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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Fantasy & Science Fiction -- Mar/Apr 2010

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Here we have two reviews of the March/April F&SF; the first by Bob Blough and the second by Daniel Woods.

“Amor Fugit” by Alexandra Duncan
“Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“Star-Crossed” by Tim Sullivan
“Make Believe” by Michael Reaves
“Waiting for the Phone to Ring” by Richard Bowes
“Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot” by Ramsey Shehadeh
“The Frog Comrade” by Benjamin Rosenbaum
“The Fairy Princess” by Dennis Danvers
“Blue Fire” by Bruce McAllister
“Class Trip” by Rand B. Lee

Reviewed by Bob Blough

This issue of F&SF is the best issue of this magazine in quite awhile.  I recommend three of these stories very highly and three others are very good.  That’s a high percentage for me in one issue of a magazine.

We begin with one of my three favorites.  Alexandra Duncan began with a bang in the December 2009 F&SF with “Bad Matter” and her follow up here is just as good.  “Amor Fugit” is the tale of Ourania who is the daughter of Day and Night.  Being Day and Night they can only fleetingly notice each other at sunrise and sunset.  Mother as Day looks after Ourania during the daylight hours and wanders the countryside at night while her lover Night stays with their daughter through the dark. This is all just the back-story that is woven throughout the story and told as myth. (I must admit that I do not know if this is a known myth or simply created for this story – it feels very believable as a Greek myth but in my google searching I have not found this specific one.)  The story is about Ouranis falling in love with someone outside the small confines of the family’s protected circle of power.  It is a beautiful tale filled with wonderful prose and reminded me much of Gene Wolfe.

“Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History” is by F&SF stalwart Albert E. Cowdrey. This one is in his horror mode and concerns a mass murderer who cuts heads from their bodies, a major rainstorm, and an old story from the Fort Clay of the title.  Cowdrey is in top form with this tale.  Well done.

The next story is not especially noteworthy. “Star-Crossed” by Tim Sullivan is not bad but it is the second story in a series and despite the blurb beforehand it does help to have read the previous story before attacking this one.  It is a farrago of all sorts of SF memes including doorways to other alternities, alien life forms, and space travel.  I love all these things but this seems to be a retread of ideas with nothing to really catch the imagination.  A trifle.

Next is a very short piece by Michael Reaves called “Make Believe.”  It is an effective enough story of a childhood horror told at a later age.  It is economic but again is not sufficiently interesting to stick in the memory afterwards.

“Waiting for the Phone to Ring” is one of the various short stories that will be part of Richard Bowes mosaic autobiographical/fantasy novel.  It is a fascinating story – not so much for the bit of fantasy contained in it, but for the slice of social behavior caught in Mr. Bowes reflective web.  This story is about a boy he meets in New York City's East Village in the 1960s who has the slight power to make you see as he sees (coupled with the ability to read people’s minds), the band he forms and the band mates that surround him. But the story is really about the milieu that is re-created concerning down and out hustlers in New York City scratching to be something more than whatever it is they have run away from. Excellent writing, but I believe the whole novel will be greater than the individual glimpses (this is the third that I’ve read) given us through these pieces of short fiction.

The next story is mercifully short.  “Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot” is a humorous story that did not work for me.  Ramsey Shehadeh is a newly published writer who has written better stories in the past and who I trust will go on to write better stories in the future.  Enough said.

“The Frog Princess” by Benjamin Rosenbaum is another humorous story that at least has some structure to it.  We are introduced to the world’s first communist enchanted frog that refuses to have the princess kiss him (and therefore restore him as a prince) because it will not further the cause.  It is a slight but fun story.

Dennis Danvers writes an edgy but still somehow sweet Christmas story in “The Fairy Princess.” He has created a marginal, unlikable character and placed her in a “screwbot factory.”  The factory creates exactly what the name implies – robots created to feel and look like any human being in the world from fiction or real life - that are sent out to people as the perfect sex toy.  On Christmas Eve while the title character is working alone in the factory a miracle happens, but not in the usual way we expect in Christmas stories.  It is a story about love reaching even the last reachable kind of people.

The next story should be one of the most talked about stories of the year.  It is flat-out brilliant.  Bruce McAllister has created an entire alternate world in “Blue Fire.”  The alternate world is one in which vampires are real and fight against the Catholic Church for supremacy.  It reminds me in this regard of The Empire of Fear by Brian Stableford.  The story takes place in the 1500s and the time of Pope Boniface XII – a child Pope elected at 8 years of age - who is about to die after 70 years of his reign as Pope, but who has one more story to tell.  The story he relates is about a visit from “the youngest drinker” while he was still a child, but early in his time as Pope.  The alternate universe is dazzling, but what sets this story above so many others is the true, honest, Christ-like character of the young Pope and how he deals with a boy who has been taken by the vampires.  An excellent story with honest characters; it’s a beautiful work.

