Tor.com, May 2017
“Sweetlings” by Lucy Taylor
Reviewed by Valerie A. Lindsey
Lucy Taylor’s “Sweetlings” is a post-apocalyptic tale about how a small group of survivors physically adapt when Earth’s waters surge, shattering the shoreline and destroying modern society. The descriptions of the sights and smells paint an evocative story of a planet that no longer seems fit for humans. The story is told from the perspective of Mir. Water has cut her small community off from the mainland and even the rain seems poisoned. They must rely on a sporadic supply truck that comes from inland. Mir’s father, a scientist, is fascinated by the rapid adaption of species to this new environment. To the excitement of her father, her brother appears to be the first human amphibian. Stifled by limited resources, there are those who strike off for the mainland, but none return. The dissolution of Mir’s family and increasing changes her family goes through takes a toll on Mir until she finally agrees to join her friend, Jersey, to seek a better society inland. They fail to find civilization and Mir’s gradual transformation (and that of her children with Jersey) does not bode well for Jersey. Unfortunately, the story seemed familiar and the ending predictable.
In “Hexagrammaton,” Hanuš Seiner tells a very descriptive story about an alien race that offered mankind the opportunity to join the interstellar community. What is the catch? They had to agree to a virus that would integrate them into a spaceship for 16 years. Once the ship’s energy depleted, they would be reborn into the higher echelon of the Vaían elders. The story is told from the viewpoint of a federal agent who agrees to assist an infected human, Janita, who has escaped capture. Janita offers him a sizable amount to guide her down to one of seven occupied ships contained to prevent spreading of the alien virus. The narrator’s ruminations painfully recount the history of the revolution and the complicated cipher language of the Vaíans, which has alternative meanings that endlessly evolve and change. The story weaves like the spiral of the shell of the snail found in the narrator’s cell…not necessarily in a good way for the reader. Seiner concludes his story with two parallel endings.
“Sanctuary” by Allen Steele is a well-written story about two ships of colonists from Earth who think they have found a habitable planet. The narration is effectively relayed through the ship logs. The Captain initially believes the current inhabitants are primitive and not worthy of concern. However, both ship crews soon find there is more to the planet than initially thought. After both ships send a team to the planet to investigate, a ‘rot’ spreads through both ships destroying anything with plastic components including clothing. One ship is destroyed and falls to the planet in a fireball while the second tries a little practiced maneuver to save as many as possible. Soon they will have to rely on the mercy of the “indigenous” inhabitants that they had, in ignorance, arrogantly dismissed.
Ramsey Shehadeh’s “Red” is a well-written story of a guilt-ridden boy, Ansel, trying to find his sister who disappeared after he left her to walk a prospective girlfriend home. Ansel loses himself in their favorite board game in an attempt to find her, but the repetitive clues circle fruitlessly. Shehadeh effectively describes Ansel’s guilt and his parent’s grief. The ending challenges the reader. Has the young man realized he will never know what happened and decided to end the game and move forward with his own life or is he following his sister to her end to learn what happened and by whom?
Sunny Moraine tells the story of a young woman struggling with sanity in “Shape Without Form, Shade Without Color.” The story’s narrator begins her story with a fascination about unseen, but vocal starlings in the night. She describes her thoughts and confusion, but her musings are periodically interrupted by the voices of the starlings, or is it the gods she begins ruminating about? Her reflections spiral downward until she believes her choice is the only way to make amends.