Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Luna Station Quarterly #41 (2020)

Luna Station Quarterly, ed. Jennifer Lyn Parsons. Issue 41 (March 2020). Online at

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

Luna Station Quarterly, which has been in operation for just over a decade, has as its mission “to display the vast and varied talents of women-identified speculative fiction writers.” Issue 41 of the Quarterly, published in March 2020, includes 15 stories, with a roughly even split between fantasy and science fiction.

My favorite of the lot was “Down in the Kettle Bog, or: Julian and the Frogman” by Josie Nuñez. In this tale, a coven of witches gathers to deal with a frogman that has taken up residence in a kettle bog. The protagonist, Julian, has lost the power of speech as the result of a recent emotional trauma This issue causes some of her colleagues to wonder whether she’ll be of much use in the fight, which promises to be difficult. Though the story deals with magic, I had no problem with suspension of disbelief. I think part of the reason is the rich detail provided by Nuñez, who cleverly mixes the magical with the everyday, as in the passage below:

We reach the coven at sunset. Stony Ledge unfolds before us as we descend, like a rumpled, granite tablecloth. The Ledge is an ideal spot in the mountains for witches to gather, with easy broomstick landing and a parking lot nearby. The coven is a blob of practical coats and hats from here.

“Down in the Kettle Bog” has both external and internal tension, as the coven battles against the frogman while Julian struggles to confront her own demons. The story moves along at a decent pace, and provides likeable characters to root for.

“Stealing Through the Stars” by Jenny Wong & Sylvia Santiago, takes place aboard the space-liner Veronica Speedwell. While relaxing in her cabin after finishing a shift as a courier, Nova Dufau receives an unexpected visitor in the form of a cat. When she goes to report the cat to Security the following day, however, she discovers that she’s now become a suspect in a robbery case due to guilt by association. Wong and Santiago do a deft job of unraveling the mystery of the cat’s presence and the underlying reasons for what took place.

Victoria Feistner’s “Ganymede Days” contrasts the naiveté of newcomers with that of the somewhat jaded existing Ganymede colonists. When a scuffle breaks out, a seasoned colonist must decide whether to intervene or stand by. The conflicts between the old and new colonists, and between humans and automatons, create tension in the story. Feistner also does a good job of world building, immersing us in the scene as it unfolds.

“Cloth Mother” by Sarah Pauling depicts a post-apocalyptic future in which humans designated to be big brothers and big sisters for future colonists are circling the Earth in pods, waiting for it to be safe to return to the planet to start new settlements. This story is poignant and imaginative. In “Black Crocodile” by Rachel Delaney Craft, a young girl learns about compassion as she tends to a deformed water buffalo calf. The twist ending caught me by surprise, but seemed fitting.

“Luminous” by Kel Purcill is packed with lyrical prose. In this story, the moon comes down to earth to woo a woman, and sits down to discuss books and eat baking as though that were the most natural thing in the world for it to do. The prose has a dreamlike quality, as in the section below:

The moon is wooing, went the whisper abroad, somewhere in Australia. Fishermen, long used to the moon’s conversation while waiting for the catch, found themselves leaning, instead, towards the velvet waves, finally seeing the violet and blue life flickering far beneath. Astronomers fretted, discordant, scrawled the moon notes, stuck them to telephone poles, demanding an end date to the madness…only to send thank you kites weeks later, in gratitude for the unimagined clarity of distant nebulas. Star gazers—professional, amateur and newly intrigued—grew pale and energised by their night time endeavours, hearing starsongs in their sleep, not missing midday’s bright traffic and hum in the slightest.

In C. L. Holland’s “On the Cusp of Darkness” a woman who is a disciple of the Darkness comes to a household to recruit a young girl. The girl’s grandmother is supportive, but the father is in favor of handing the girl over to the priests, who will try to “cure” her. The story explores the nature of the Darkness, and what we fear. The sense we get from the narrator is that in this case, the Darkness isn’t what we think, although the perception of many of the villagers—particularly the men—remains negative. The narrator notes that “Most girls chose the priests over the Dark from fear of letting their family down,” and “Being marked by the Dark wasn’t good or bad, any more than the sun set was good or bad, it just was,” as examples of those mis-perceptions.

In “Salt” by Rosemary Melchior, the protagonist must traverses a penal-colony world full of perils as she seeks a way to exact revenge on those who wronged her in the past. Here, although the protagonist has been labelled a witch, she is not one. She is simply someone who “crossed the wrong man” in an attempt to uncover political corruption—not so different from the way in current society that women are sometimes labelled and demeaned when they dare to challenge the status quo or become a threat to the power structure.

In Genevieve Gornichec’s “What the Gods Left Behind” the protagonist Katla travels through a post-apocalyptic United States enroute to a cabin owned by her mother near Gimli, Manitoba. In this story, which resonates with undertones of Norse mythology, a series of natural disasters have occurred, including melting of the ice caps, crop failures, wars, and then a Plague. Ghosts abound and peril remains in the form of the still-contagious bodies of the dead. Meanwhile, the rich have escaped the worst of it: “Those who could afford it boarded shuttles and fled for the safety of outer space.” Gornichec incorporates humor: a dog that has been following Katla “stared up at her with patient disinterest, like it had all the time in the world and nothing better to do.” The author weaves in enough subtle clues to render the story’s end fitting.

In “Mouse, Crow, Cockroach, Valkyrie” by Tiffany Meuret, we see an ominous event unfolding through the eyes of various creatures in turn. The first narrator is a mother mouse who smells a sour odor: “It was the smell of death. Mama knew it better than most.” Next, we get a bird’s viewpoint: “Crow needn’t get any closer to understand why—panic was universal, and she, a crow, had a particular knack of sensing it.” The transition from viewpoint to viewpoint enables Meuret to make smooth transitions and at the same time, weave in humor:

“Crow flew off while her energy still maintained, moving furiously upwind of the poisonous breeze, screaming alarm to any creature with sense enough to heed it … Nothing was heeded, to the delight of the cockroaches.”

For those interested in the “science” of science fiction, many of the stories incorporate future technology. In “Radio, out by Pluto,” by Lydia Pauly, The Processor has a titanium body, with the eyes being the only part remaining of the original human form. The story also explores the tightrope dance of should-we-or-shouldn’t-we when it comes to making contact with alien species: “She had done something without thinking; she had reached out into the darkness. And now, something was responding. Something she didn’t understand.” Pauly also explores the frustration and difficulty inherent in the attempt to communicate, when she and an unknown entity are “just uselessly speaking at each other, neither of us able to listen, desperate to be understood and heard by the other.”

“Cloth Mother” alludes to historical experiments done on monkeys using “mothers” made of wire and of cloth, and then creates a parallel situation in space, where a young woman is nurtured by both a computer presence and a three-dimensional virtual reality “mother.” In Devon Widmer’s “Star Bound,” a pair of women, one of whom is pregnant with the couple’s child, are able to breathe underwater through the use of a jelly substance they inhale. “A Life in Six Feathers” by Kathryn Yelinek is tied together with references to the archaeopteryx, the “first dinosaur to become a bird.” Yelinek also begins each of the story’s six segments with a fact about bird feathers. “The Anatomy of Spines” by Nicole Crucial and “Sweet Little Lies” by Lindsey Duncan round out the offerings.

Each of the fifteen stories in the issue had something to recommend it. While I found some more appealing than others, the quality of the stories was reasonably even, and the wide range of themes and settings means that anyone who enjoys speculative fiction should be able to find something of interest within this volume.

No comments: