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 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 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.
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 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.)
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 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.
Review of Ashleigh Gauch, “The Boy with the Golden Scales”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017):177-187 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
The pin for this story is somewhere in Alaska, which immediately caught my interest as I realised I know nothing about the legends and stories of that area. Reading such retellings in this anthology is a double-layered process, as a result, as I read the story first for the enjoyment of the story itself, and second to see if I can tease out which bits are hearkening back to the original story and which are new.
The pictures painted in this story are stark, and utterly unfamiliar. In the beginning, were it not for one brief mention of planetary travel, I would not have known that the setting was offworld, as opposed to deeply embedded in the past, or simply in a culture I did not know. It was only one small side reference, too, and it made me worried that this would be another story where the SF element was a thin veneer painted over the top, instead of being integral. To some extent, that worry was founded; there was one clearly SF subplot thread, but it was only ever that. I would love to read a version of the story that inspired this one, to compare the two.
Review of Eddie D. Moore, “The Fall of Tryos”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 85-95 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
This retelling of the siege of Troy is an eclectic mix of archaic and futuristic. The details of the story are little changed — Helen has been abducted from Menelaus; Menelaus’s friends are called to make good upon the Oath of Tyndareus; Ulysses (yes, he’s called that and not Odysseus) arrives belatedly to save the day — and many of the details are not made explicit, as Moore presupposes the reader’s familiarity with the original. For example, one must already know who Paris is to know who the character Pari or Peri (both names are used; I’m not sure if this is intentional or if one is a systemic typo) is.
It’s never entirely easy to simply transpose an ancient story into a futuristic setting. Many things — names, titles, ranks — can be kept the same, with other things — technology, for instance — simply being upgraded (the original Odysseus could only dream of space ships, laser swords, and Aspida fields). But there are certain aspects of the past that one can only hope will not be present in the future, and it is always a bit disappointing when one reads a futuristic story that still clings to the negative parts of the past. Sometimes it can be a very small thing, such as when Ulysses tells his Strategos that “our wives, children, and neighbors will feast our victory for weeks” (p. 85). Only their wives? Are none of them married to men? Are there no women in the fleet? One can only hope that in the future, it will be “our husbands, wives, and children”, or even better just “our family and friends” that celebrate our victories with us.
Like other stories in the anthology, this one is somewhat let down by the proofreading. In addition to the Pari/Peri fluctuation, there are again many missing commas, which detract (even if only minimally) from the pleasure that the story itself gives.
Review of Chanel Earl, “Poison_apple.exe”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 145-159 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
This is another story where the inspiring myth is clear from the title alone. The twist comes from the fact that the story is told from the POV of the “evil queen” (who is the grandmother, rather than the stepmother — a pleasant twist away from a standard trope). The setting of the story is maybe one or two generations from the present, and Earl works in the SF elements — which are perforce muted because of the timeline — in a very careful and precise way. The magic mirror is not magic, merely a robot. Instead of poisoned apples, Snow White must avoid a cleverly implanted computer virus.
Earl’s take on “Snow White” was a vivid and different retelling of the story. She evokes the reader’s sympathy in the main character while also perfectly capturing 7-year-old exuberance.
My enjoyment of the story was marred by the number of missing apposite commas, which jars me every time, as well as a few typos and errors in capitalization. It’s a shame that a good story was let down by the proofreading and editing.