Strange Horizons, May 2007

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"The Hide" by Liz Williams
"Brownman" by C. Scavella Burrell

"Ex Machina" by Margaret Ronald
"The Hide" by Liz Williams tries to be a hallucinatory and menacing meditation on birds, eternity, and human identity. A languorous exposition puts practical protagonist, Jude, his flighty sister, Clare, and her friend, Richard, in a weird English bird blind in possibly magical marshland. Nice, creepy set-up, but the meat of the story crowds into the last third of the text so densely that I wasn’t sure what was happening during the climax. Murky and poorly paced, "The Hide" didn’t work for me.

"Brownman," a two-part story by C. Scavella Burrell, lets you sink into a heady, deeply evoked setting of heat and swamp in the coastal South of the 1950s [?]. Our protagonist grows up in a family and a setting dank and tangled with secrets that only grow even more puzzling when a magical brownman offers her a wish. Juicy with atmosphere and character, the story moves sluggishly, setting more of a mood than advancing a plot. There’s a longer story here, wiggling in the confines of a short.

In Margaret Ronald‘s "Ex Machina," Judith and her tinkers have an inborn techsense (a means of communicating with and repairing machines). When she and her band stop at an underearth power station during the winter, men there seek to control the tinkers’ techsense, threatening the station, the tinkers, and the fate of the world. The reader follows Judith’s insights as she learns more about the tinkers’ fusion of technology and religion. Despite the high stakes, this is really a low-key story, plainly and effectively told. I saw the plot twists coming from the very first lines, but I still liked this story.