Cover Image: Uranians


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Sci-fi-themed short story collection. First few stories are engaging, but the novella at the end completely lost me

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A hugely entertaining, fun, and engaging read all the way through. McCombs's stories are full of life and joy, pain and strangeness. It's like entering a surreal parallel universe where you never quite know what to expect. A wonderful, page-turning collection of stories.

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The stories in this collection were a hit or miss for me. I loved the overarching themes and exploration of queerness and society. I think McCombs has many insights to be shared and approaches with intellect. This collection features 4 short stories and 1 novella.

The first story I enjoyed the premise of parallel universes and the complexity of the characters and their relationships- very much sets the tone for the collection and an idea of the author’s writing style. "Lacuna Heights" felt like a black mirror episode, I really enjoyed this one and the ending left me feeling pensive. Keeps the reader invested and solid payoff. "6 Hangings of Unkillable Women" toyed with form , I loved the themes and was very much invested by the voice and world-building - which leads to a side tangent that each story in this collection manages to flesh out a world different from ours and that’s impressive considering the short form and how much is packed into each story.

The "Talk to Your Children about 2-Tongued Jeremy" was kind of my least favorite, felt like campy horror like if someone made a B-Movie about Duolingo… I could see the analogy to an abusive relationship and the trepidation about AI, but the tone and the premise I couldn't take seriously. Felt a bit off beat from the rest of the collection.

Uranians, however, is carefully crafted. A slow-burn, character focused and an operatic sci-fi which manages to tie itself beautifully together but also demanded a lot of attention to hold my focus. I can tell why it was the title story of the collection and is one I'd like to revisit.

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Thank you to NetGalley, Astra House, and Theodore McCombs for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Uranians is a collection of stories that embody the essence of queerness and how the queer experience is impacted by various themes such as societal/familial values, technology, law, etc. Even when the characters themselves weren't queer, the message of each story still seems to apply to what it is like to navigate the world as someone who is.

I was immediately drawn to the concept, even more so when I discovered the glowing commendation left by one of my favorite authors, Carmen Maria Machado. Unfortunately, I do feel there was a gap between my expectations and the reality of the collection, but that is no one's fault but my own. There is no doubt that McCombs is a talented writer, but something about his style feels rather impersonal to me and prevented me from fully connecting with the material. Despite that, I still appreciated his style as I think it gave the collection a unique, eclectic feel that suits the content.

Each story is full of depth, with sci-fi elements that give the overall collection an interesting twist. Some were more compelling then others; "Six Hangings in the Land of Unkillable Women" and the title story "Uranians" really stuck out to me, whereas I found "Towards a Theory of Alternate Lifestyles" a bit lackluster.

McCombs also avoids the pitfall a lot of other authors do not when writing short stories: he manages to develop a well-written narrative where the ending seems satisfying despite not being entirely fleshed out in a full-length novel.

Overall, Uranians was a really enjoyable read despite my personal grievances and I would readily recommend it to whomever is intrigued by the concept.

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I am a sucker for Carmen Maria Machado pull quotes, and honestly, this didn't disappoint. Most of this book is the title novella, which focuses on the inhabitants of a long term travel space ship, all of whom are artistic and queer in various ways, and how their relationships with each other, their art, their destination, and each other all unfold as they make their way towards their new home. It's a pretty fantastic novella that is going to stick in my mind a while, and doesn't shove trans individuals to the side, and has the fun side effect of "shit what if you were stuck on a ship with your ex for the rest of your fucking life". There are also four short stories that are fairly solid - a club in Berlin that reveals alternate versions of your life, women who are unable to die, what if a privacy mode on an app was used to hide a horrible knowledge from yourself, and an education app replicating the experience of an abusive partner (this is the only one I'm a bit iffy about, as it feels like "oh what if technology could replicate an experience that women get to experience on the regular, spoooooooooooky". Still, overall, definitely a collection I'd recommend, and McCombs is someone I'll be watching.

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This book is a collection of speculative fiction, some histories are more gay themed than others, but is told in a way that is very fluid, and I did enjoy the book, I don’t usually like to comment each of the stories because that often spoil the story or even If I don’t want to, I’ll end talking more than what I was supposed to do. I will just mention that the first story, the peter in the story reminded me of will from the show will and grace, you’ll need to check that out to understand what I mean.

It feels like a much more shorter book that it really is, I recommend it, this stories enter much more in the speculative and sci-fi type of stories.

Thank you NetGalley and Astra Publishing House Books for the free ARC and this is my honest opinion.

