“First Light at Mistaken Point” by Kali Wallace
Reviewed by Bob Blough
Clarkesworld for this month has regained it’s footing from last month and there are some sterling stories this time around.
The first is probably my favorite of the month. “First Light at Mistaken Point” by Kali Wallace is a deeply felt story that is written on many different levels. It concerns a scientist being called home to her mother’s death just as a transmission is sent from the lost mission to Mars on which her lover is a part of the crew. This is not an action piece but a SF work that interleaves the scientist’s work and the mundane stuff of life and death. It might eventually be about parallel worlds or perhaps the chance to re-do part of your life. The mission and her lover rest on a garbled transmission while she and her sister experience two different paths while dealing with their mother’s death. Changes occur but is it for good or bad? We are left with the haunting reprise of “Everyone’s fine or everyone’s dead.” A lovely and haunting work.
Dale Bailey has created a tale that is just as good but in a completely different vein. Aliens land on earth when the narrator is a baby and settle in the poorer parts of town but now she has to go to school with (horrors) “Teenagers from Outer Space.” This riffs on all those 50s SF movies you have ever seen and turns it around until you are reading a scary yet poignant piece of a real alien invasion in the 50s. Nancy Miller’s best friend Joan gets mixed up with, Johnny Fabrino, the “bad boy” of the town. Her parents reject her, she retaliates by getting her new boyfriend to drive through the alien part of town and catching “passing strange” from the aliens. The humans don’t quite know what that is but it seems to be a new way of seeing, and perhaps living. The drama plays out from these two actions.
Mr. Bailey is an excellent writer and this story, which starts out as silly and funny morphs into a deep one very much in relation to Tiptree’s brilliant story “The Women Men Don’t See.” The struggle of women in this world is beautifully re-stated in a 50s SF movie. Now that is really impressive. Thank you! Perhaps this one is my favorite of the month – now I am not sure.
Maybie and her family living on the planet Hardcase (the name tells you just what it is like) win the lottery and move to the paradise planet of Oceana. But all is not as it seems in this twisty tale by Emily Davenport. In “Now is the Hour” she has written a well told story about the afflictions and hopes of regular people. It showcases a duality in emotional potency by the ending paragraphs and is solid SF.
Sean Bessinger is a new writer to me but he shows a lot of promise in “The Engines Imperial.” It is about two sister AI spaceships who continue their job of annihilating planets and races long after their maker race is gone. It coasts down millennia until both are dead. It is a little too reminiscent of Yoon Ha Lee’s work without the superb writing, but it has verve and interest all its own. Mr. Bessinger is a new writer to watch.
“Reclamation” by Ryan Row is a literately told tale about an asteroid miner named Drift. In the opening lines she is adrift in space. She relives portions of her life while slowly dying. In many ways she has always been a lost soul and now she is, literally. Until she meets an alien or an alien construct and enters it.
Again I can’t say much more without ruining the story, but this is a beautiful interior monologue of a woman dying until “saved” by an alien. Heady and powerful stuff. If you like your SF action filled, this is not for you. But if you like character-driven SF it will be right in your wheelhouse.
The final new story is not a “new” story at all but a first translation of a story from the German and so to English readers it is new and a real treat. Karla Schmidt has created quite an alien world in “Alone, on the Wind.” A sun with a double world has had a cataclysmic event sometime in their past and one world was broken into shards while the other was tainted with what seems to be a radioactive of some kind. We see these worlds long after the various cultures have evolved to live on these two “worlds.” First is the very alien “Dancing Stones” which are held together in a swirling bunch by birds who can extend gravity to the shards. Tuela is a human-like alien who must learn to fly with the help of her own bird and steal water from the Yellow world, since that is what they lack on the shards. Then we see it from the yellow world’s perspective with people much more human. They have deep water flowing through the depths of the earth but a world wreathed in acidic wastes. Both worlds are fascinatingly developed and when Tuela goes on a mission to steal water from the yellow world we get the clash of two different worlds and two different races. This is one ripping good SF yarn. Perhaps this is my favorite? Anyway there are three truly excellent stories and two worthwhile ones this month so dig into the issue with relish!