“Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon
Reviewed by Eric Kimminau
Upon preparing to review the stories in Uncanny #7, I wanted a bit of background and found myself parsing through the About section of their website. What exactly was Uncanny striving for? According to the editors, each issue contains intricate, experimental stories with verve and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs. Uncanny believes there’s still plenty of room in the genre for tales that make you feel. Let us begin.
“Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon started simply enough. Sarah was a part time waitress who only worked that job to support her life and her passion which was her wood carving stall at the local flea market. She carved ducks. They weren’t perfect, but they were her works of love. A regular customer, Jep, an old man who barely spoke to her, was a regular customer. He came in every week to purchase her least expensive carvings. When curiosity got the better of her and she questioned Jep on why, his response wasn’t what she hoped but what she in some small way expected. Sarah soon discovered that Jep had been a wood carver as well. A Master. His carousel pieces looked as though they could come to life. When he invited her to his home because there was something he wanted to show her, Sarah was hesitant but reluctantly agreed, and here is where the story makes a hard left down strange street and becomes a modern twist on the classic Pinocchio story. Sarah learns a great deal from Jep, helping him to finish a magnificent stallion and to feel that she may have perfect creations ahead of her. A great story of mystery and discovery.
“And the Balance in Blood” by Elizabeth Bear was a wandering tale of Elder Sister Scholastique, the Elect Priest to the Mother of Dark Blessings, a “saint-presumptive” endowed with the power of miracles granted from the Gods. Sister Scholastique is tasked with saying prayers in her chantry for those deemed worthy by either herself or the Council of Elders, and the Council could easily be swayed for appropriate favor if the price was right or the cost too great. The Benefactor of her church, Lord Bertrand and his wife, the Lady Theophaneia, held the Sister’s time in high demand and repeatedly called for priority of her Grace from the Gods in their favor. I found myself several times lost in this fantasy tale with Dwarves and Gnomes, Gods‘ magic, Dragon‘s blood and Human sacrifices. I couldn’t help wonder how a warrior mystic priestess who had traveled with roughneck warriors and fought alongside Dwarvish warrior princesses ended up as an obedient monk in a monastery. It felt like a contrived attack on the rich demanding false piety and buying forgiveness for their sins and transgressions but it also made me wish that it had been a novel with more detailed character history and more tales of Sister Scholastique’s youth. Perhaps in a future retelling.
“A Call to Arms for Deceased Authors’ Rights” by Karin Tidbeck started me wondering if this was a mis-categorized exposé of estate law for authors who have died and took a hard right turn into ghostwriting for zombies. A fun read that has firmly planted the seed that I need to carefully read any future contracts I am presented.
“Interlingua” by Yoon Ha Lee is a very weird trip through the mind of the AI-run starship Hwacha, said AI also a game designer for its bored crew. Hwacha is trying to develop a game that simulates a Contact situation with a new alien species that seems to cause the crew members to begin forming an appreciation for the simulation which borders on addiction. Interspersed are communications/discussions with the second ship, Sarissa, that is traveling with Hwacha towards the location of a new alien species. Add in concepts of the different crew members being multiple alien species and a feeling that I couldn’t help wondering if Sarissa wasn’t playing Hwacha’s game. She was acting almost exactly like my 13-year old when he gets transfixed on the current video game addiction.
“I Seen the Devil” by Alex Bledsoe is a tale told by a 10-year old boy who in 1973 hears a rumor that the devil has been captured and put in the town jail. He sneaks out of his house without his mother hearing and convinces his “eternally old” Vietnam vet neighbor Tater, who lives in a ten foot square hole in the ground under a sod covered piece of plywood, to drive him into town to hopefully catch a glimpse. He does and it’s more than he was prepared to imagine. The next morning, after sneaking back into bed and having a restless night’s sleep, he discovers the devil has escaped from his cell and the only thing out of the ordinary was Tater suddenly getting a Devil Red 1975 Chevy Blazer. I guess that’s the kind of SUV the devil would give you if you shook his hand.
I enjoyed my brief visit to the Uncanny book shelf. Definitely some great stories that made me think and feel. Not the most perfect that I have read but they could be for you.
Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional seeking fame or fortune in a world full of soulless corporations.