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This was an amazing collection of short stories, all centred around queerness. Each story was so different yet they all left me with so many new ideas to think about. I was absolutely blown away by how real the characters felt in their short time on the page, plus the dynamic assortment of settings and situations that all contributed to the central themes.
The majority of the book is the novella from which the collection gets its title. In my opinion this was the weakest story but still quite stunning. Charting characters over 60 years in a sci-fi setting, it very smartly incorporates queerness into a premise that is already quite familiar. It's very clear what McCombs is saying with these stories: art is central to the queer experience. I loved it.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Astra Publishing for providing me with an eARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

3.5/5 rounded to 4
Uranians is a collection of stories, 4 short stories and a longer novella threaded by a commonly through science and/or speculative fiction and the theme of alienation.

I find this collection of stories to suffer from a common issue that many short stories face, which is trying to deliver a satisfying narrative in a short amount of pages.

I felt that each story had very compelling conceptual themes but it felt like it lacked focus in its execution. There was often an inclusion of some details that opened up the scope of the story larger than was effective for its length.

That said, the narrative places its emphasis on the conflict, it is at it’s strongest, cleverly weaving in details including alternate realities, the fallacies human and computer memory or AI bullying.

I found this most effective in the "Six Hangings in the Land of Unkillable Women" and "Uranians".

On the whole, Theodore McCombs’ writing is lyrical and I found numerous passages to be quite thoughtful and touching. There would be a lot of merit in seeing their ideas be expanded into full length novels.

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*The publisher has provided me with an advance readers copy in exchange for an honest review.*

In a period where questions of queerness-as-other are battling it out with the notion of assimilation (kink at Pride!) "Uranians" feels uniquely suited to the moment. The five stories (four shorts and a novella) in the book are not all queer - all the characters in "Lacuna Heights" and "Six Hangings In The Land Of Unkillable Women" are straight - but they all engage with the ideas of family structures, justice, and how we interact with the world in a way that <i>feels</i> very queer. Story by story:

"Towards A Theory Of Alternative Lifestyles:" This was, admittedly, the story in the collection I was slowest to warm up to - I think McCombs' prose was still settling with me when I read it. It's for sure the most theoretical of the bunch (just look at the title) so even after I read it, I wasn't entirely sure I had grasped what the author was doing with it.

"Lacuna Heights:" Another reviewed compared this to "Severance," which is extremely apt. It's also when McCombs starts to engage with a theme that will run through the rest of the book: tech and capitalism and government, and how much we give up in exchange for the promise of ease and comfort. Remember what I said about the ethos being queer, even when there was no explicit queerness in the story?

"Six Hangings In The Land Of Unkillable Women:" I'm tempted to call this my favourite of the whole collection, just because the plot and themes are so specifically tailored to my interests - namely femicide (and the social forces that drive it) and the moral quandary of capital punishment. It's also basically a weird Western, which is one of my favourite genres. Actually, I probably would call it my favourite, if not for:

"Talk To Your Children About Two-Tongued Jeremy:" This is the most (really, only) straightforward horror story in the collection, and man does it pack a punch. It picked up the themes McCombs introduced in "Lacuna Heights," specifically regarding AI and corporate accountability for the uses and abuses of their product. Along the way, it also touches on social expectation, the trauma of growing up as a non-normative child in a conformist environment, and abusive relationships (with the robot that lives in your phone.) I loved it.

"Uranians:" The title novella is a slow burn, more of a character study than a plot-based one. A group of people - almost entirely queer - board a spaceship for a hundred-year mission to a distant planet. Of course, each of them carry their earthly baggage onto the ship where they're meant to be building a gay utopia, and the idea of assimilation vs. separatism is made manifest in the split between those who want to maintain their connection to Earth, and those who believe they should fully divest. McCombs packs a LOT of disparate threads into this one - queer concepts of family! Climate change! Aging! Opera! - and up until the three-quarter mark, I was sure he wouldn't be able to pull it all together, but what do you know, he surprised me.

