REVIEW: “The Boy with the Golden Scales” by Ashleigh Gauch

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: “The Fall of Tryos” by Eddie D. Moore

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: “Poison_apple.exe” by Chanel Earl

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.

REVIEW: “Ashes” by Mike Lewis

Review of Mike Lewis, “Ashes”, in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 63-80 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I really do love retellings of known tales. You get all of the comfort of familiarity and all the joy of wondering what the twist(s) will be. This story is, of course, Cinderella — if the title wasn’t a big enough clue, then the main character’s name being Ella definitely should be.

One of the fascinating things about fairy tales is that the characters in them are more like caricatures; they are fitted into a story according to the roles that they play rather than according to characteristics of themselves. This works brilliantly for fairy tales told to small children, who can use the technique as a means of inserting themselves into the story. For a retelling of a fairy tale, however, the use of stock characters executing well-known tropes can sometimes feel a bit tiresome. I spent much of the story being bounced between irritation at the appearance of these tropes and then having that irritation assuaged by the way Lewis played on the tropes and twisted them. Why must Ella’s sisters be physically gorgeous while she is not? Why must Ella dream of a handsome captain to rescue her? The answers are not what you might think! Sometimes, the heroine gets something better than a prince…

REVIEW: Poetry in Starward Tales II

Review of poetry in Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017). — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I decided to tackle all the poetry in the anthology in one go because poetry can be wicked hard to review and it made sense, in the context of a themed anthology like this, to discuss all the poems together.

“Penelope Longing for Odysseus” by Vonnie Winslow Crist (p. 141)

One of the hallmarks of a classic story is that it transcends both time and genre. In this poem, Crist has transposed the story of Odysseus to far into the future, with Penelope waiting at home for her space-ship captain to return. Whether told in epic poetry and set in ancient Greece, or told in short blank verse form and set far in the future, the story of Penelope’s patience, love, and dissatisfaction with her wandering husband remains a powerful one. (The poem also reads aloud nicely, and rated an “It was good” from my 6 year old.)

“Chained” by Vonnie Winslow Crist (p. 39)

Like Crist’s other poem in the anthology, this one also draws upon a foundation of Greek myth, but it is not a straightforward retelling of a known tale. Instead, Crist uses the familiar elements of mythology to couch an unfamiliar future, when humanity has been awoken from cryo-state on a foreign planet. Will we find ourselves in the underworld, in purgatory, or in paradise?

“Girl in the Red Hood” by Richard King Perkins II (p. 97)

The inspiring story for this poem is obvious from the title. The first four stanzas follow the traditional story for the most part, with embellishments and details that make it a distinctive and not generic re-telling. The final stanza is where the dramatic climax is reached; unfortunately, there was not quite enough in it for me to understand the import of the ending. It wasn’t clear who the narrator of the poem was, nor what memories it was that the girl in the red hood forgot before the wolf devoured her.

“Icarus” by María Castro Domínguez (p. 117)

(Note that the table of contents puts this poem on p. 115).

The story of Icarus is one of my favorites, so I was immediately drawn to this poem from its title. The poem did not disappoint — Castro Domínguez paints some vivid pictures with her words — but I am not sure what connects the story of the poem to the story of Icarus.

“Beauty, Sleeping” by Marsheila Rockwell (p. 173)

This brief (10-line) poem takes the story of sleeping beauty and turns it upside down — what happens if when the prince comes to wake the princess instead of giving her his animative power, he takes hers instead?

REVIEW: “The Signal” by Halli Lilburn

Review of Halli Lilburn, “The Signal”, Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 135-142 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The pin for this story is placed in Germany (East Germany, I believe). It’s a short story, so there isn’t much time for clues about its fairy tale inspiration to be dropped — in fact, it was on the first page that I had a sudden lightbulb “Oooh, oooh, I know this one!” moment, even though I couldn’t put my finger on exactly which one it was. I just knew that it was one of the Grimms’ grimmer repertoire, and not one apt for Disneyification (though now I am fascinated by the idea that someone would someday try this). The rest of the story was then read enjoyable along two dimensions. On the first, there where the simple pleasures that come from reading about kick-ass female captains, translations of foreign languages, and mysterious signals from the void. On the second, there was the “I know I should recognize this story, I know I should know which one it is, is that another hint, is that another clue?” dimension, which was all the more deliciously satisfying when the ending came — with an amusing twist — and I was hit with the “oh, that’s right, it’s that one“. Someone who recognises the story sooner will alas not have that part of the enjoyment, but it hit the right spot for me.

A few parts that didn’t hit the spot have to do with a few of the liberties taken with reality. Within the span of two sentences we go from a radio signal that, when certain filters were placed on it, morphed “into a woman’s voice speaking an unknown language” to a point at which “the translation proved the message was urgent”. Unless you’ve got a babblefish on hand, this simply isn’t how the decoding of languages works — if the language were truly unknown, I would have wanted to see the decoding of the signal take decades or more, or I would’ve liked to have been told something about the new technology that makes such quick decipherment possible. I also found it rather hard to believe that rigorous checks weren’t in place when evacuating a ship to prevent people from being left behind; it may be a small detail, but even fiction needs enough verisimilitude to be enjoyed.

These are small niggles. Overall, it was a fun read.

REVIEW: “Steadfast” by R. W. W. Greene

Review of R. W. W. Greene, “Steadfast”, Starward Tales II, edited by CB Droege (Manawaker Studio, 2017): 111-115 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The pin for this story is stuck in the south of Scandinavia, but neither that nor the story itself was sufficient for me to determine which myth or legend it was a retelling of; it must be one of the more obscure ones.

The SF elements are not very clearly specified, but they — unlike in some stories — are integral to the plot and to the character development. Unfortunately, the story was marred midway through by the introduction of the casual degredation (sexual and otherwise) of women, which was both entirely not cool and entirely unnecessary to the rest of the story. If you’re looking for a story that treats women with respect and avoids demeaning them for no purpose, then don’t read this story.