story, in part because there was a lack of resolution at the end. The story opens with a question, and there was no answer. For that reason, it was a bit unsatisfying.

Another reason it was a bit unsatisfying was its use of the rather stale “men fight so that women are protected” trope. I also found it problematic that the male character is named — right in the very first line! — but that his female interlocutor was never anything more than “the woman”, and her role in the story appears to be merely a service one. If one is actually going to transpose a historic myth into a future setting, one needs to think very carefully before importing all the historic baggage that comes with. Not all of it needs to be retained.

(Also, note that the pagination given above is correct and the pagination in the table of contents in the book is not.)

REVIEW: “Drop” by D. A. D’Amico

Review of D. A. D’Amico, “Drop”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 7-38 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The reason I read short stories is to read stories like this one. From start to finish, I was enthralled. D’Amico’s tale of Fex, a man exiled from his desert city after an altercation with an elder leads to the destruction of precious water-providing plants, takes a completely unexpected turn when an earthquake hits and Fex slips through the cracks and falls down into a world utterly unlike any he has ever known. It is a classic quest tale, with a charge being laid upon Fex to repair the broken shard that has resulted in the atmospheric imbalance that has dried up his city and made them so dependent on their iviia plants for water. In the course of discharging this obligation, Fex learns that the scope of his world is far greater than he could ever have imagined.

From the start, D’Amico’s carefully chosen words drive home the desperation of life in a desert, and how precarious any desert civilization is. But when Fex visits a far away land that is drowning in damp and threatened by tsunami, D’Amico is able to make that land, too, dangerous and desperate. Reading the story, I was reminded of one of my favorite Genesis lines — “Within the valley of shadowless death, they pray for thunderclouds and rain. But to the multitudes who stand in the rain, heaven is where the sun shines” (“Mad Man Moon”, Trick of the Tale).

This story is one of the longer ones in the anthology, and worth every word of it. One of my beefs with short stories is that they often feel like they could have been much longer, and the ones I really enjoy I often wish were much longer, because they are read all too quickly. This story felt entirely complete in itself, leaving the reader satisfied and delighted when they finish it.

REVIEW: “Hills Like Teeth” by Michael Harris Cohen

Review of Michael Harris Cohen, “Hills Like Teeth”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 77-80 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The pin for this was set in Appalachia, or thereabouts, indicating to me it’s likely to be based on yet another story that I am not going to be familiar with (if nothing else, this anthology is encouraging me to widen my reading in classical folktales and mythologies outside of Greece and ancient Mesopotamia!). The story itself is quite short, and gives away very few clues. It was tightly constructed, with precise and concise scenes, but I did come away from it wondering, a bit, what the point of it was. Part of my frustration came from its length, but part of it came from the almost complete lack of agency of the female main character, who appears to be forced to choose between allowing her womb to be used at the whims of others and suicide. There is something about such stories that I simply find so depressing. So, verdict: Not the story for me.