Review: Uncanny #23

Uncanny #23, July/August 2018

  • “Red Lizard Brigade” by Sam J. Miller (science fictional)
  • “You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me” by K.M. Szpara (science fictional)
  • “Bones in the Rock” by R.K. Kalaw (fantasy)
  • “By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speech” by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry & A. Merc Rustad (science fictional)
  • “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander (fantasy)
  • “The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon, California, and the Unknown” by Brit E. B. Hvide (fantasy)
  • “Give the People What They Want” by Alex Bledsoe (science fictional)
  • “Nails in My Feet” by Mary Robinette Kowal (fantasy)
  • “Everything Under Heaven” by Anya Ow (fantasy)

The twenty-third edition of Uncanny is a special issue, all the (short) stories of which are set in a shared world of multiversal spacetime gates and which are supposed to feature dinosaurs. A brief introduction credited to several contributors lays out the softly science fictional premise to bring in a subject which many people are inordinately fascinated by: the terrible lizards. Even with these easy parameters, most of the stories mostly or entirely ignore the premise (to the point of not even being in the same genre) and none of them show any interest in dinosaurs. The stories and this aspect of them make me think of the L7 song, “I Need,” which includes the lines, “Enough talk about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me? me? me?” I don’t ordinarily review shared world fiction but entire issues of the magazines I do review aren’t usually devoted to them, either, and skipping an entire issue seems odd, so I’ll briefly sketch what you may be in for.

Red Lizard Brigade” is about a Soviet soldier trying to prevent his fellow soldier and lover from defecting. The two men have a final confrontation in which the dinosaur the loyalist rides is analogous to any military tool. “You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me” (me, me, me) is a second person tale in which you were born a female and get mad when your dad won’t pay for your sex change operation. Late in the story, the protagonist says he doesn’t, and I quote, “give two shits about [dad’s] portal and his dinosaurs.” In “Give the People What They Want,” we’re treated to a scam to produce dinosaur porn, the third scene of which is impossibly narrated.

By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speech” is the last of the vaguely science fictional tales and one that features another strong theme of the issue: insofar as dinosaurs are featured at all, they are still not usually real creatures of flesh and blood but are romanticized symbols. In this one, a deaf person teaches a raptor (almost none of the stories have anything besides raptors, usually velociraptors) sign language because she wants to get inside the cage with it. Coincidentally, I just recently learned about Timothy Treadwell and think our protagonist should fare no better. “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters” is similarly romantic about the noble dinosaur as it treats men as idiots and women as wise but is at least written explicitly as a fairy tale, so its witch hobnobbing with the dinos seems less preposterous. “Bones in the Rock” also recalls “Claw” in the sense that, as “Claw” is aiming for “Enemy Mine” emotional weight, so this tale, about a deeply loving dinosaur reincarnated repeatedly as a human, aims for emotional weight but is fundamentally silly.

One fantasy that doesn’t fit with the others is “Everything Under Heaven” in which a woman complains about her insufficient mother-figure and cooks while the other woman (and prospective lover) hunts the Great Green Dragon. Two even further outliers are “The Emigrants’ Guide” which adds a crazy member to the Donner party along with his pet “strange little bird” and “Nails in My Feet” about a sentient dry-rotted dinosaur puppet. Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “The Puppet Show” instead.

As can be seen from the increasingly random tales, one of the many ways in which this issue fails is in not capitalizing on a particular virtue of connected story sequences: none of the stories relate to the other except incidentally or accidentally and certainly don’t build on each other to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Taken individually, none is successful and, taken as parts of a shared whole, they’re worse.


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