Friday, October 12, 2018

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Sandra McDonald

Today is Sandra McDonald's birthday, so here is a compilation of some of my Locus reviews of her short fiction. I should note that there's a story by her that I like a lot, but did not review, because is first appeared in one my anthologys, War & Space: Recent Combat. This is "Mehra and Jiun".

(Locus, May 2009)

In "Diana Comet", by Sandra McDonald (Strange Horizons), the title character, a beautiful and resourceful journalist, come across the world to discover why her lover isn’t answering her letters. She has other objectives as well -- or she forms them when she meets some of the poorer locals -- and she has some personals secrets too. It’s all rather a romp, lots of fun.

(Locus, September 2010)

Sandra McDonald is best known for her novels, which on the face of them are fairly conventional Military SF with a romantic slant, yet those who have followed her short fiction know she’s a quirkier writer than her novels display. Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories features fourteen tales, many originals, set in a sort of alternate history that for the most part is a transparent version of our world, at times a bit too cutely. (Naming a gay Civil War era poet Whitney Waltman, for just one example, rather grates on one’s teeth.) Indeed, some of the reprints seem to have been rejiggered to fit into this alternate history, in which a Boston-like town called Massasoit is the most common setting. But I quibble -- the stories are lovely really. The title character shows up in several pieces, at various stages in her long life. My favorite appeared last year in Strange Horizons as "Diana Comet", and is here called "Diana Comet and the Disappearing Lover", and it introduces that intrepid woman. Perhaps the other highlight of the collection is "Diana Comet and the Collapsible Orchestra", in which Diana is aging, missing her late husband, and pushed against her will to visit an old friend. The title object is a delightful creation, while the action really concerns Diana witnessing the transgression of her friend’s children, a bit sadly.

Speaking of Sandra McDonald and Diana Comet, her "Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy" appeared more or less simultaneously in her collection and in the fourth issue of Icarus, subtitled "The Magazine of Gay Speculative Fiction".  McDonald’s story, in which Diana Comet travels to the West to check on an orphan boy she had fostered out to a farm couple, and on the way chivvies an ex-soldier out of his alcoholic fog and his yearning for his estranged lover, is clearly the best in an uneven set.

(Locus, December 2012)

Also strong in the December Asimov's is "The Black Feminist's Guide to Science Fiction Film Editing", by Sandra McDonald, in which the title character, who edits classic SF films to make them less sexist, is offered a chance to to complete the unfinished '70s adaptation of Leigh Brackett's The Ginger Star. There's some playing to us geeks here -- it's hard not to think that The Ginger Star would have made a pretty cool movie -- but also some sharp characters, an interesting future, and some good ideas about movies.

(Locus, June 2014)

In Lightspeed's May issue I thought the standout story was "Selfie", by Sandra MacDonald. Susan is a teenager with a mother living on the Moon and a father who researches trips to the past. Her Dad wants to drag her again to an old resort hotel, but she wants to visit her Mom instead, so she convinces her Dad to let her send a "Selfie" -- a robot uploaded with a version of her mind -- on the trip to the past. All this is intriguing setup: an interesting future with space travel, time travel, and other neat tech -- and a well-depicted teen narrator (admittedly a familiar type -- I detected echoes of, say, Heinlein's  Podkayne and Barnes's Teri Murray). But MacDonald has a different idea, and I won't spoil it but I'll say that the story goes in a sadder direction than expected -- but just as Sfnally interesting a direction.

(Locus, September 2016)

From the August Asimov's, "President John F. Kennedy, Astronaut", by Sandra McDonald, is a moving story set in a climate change-ravaged future. Pera lives with her mother and younger brother on a boat -- an old amphibious "duck". Their current job is taking an old man to a spot in the ocean: he claims that it’s the location of the old Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Kennedy, where an alien artifact Kennedy found on the Moon has been hidden. He wants to recover it, for the alien secrets it holds, but there are problems: two different "worst daughters", for example, and a storm, and, to be sure, very plausible doubts about the old man’s wild stories about JFK’s astronaut career, not to mention his affair with Marilyn Manson, etc. Whatever the truth behind all that, the story works in evoking the wonder and the lost dreams of space travel.

(Locus, July 2018)

In the May-June Asimov's, Sandra McDonald and Stephen Covey, in "Time Enough to Say Goodbye", tell a sweet time travel story, that is also a story about asteroid exploration, as a woman repeatedly visits the past, to try to meet the two people involved in critical early experiments that will lead to asteroid mining. Her reasons -- personal reasons -- become clear as the story develops. Nothing earthshaking here, but this is nice work.

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