“Salt Of The Earth” by Mary Robinette Kowal
“Lunar Voices (On the Solar Winds)” by Nick Wood
Reviewed by Duane Donald
Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Salt of the Earth” is set on a sodium poor planet where salt is therefore a premium commodity. Thus, the entire society has built its routines and traditions around the recovery of salt in every form. Birth, death, even crying have their own salt collecting traditions. It’s a fairly original concept through which Robinette Kowal manages to reach into the harrowing sadness of the loss of a child. Unfortunately, the mechanics of story seemed less original.
The story opens with a typical struggle between the central character Melia and Melia’s ex-husband, Theo, as they battle over how best to get their kids ready for Theo’s custody weekend. This seemed so cliché that it had me rolling my eyes.
As I read, I kept hoping Kowal was going to develop her story’s concept more deeply, perhaps delve into how and why this planet was sodium poor, how long the society had been practicing these salt collecting traditions, maybe even lose the tedium of the ex-husband angle altogether, but instead, the story came off as a vehicle for Robinette Kowal to simply thrash ex-husbands everywhere and men in general as uncaring louts.
In an interview, Robinette Kowal said she developed this story during a writing camp while she was working on her exploration of ‘plot’ penned through a narrative. I will agree she achieves the stages of ‘plot’ but the narrative just seems angry. An interesting, original concept got lost in a clichéd battle between “the caring, concerned mother” and “the demonic, uncaring ex-husband.” As a result, the story seems better suited for Ex-Wives Quarterly.
In “Lunar Voices,” Nick Wood offers his readers a story that reads like a snippet from a larger story. While the snippet was full of desperate action and fair imagery, there seemed a lot left unvoiced that the reader may want to know.
Phulani and his teammates, Baines and Mary, are part of a lunar training mission in preparation for an eventual manned-mission to Mars. Team leader Baines ends up incapacitated, leaving novices Phulani and Mary to get their team back to base before the group is bombarded with deadly radiation due to a solar flare. Wood puts the reader in the driver’s seat of a lunar rover as its occupants’ race to safety.
I thought Wood captured nicely the group’s desperation. A bit of mysticism mixed with a little science (some of which I found questionable) sets a nice pace overall for the story.
Throughout the piece, Wood uses a variation of British Sign Language which one seldom sees in science fiction; a nice, imaginative touch. Additionally, Wood’s descriptions of BSL seem to be written by someone with knowledge of the subject, which strengthened the story.
Overall “Lunar Voices” is a decent story contrasting the bleakness of the lunar landscape with its stark beauty.
Redstone Science Fiction can be found online at http://redstonesciencefiction.com. Issues are available for free download as PDFs or can be read online.