The Sword Review, Issue #23

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“Winter Branches” by Jane Lebak
“Waiting for Appa” by Mirta Ana Schultz

“The Blue Flower” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
"Natural Selection” by Mike Simon

The Bible’s “Parable of the Lost Sheep” states that heaven finds more joy in the sinner who mends his way than a million cradle to grave believers. Jane Lebak’s “Winter Branches” asks: if that’s true, then what happens to an angel tasked with guarding a sinner who never finds his way?  An angel, Reflection of God, talks to God while he (yes, I know angels are technically genderless) copes with losing his charge. While it is never explained why William never finds his way to God, his damnation is treated like a death.

The problem with this framing device is that it sounds a little bit like reading the transcript of a therapy session. Lebak goes out of the bounds of traditionally defined ideas of Christian heaven, and while I felt a strong sense of loss, I didn’t catch a defined sense of guilt, which you might expect from a celestial being tasked with protecting the physical and spiritual well-being of a human.

Overall, I felt the story was imaginative, well developed, and told with a unique voice, clearly worth reading.

“Waiting for Appa” by Mirta Ana Schultz is a thinly veiled Christian allegory telling readers that faith provides. Although set on a colony in a far-flung world, it invokes a feeling reminiscent of the early American settlers as a colony deals with faith, devotion, and starvation.

Strange bugs are destroying the crops the settlers need to survive, and suspicion and fear falls on the abnormal family who lives outside of town. The narrator’s father left years ago in a spaceship looking for help, an anathema to this “Amish in Space” community. They blame him for the loss of the crops, and some believe only sacrificing his family will make the world whole again.

It’s good drama, the only problem is, we as readers don’t see any of it. What little tension is shown is in secondhand narration and passive narrations of past events. Using a narrator so far removed from the conflict who never questions her faith or her father’s decisions deflates the story’s emotions and tension, making it somewhat heavy-handed and shallow.

“The Blue Flower” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt has a stock feeling to it.  Uitvlugt uses a number of genre standbys: a talking ship, repressive government, and made-up names that are nearly unpronounceable. Add on the problem that the story doesn’t go anywhere new or exciting, and the end result underwhelms.

Benari is told that he will find his destiny when he brings a rare flower from a different planet to his homeworld. Of course, the planet is quarantined for reasons that are never explained, and the repressive government wants to keep him from reaching the homeworld and will use violent force to do so.

Uitvlugt’s sparse writing and lack of detail give this story a sort of hazy, dreamlike feeling that kept me from being drawn into the story or caring about the main character. The climatic chase scene is glossed over to get to an ending that didn’t carry a lot of emotional force.

Having a front row seat to the death of humanity must really suck, at least according to Mike Simon in “Natural Selection.” While it seems a little derivative of Deep Impact (the size of their killer asteroids are the same), "Selection" is an interesting story of three astronauts who ride out the end of civilization in Spacestation Freedom.

Simon moves through a lot of time in a short amount of space, and in doing so, does a lot of telling when he should be showing. Too often, he makes a statement like “The girls were reaching the end of their tether,” when it would have been more dramatic to show this effect to the reader. Still, although it lacks the emotional punch I would expect from a story of this nature, it is an entertaining and quick read.