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Requested from Netgalley almost entirely because of the enthusiastic blurb by Carmen Maria Machado, and at this rate I should keep an eye out for those because she's definitely steered me right. The title, shared with the last and longest story here, cleverly excavates an old name for homosexuals which also sounds right at home in science fiction*, and the collection opens with a quote from Edward Carpenter's 1912 The Intermediate Sex: A Study Of Some Transitional Types Of Men And Women about how "the superior types of Uranians – prepared for this service by long experience and devotion, as well as by much suffering – will have an important part to play in the transformation" of society. The first story gestures at continuing that theme with the high-minded title Towards A Theory Of Alternative Lifestyles. In reality it's about the argument between confrontation and assimilation, and about realising you're not quite matched to the person you love, reified and dramatised through Collider, a Berlin club so achingly cool you can glimpse parallel worlds there. It's an instantly seductive notion even before you realise how well theme and expression have been matched, with the many worlds interpretation explained thus: "Observation doesn't collapse the alternatives so much as pair off the observer with the particular value observed, like dance partners waltzing off in one direction, while in a parallel reality, the observer pairs off with a different partner in another direction." But even for the sort of reader less likely to be seduced by Stoppardian fireworks, there's the surface level of character, human emotions – you know, the less impressive stuff, but the things which can still banjax a story if they're done wrong. Here they work, the tension recognisable but not stereotypical between two men in something approaching love, one of whom is radically queer but where the other wants traditional romantic signifiers "not because he'd failed to grasp the false consciousness of the heteropatriarchy, but because he'd spent his life being shown and then denied this way of being in love, and now he was a grown-up, and he could get the things he saw on TV." It's not that it's the newest idea in the world to talk about how liberationist Discourse can become one more cage, but what I really liked was how perfectly unresolved it leaves its answer to the question "Is it so wrong to want to be normal?"

Next up, Lacuna Heights feels much more straightforwardly Black Mirror, and even more so like Severance – or so I assume, having never seen Severance (maybe I should say, having so far as I know never seen Severance?). A lawyer fights a case regarding the privacy mode on a neural implant – a mode where even the person themselves doesn't know what they were doing while it was activated. And then realises he is himself experiencing missing time, and unexplained deductions from his account... The rough shape of the solution is fairly obvious early on, and the concept probably works better as a metaphor for the things we all force ourselves to ignore to not go insane from living in a fundamentally horrific system than it does as plausible worldbuilding, but its vision of a world limping on in much the same fashion despite how much has "disappeared into the rising, dying ocean" still lingers. Of course, these days the amount that's survived obliges me to characterise it as an optimistic vision.

Six Hangings In The Land Of Unkillable Women is the sole historical tale, set in the wake of the Protection, whereby at some point in the nineteenth century, women mysteriously became immune to male violence – a situation which, like any apparent panacea, inevitably brings its own problems, even before you consider the awkwardness of a society and era still determined on making pious reference to the Weaker Sex despite increasingly glaring evidence to the contrary. Finally, for the shorter entries, the fabulously titled Talk To Your Children About Two-Tongued Jeremy. Back in Black Mirror territory, but for me more powerfully than Lacuna Heights, this is a story for all the people I know who've said that they worry their relationship with the Duolingo owl has become abusive. I'm sure it's an incredibly efficient generator of tech anxiety even if you have the sense not to read it with a New Year's Day hangover like I did.

Finally, the title novel (which will doubtless be widely referred to as a novella, but I shan't hold that against it), which starts out looking like a fairly straightforward generation ship affair, except maybe that a little more work will be required on creating those generations given the crew we see are mostly gay. This turns out to be precisely the point: the mission is not one of colonising the destination exoplanet, but simply of investigating it, sending a team of scientists and artists to report back to Earth, rather than mess it up. A plan which has gone down about as well as you'd expect on an Earth which is at least making faltering steps to rebuild its battered biosphere, rather than gaily chucking petrol on the flames as we currently are, but otherwise hasn't changed as much as one might hope, if one could still hope. So instead of descendants they've got some extra time, thanks to the wonderful device of anti-ageing tattoos. Which, isn't that just instantly more interesting than pills or surgery or the usual approaches? Not least in the way so many choose patterns to remind them of the world they've left behind, which then fade out in patches as the crucial vitacene is absorbed. The story is the work of someone who sees the alternative a sort of flying queer commune might offer to the workaday world – but also of someone who's seen queer communes in practice, with all the drama, forgotten chores and "rows of earnest pansexuals in loose-fitting tops" they entail. It also engages in a way surprisingly little SF does with the sheer headfuck of being out there in the dark, so far from home, with no way back – which often only gets treated as a threat once something goes wrong, but which would surely be a lot to cope with even on a mission going more or less to plan. Once again, theme and plot and character are braided together expertly; I don't want to give away any of the ups and downs, but put it this way – looking at my Christmas and birthday book haul, my one worry was that it was all short stories and non-fiction, and I felt like I needed a substantial novel for variety before I was quite in the mood for any of them. Something chewy, with scope and scale and ideas, tragedy and bittersweet triumph. Well, this one may scrape in under 120 pages, but it's absolutely scratched that itch.

*I'm reminded of the early Zelazny novel in which humanity exists in an uneasy state of detente with the Vegans.

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Theodore McCombs’s Uranians is a brilliant book, travelling through the web of the lives of individuals, flowing in a parallel yet in a different stream of consciousness. The book is about a journey into self-discovery and acceptance of one’s existence.

