Clarkesworld #54, March 2011
“The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted from The Great Book)” by Nnedi Okorafor
“Perfect Lies” by Gwendolyn Clare
Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell
In “The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted from The Great Book)” by Nnedi Okorafor, Phoenix lives on the thirteenth floor of tower seven, both a living experiment in accelerated human development, and a weapon. Though Phoenix has been around only two years, she looks like she’s forty. Her growth isn’t the only thing that has been increased. She can read five-hundred pages in two minutes.
When her friend, Saeed, commits suicide, Phoenix realizes she wants out of the tower, away from the researchers and the guards. Her ability to make plants grow quickly, and to burn things just with the heat of her skin, give her most of the tools she needs. With the help of a friend, Phoenix makes her attempt.
This story combines a science fiction theme with a traditional storytelling voice. It’s well written, with some interesting ideas. Many threads are left hanging, but as it’s an excerpt from a novel, that’s to be expected. The only complaint I have is that it failed to draw me in. There are many horrendous images, but the text flits from one to the other. Maybe it’s just not to my taste. I didn’t connect with the protagonist, while the motives of the scientists struck me as vague and impersonal.
“Perfect Lies” by Gwendolyn Clare tells the tale of Nora’s quandary. She’s being asked to lie, to double-cross the Mask People, who’ve come to negotiate in good faith. Nora’s particular talent, her ability to prevent even micro-expressions from showing on her face, makes her the perfect ambassador to negotiate with the hypersensitive Mask People.
The Mask People are mostly face, with limited mobility but advanced technology, and great intelligence. They read meaning from other faces, as much as from words. With the help of a holographic device, Nora speaks their language. Though her talent isolates her from other humans, a conversation with her new assistant makes everything clear.
I enjoyed this story. It drew me in and carried me along, right to the satisfying conclusion.