“Between the Dark and the Dark” by Deji Bryce Olukotun
“The Weight of a Thousand Needles” by Isabel Canas
“The Harvest of a Half-Known Life” by G.V. Anderson
“Unpublished Gay Cancer Survivor Memoir” by Caspian Gray
Reviewed by Alex Granados
Of all the stories in this month’s issue, “Between the Dark and the Dark” by Deji Bryce Olukotun was my favorite. It feels like so many concepts in science fiction have been done to death, and when I find a story that takes a well-worn idea and makes it new again, it reinforces my love for the genre and its seemingly never-ending possibilities.
In this story, a strange bloom has infected the Earth and caused cataclysmic events—tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. Earth sent out a series of interstellar ships to find new places to live, and we follow one particular ship whose crew appears to have resorted to cannibalism in order to stay alive.
The monitors on Earth only get snippets of what’s happening on the interstellar fleets they’re watching, so they don’t have the full picture, but evidence of cannibalism is supposed to be grounds for immediate destruction of the vessel.
The story slowly reveals what’s happening on the ship as the people on Earth try to come to a decision about the fates of the voyagers.
I don’t want to spoil anything, because the fun is in the slow revelation, but this story engaged me from beginning to end and left me with that feeling of mystery and discovery that is inherent in all the science fiction I love.
I wish I could say the same for “The Weight of a Thousand Needles” by Isabel Canas. The story started off on the wrong foot right away by being too description heavy. Now, that’s a personal thing with me, as I find imagery in science fiction and fantasy to often be overwrought and excessive. Long paragraphs of description just turn me off.
The first section also seems to be setting up a mystery that is too vague and not engaging enough to make me want to find out its true meaning.
The story follows a woman who has lost everything in a sand storm and is beckoned on a journey into the desert by a crow. Apparently, being beckoned by a crow is a normal thing in this world, because she doesn’t seem to find it strange at all.
The story involves a Jinn, a panther and a metaphysical revelation that I didn’t enjoy. Also, it wasn’t clear to me what world exactly this story was set in. I’ll leave it at that and let you form your own opinions.
“The Harvest of a Half-Known Life” by G.V. Anderson got me back in the reading spirit, and while it is entertaining enough, I felt let down by the ending.
This story takes place on Earth, but it probably won’t seem like it at first glance. It’s set in a society where everything is utilized, including corpses. In an almost ritualistic way, the characters scrounge the dead for their skin, sinews, skulls, etc, and use them in pragmatic ways (if you’ve ever wanted to use a skullcap for a bowl, this story is for you).
Most of the characters live collectively in a village, but our main character has chosen a life in the ruins, where her now-deceased mother brought her and raised her. The story follows the tension between her and the villagers, who are constantly trying to get her to abandon her rough life outside their borders. But she persists, and that persistence leads to a pay off that works well enough, but like I said, left me a little underwhelmed.
“Unpublished Gay Cancer Survivor Memoir” by Caspian Gray is an entertaining read that follows a woman named Sydney—definitely in the real world this time—who suffered and survived colon cancer in her 20s. She has some lingering, traumatizing aftereffects, however. The story revolves around her reconnecting with an old girlfriend whose ex-boyfriend is currently staying with Sydney (in a platonic way).
When the three of them get together at Sydney’s place, what seems like an ordinary contemporary story takes a fantastical turn that I won’t spoil. After the harder science fiction and fantasy in this issue, the “Unpublished Gay Cancer Survivor Memoir” is a nice return to a more modern setting with more relatable issues. Overall, it was an enjoyable story and a nice change of pace to the other new fiction in this issue.