Strange Horizons, April 2013
Reviewed by Colleen Chen
“The Lucia Bird” by Ryan Simko takes place on an island colony on the planet of Dandel, where the People settled two thousand years ago with the intention of keeping life simple. The story begins with the narrator’s grandfather dying of “Lowgod’s Lung,” a disease contracted in his mining job—one created when a resource is discovered in the islands and the external world wants to exploit it. The dying man’s family is going through a ritual called the “passing of truth,” with the recording of his last words. “The world is changing. The islands are changing. But we, the People, do not change,” he says.
The story weaves three intersecting parts together. The first is a real-time witnessing of the grandfather’s death, to be followed shortly by the narrator’s leaving to study on another planet. The second is flashbacks that flesh out the history of the People and show how they’ve clung to tradition and superstition even as their world is encroached upon by the outside. Interspersed in both present and past are images and vignettes of the Lucia bird, a symbol revered by the People. To interact with the Lucia bird is taboo; the narrator remembers an instance in which she allowed a hurt bird to suffer and die slowly because of this taboo. And just the same, the People die slowly even as they pretend that they can keep themselves separate from the world and immune from its influence.
The language, and the coming of age element make this a good young adult tale, and its message that one can’t stop progress is simple and direct. I found the tone a tad melodramatic for my taste, and I did wish for a twist on the message that would make it a little more hopeful—but it’s well-constructed story that many will appreciate.
“Road Test,” by Lane Robins, takes place in a small town run by Vey—literally “run,” because she controls the magic of the city and protects it by driving all the roads. The day construction on a section of road is finished, leaving everything drivable for a brief period where she meets Carlos—a warlock and fellow city-runner who plans to take over the town. They begin a race through the streets to see who can complete the drive first. When Vey discovers that Carlos intends to simply steal the city’s magic and leave it unprotected, the stakes become much higher, so she battles both her growing exhaustion and her sizzling attraction to Carlos to try to win the race.
This is a slick, well-written urban fantasy with fantastic chemistry between the two main characters, and a tense pace that’s as exciting as the race itself. The story isn’t deep but the entertainment factor makes up for it; I enjoyed it both for the action and the romance.
“The Siren” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, offers a modern, coming-of-age take on the myth of the Siren, whose beautiful song enthralls sailors to watery deaths. Jen, who has lived alone with her mother since her father’s mysterious drowning a while back, comes home from school to find a red-headed woman in the pool who says she’s a friend of Jen’s mother. There are a couple of red flags that Mina is something out of the ordinary—the fact that she kisses Jen’s mother on the lips, the existence of strange bony nubs protruding from her shoulder blades, and a singing voice that makes Jen feel a longing for the ocean—namely, to submerge herself in it.
It isn’t until Jen goes to the lake with Mina, hears the singing again, and nearly drowns, that she realizes what Mina is. She also feels sorry for Mina because Mina has lost something, and she tries to think of a way to help.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out what exactly Mina had lost or why Jen’s solution helped. Obviously the editor must have understood these things, but I would have liked a tad more spoon-feeding, as I was left with a lot of questions, extreme ambivalence about all the characters, and a feeling of being not quite satisfied.
“My Lady Tongue,” by Lucy Sussex, presents a future amidst a group of “womyn” who live in men-free Haven. The story begins with the main character Raffy’s vandalizing a wall with homage to Honey, a woman she loves and wants to marry. When Honey’s mother finds out, she takes her daughter into the Hive, where the most hardcore womyn live, and Raffy is prohibited entry. While Raffy tries to maneuver her way to a successful courtship of her ladylove, we get some insight into Raffy’s past and in the founding of Haven, as she remembers her first personal encounter with a member of the hated male gender, who happens to save her life and introduce her to Shakespeare to boot.
This is a well-written story, and despite all the characters being hard for me to identify with—Raffy is a rather crass and masculine woman, and the only male character is rather feminine—I found that I was drawn viscerally into the world Sussex painted with her words. It also takes skill to create characters who don’t fulfill readers’ personal fantasies of who they would like to be or interact with, yet still manage to elicit sympathy—they are characters with dimension, who feel real. My conclusion is that this is a compelling, but not always comfortable read.