Strange Horizons, December 2, 2019
“The Garden’s First Rule” by Sheldon Costa
Reviewed by Mike Wyant Jr.
“The Garden’s First Rule” by Sheldon Costa is both beautifully haunting and terrifying at the same time. The story takes place in a semi-modern world where children can be sold, or sell themselves, to a long-term art installation called the Garden. In the Garden, these children are given a seed and tied to a frame. Over the next years, that seed will grow inside them, slowly changing them from a human to some sort of weird human-plant hybrid.
The story itself follows one of these children, Eli, who convinces his parents to sell him to the Garden because of the abuse he suffered at home in the wake of his sister, Ava, being shipped off to war. Eli is happy in the Garden, but when his sister shows up one day and sees him, his world is turned upside down as old memories flood back.
The interesting part of this story is the perspective. Costa takes the time to illustrate how some of the other children fight and struggle against their planting. Even Eli sees the pain they experience in a way that makes you think, maybe, he doesn’t actually want to be there. However, every time Eli comes back to the present and focuses on his life and his long-term goals—going to seed and spreading out over the world—it’s clear Eli is a true believer.
Ultimately, I think that’s the scariest part of this story. It feels like the manifesto of a radicalized soldier, which makes the face off with Ava, a recently returned soldier with clear signs of PTSD, the more meaningful. Great story and well worth a read.
Mike Wyant, Jr. is an ex-IT guy, who has finally committed to a writing life out in the Middle of Nowhere, New York.