“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies” by Matthew Kressel
Reviewed by Bob Blough
Matthew Kessel has created in “The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies” a mythological SF story about the greater cosmos. Aya is a “Farmer of the Branch.” She searches out anomalies on the Prime Stalk of Thept and destroys them. Aya is, in reality, farming realms and cosmos’ that grow along the branch of the prime stalk. She comes to enjoy the complexity of the anomalies to the perfectly groomed rows on rows of non-degraded cosmos. In confusion she visits an old farmer and swallows one of her memory bubbles which shows Aya that the topmost branches are being cut off and the stalk is no longer growing. She also dips into one of the cosmoses she is supposed to destroy and discovers sentience. These are the starting points that send her off on a fascinating journey to the top of the stalk against the wishes of the established order.
This is a rousing adventure in a macro-cosmos beyond our own. But it is also a thoughtful meditation on tradition vs. reality – how rock hard traditions may destroy the very things the traditions were originally trying to uphold. Fine work by Mr. Kressel.
An underwater city and its modified denizens are important to the unnamed protagonist of Andrea M. Pawley’s “For the Love of Sylvia City.” This protagonist came to Sylvia City as a refugee from the Drylands above, during the Carbon Wars. The protagonist on a routine repair trip finds a drylander fallen into the ocean and rescues him while also discovering that a new war has broken out above ground which puts Sylvia City in danger.
Unfortunately, all of this sounds much more exciting than it is. The writing is dry and the setting is not fully developed. It’s not a bad story, per se, but a story with nothing new to say about underwater cities or the crises that arise within them.
“Mrs. Griffin Prepares to Commit Suicide Tonight” wins my vote for the best title in the issue. Unfortunately, the story is a poor one. A Que is the author (translated by John Chu) so I am not sure where to lay the blame for its frustrating style. Mrs. Griffin is trying to commit suicide with the help of LW31 – the robot who has been with her all her life. The robot asks Mrs. Griffin to tell her three memories about people who loved her. Mrs. Griffin then proceeds to tell memories from her Mother/Father, her husband and her daughter – from their points of view. This completely destroyed any faith in the story for me. It also has one line paragraphs which are meant to be revealing or meaningful which come off sounding pretentious. Aside from the title this should have been much more heavily edited.
The next offering, “Ossuary” by Ian Muneshwar, is a tale about an AI in a salvage yard for space ships. Magdalena remembers some parts of a past life which eventually lead to the understanding that she is not quite the AI we think she is. It is nicely written line by line but far too predictable for it to be very interesting.
“An Evolutionary Myth” by Bo-Young Kim is exactly what it states – a myth using evolution as its motive power. In this myth, evolution can happen very quickly. So quickly that over a lifetime one can become almost anything. A person changes into whatever will keep them alive in any situation they find themselves in. The prince of a kingdom taken over by his despotic uncle hides and emerges only at night. His skin changes to purple and his eyes become cat’s eyes. The tale takes us through all his evolutionary threads that occur in trying to remain invisible to his uncle. But evolution does not always follow what is expected and the prince escapes his uncle in an unexpected way. This is a fine story told as myth and therefore contains within it a moral to unravel as well. Well done, Bo-Young Kim.
This is not the best issue of Clarkesworld I have read, so I hope future issues return to their normal luster.