It revolves around different stories. The author’s style of penning down these stories is highly appreciated. Peter, a gay in Toward A theory of Alternative Lives. His strangled thoughts, broken heart, his yearnings open a window for the reader to read between the lines. There is a lot of depth in each and every story. The language is approachable and understandable. Every story leaves one occupied in thoughts over thoughts. I will leave it to the audience to experience this feeling.

The book has a universal element in it. And it revolves around each character. One can feel something of seeking in the whole book. Seeking one’s destiny, the meaning of their existence in the universe, and the weirdness which encircles them. The book gets interesting when it comes to narrating about a few scientists, artists, and gay and trans people, set on a voyage to discover a different world. The character of Lana, Arrigo, Mike, and Father Leo is well narrated. Their struggles, thoughts, their different approaches towards life take the story through twists and turns.

It seems to the reader that Theodore has brilliantly delivered what he wanted in this book. The strangeness of it makes it unique. The intellectual approach towards new dimensions is worth appreciating. The book is recommended for a mature audience who can dig deep and understand various intellectual aspects narrated by the author. A good read.

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*I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the free book.*

I feel like I should've read the Netgalley or Goodreads description once more before starting this book because I was confused. A lot.

"Uranians" is about queer love in different worlds. The short stories seem to be somehow connected yet I can't really describe how. I should maybe read this again.

On a literary level, this was immensely enjoyable and the author exhibits a lot of skill, I really enjoyed the writing style. Yet some of the stories worked for me, others just confused/annoyed me.

As I was quite sick when reading this, my rating might thus be biased by it. Bronchitis is not a great starting point for complex world building and stories set in somewhat connected parallel worlds.

I enjoyed some of the queer rep yet some of the characters were in toxic relationships that I didn't understand. Just be happy and free, you don't need that asshole boyfriend, dude.

Anyhow, entertaining, a bit weird and quite different from other things I've read. 4 stars?

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I liked parts of this collection, but I feel like it never really went as far as I wanted it to go.

Uranians consists of 4 short stories and a novella, all of which in some way or another incorporate a speculative or science fiction element in them. "Six Hangings in the Land of Unlikable Women," I think, is the most effective of the stories in exploring the possibilities of this element. It's set in an early 1900s America where all women have, inexplicably, become impossible to kill--a fact that has evidently not stopped the men in their lives from attempting to kill them. I thought this premise and the way that McCombs executed it was just fascinating (if, perhaps, a little underdeveloped). Another story I loved was "Lacuna Heights," which follows a lawyer as he slowly begins to realize that his brain implant is interfering with his memories (it reminded me a lot of the Black Mirror episode, "The Entire History of You"). Theodore McCombs works in environmental law, so it's no surprise that this story was a compelling look at how law can (or can't) intersect with memory, and the lengths to which we're willing to go to efface--or try to efface--the things that feel too overwhelming for us to process.

Beyond these two stories, though, I felt largely indifferent to this collection. The first story, "Toward a Theory of Alternative Lifestyles," was interesting, but I didn't like "Talk to Your Children About Two-Tongued Jeremy"--its premise felt flimsy and overblown--and the titular novella, "Uranians," I thought was convoluted and meandering. Here's the thing: on a sentence-by-sentence basis, McCombs is an excellent writer, but structurally, a lot of his stories just try to do too much. The stories will make reference to obscure physics or musical theory and, sure, sometimes I like it when authors incorporate these kinds of elements into their stories, but here it just took up too much narrative space and was far too complicated for the average reader to understand (at least this average reader). I found this to be a major issue in "Uranians," where there are pages and pages of the narrator talking about this opera and its music--all sections that I just completely glazed over because they felt so beyond me.

Overall, not bad, but not especially impressive. I'll keep an eye out for more works from this author though.

Thank you to Astra House for providing me with an eARC of this via NetGalley!

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McCombs voice is solid - while each story was vastly different, the connection between them was tangible. I have a few standout favorites. I mean, an AI tutoring app bullying kids into suicide? 'Incognito Mode' for the internet in your brain, but it's paired with memory loss? What concepts.

I struggle with short stories sometimes because I feel left wanting for more. Not here. Each was built out with the perfect amount of world building and character development. Stunning.

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Strong writing here, and entertaining stories. This won't find a wide audience but those that pick it up will likely enjoy it.

I really appreciate the free ARC for review!!

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This was one of those rare occasions where I loved every story in a collection equally. Each one forced simultaneous isolation and interconnection with society flawlessly. Thank you to NetGalley and Astra Publishing House for the ARC.

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I really enjoyed these five speculative stories in this book, it was what I was hoping for and it was written so well. I enjoyed the way it was created. Each story felt like they belonged with each other and I couldn't find any weakest in this. I enjoyed what I read and I'm glad I read this.

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