“The Kite Maker” by Brenda Peynado
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
August 2018’s short fiction offerings from Tor.com consist of three shining examples from the science fiction genre. Each story holds up a mirror, allowing the reader to view glimpses of humanity in its tarnished reflection, some of which are not all that pleasant.
“The Kite Maker” by Brenda Peynado
Fleeing their dying planet, a peaceful race of dragonfly-like aliens lands on Earth only to be massacred, leaving few survivors. Fifteen years later, a human kite maker has to come to terms with her role in those events while dealing with a new form of racism. Viewed by most humans as a means to an end, they are paid a pittance to produce cool gadgetry and technology while others openly murder them just for existing.
I almost cried when reading Paynado’s heart-wrenching story. It is truly extraordinary, beautiful, and haunting.
Written in the first person, the telling is so very intimate. I felt the pain and shame that the narrator had lived with for so long. And I was horrified by the circumstances in which the oppressed aliens were forced to live, at their loss of culture, at the human indifference to their plight and feelings.
By the end, so many questions ran through my head. If the world changed suddenly like this, how would I react? Would fear outweigh my curiosity to the point where I would take innocent lives who had shown no sign of resistance or malice just because they didn’t look like me? And what would I do if faced with overt or even covert acts of hatred? Would I stand against it or let it play out in front of me?
Whether this line of questioning was intentional on Peynado’s part is hard to say. I can say with some certainty, however, that beneath the alien facade of “The Kite Maker” lies a commentary on modern society. I could easily draw parallels between its themes of hatred, change, equality, and oppression and the ills that plague our society even now.
There is no happy ending to be found here. But although it never fully pulls itself out of the gloom, the last few words of “The Kite Maker” are at least hopeful that perhaps, one day, we all shall rise.
“No Flight Without the Shatter” by Brooke Bolander
A young human girl, Linnea, is raised by animals who teach her of the impact that her kind, now extinct, has left on the world.
Another haunting tale, “No Flight Without the Shatter” is beautiful in its calamity. Everything about Bolander’s story is breathtakingly tragic, deftly striking every emotional chord imaginable. With each lesson, we are invited to imagine a sea so clogged with garbage no life can exist within it, a pollution-choked sky unfit for breathing, and land now either swallowed by melted arctic glaciers or devoid of vegetation and trees.
Bolander genuinely moved me to tears with this story. There is so much more that could be said, but any more than I have already would ruin it for those who haven’t already read it. And so, I end with this—do not overlook this tale for anything.
“Loss of Signal” by S.B. Divya
A dying boy has traded his failing body in for a mechanical one, allowing his brain to be transferred into a rocket and sent into orbit around the moon. As he enters the shadow on the moon’s dark side, he’s not sure if he will be able to complete the mission.
Unlike the other two stories at Tor.com this month, Divya’s story is far more upbeat. That doesn’t make it any less moving, however. The situation faced by the protagonist is unimaginable to most, not only in terms of his new body but also the circumstances that made him sign up for this experiment in the first place. It’s a fantastic tale of hope and second chances, of courage in the face of the unknown, and I highly recommend it.