Rand B. Lee has created some very alien beings for a series of stories about the ‘D’/fu that have been published in F&SF through the years.  The previous two stories have been on my Locus Award ballot for best short story in their respective years, but no one else seems to notice how wonderful they really are.  This one is a little less alien because it is told from the viewpoint of a human being entering their world.  Believe me though, when I say that it is alien enough and absolutely terrific.  It is convoluted and told from many angles but is a story of understanding and acceptance on many levels.  Read it – read it again if it was confusing the first time; I think it is definitely worth it.  For me this is another story to go on my awards ballot for this year.

This was a terrific issue – in my opinion five or six top of the line stories with only one being not worth reading. 

“Amor Fugit” by Alexandra Duncan
“Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“Star-Crossed” by Tim Sullivan
“Make-Believe” by Michael Reaves
“Waiting for the Phone to Ring” by Richard Bowes
“Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot” by Ramsey Shehadeh
“The Frog Comrade” by Benjamin Rosenbaum
“The Fairy Princess” by Dennis Danvers
“Blue Fire” by Bruce McAllister
“Class Trip” by Rand B. Lee

Reviewed by Daniel Woods

“Amor Fugit” by Alexandra Duncan

“In the soft space when the sun dips behind the trees and crickets fill the shadowed grass with their high metal voices, my mother and I ready our lanterns. Sunset is the vigil hour.”

These are the opening lines of Alexandra Duncan's “Amor Fugit” (latin for “love fugitive,” in case you're wondering):  a richly wrought tale of first love thwarted by an unseen, ever-changing world. When Ourania chances upon a strangely-dressed boy in the fields near her cottage, she triggers a series of events that will call into question every facet of the life she has always known, and expose her to a reality she has never even dreamed of. Those opening lines showcase Duncan's distinctive style perfectly, and whatever you think of this story as a whole, I think you have to admire the craftsmanship.

Now, I have never liked present-tense narratives. I find them often ineffective and pretentious:  the mark of an author who is trying to be new and innovative, whilst putting in as little effort as possible. That, and they can be a pain to follow. So it was with much relief that I read this piece, because Duncan employs the tense with great precision and care. The prose is wonderfully poetic, and a real pleasure to read. Unfortunately, the opening is not a brilliant example of this; the first few paragraphs are arguably overwritten. Indeed, the phrase “purple prose” sits on the tip of my tongue, and it is a shame that this may put off some readers.

That said, the writing is the defining feature of this piece, and I was quickly immersed in Duncan's world. Her style and lavish descriptions are what I read on for; the plot is comparatively minimal (perhaps too minimal in one or two places). There is a myth that runs parallel to the story – the myth of Day and Night – which augments and explains some of the more bizarre elements of Ourania's life. Her mother, for example, never gets to see or speak to her father, and every night Ourania must act as “messenger” between them. The novelty of such a life was quite satisfying.

I will not discuss the plot overmuch in case I ruin it. Suffice it to say that “Amor Fugit” starts to resemble M. Night. Shyamalan's “The Village” a little too directly at one point, but veers away sufficiently (in a pleasing twist) to avoid outright plot borrowing. I also found the renaming of a cat to a “mouser” slightly unnecessary; the “Turkey City Lexicon” springs to mind. But, these are minor qualms. I enjoyed this piece a great deal, and the ending particularly is a stonker. This is a tale of myth and reality, shown to us through the lens of Duncan's excellent writing, and I really recommend you stick with it until the final lines. It is tempting to put this piece aside, for those of us who are a little more inclined to sword and sorcery. I am very glad I didn't.

“Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History” by Albert E. Cowdrey

Albert E. Cowdrey's “Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History” is really two stories, one each for the past and the present. Saffron Genève is an up-and-coming photographer – with two features in Vanity Fair under her belt, she'll have you know – and the last thing she wants to do is take documentary photos of an old civil war fort before it collapses into the encroaching sea. “We don't want art, Ms. Genève,” the guy had said. But, a job is a job, and as she is shown around Fort Clay by local enthusiast Dr. Corman, she uncovers within its crumbling walls a tale of murder and madness. With a story like that, maybe she'll finally be able to write her book. Of course, the trouble with digging into the past is that it doesn't always stay buried.

The plot is shared across two time frames; as Saffron is led deeper into the old fort, Dr. Corman reveals more of its history in a series of flashbacks. The transition between past and present is, for the most part, well-handled, but the jumps can occasionally be jarring. The narrative too is fine, but it drags a little at the outset. Once Cowdrey hits his stride, however, the story is quite pleasing to follow; I did have to giggle at the line “Old farts like old forts.” I suppose if I have one proper criticism, it is that there is too much geography in this piece. The setting is based on a real place (Fort Pike, Louisiana), and described in relation to other places that may or may not also be real. To be blunt, I have never been to Louisiana. For all that Fort Clay is near this or resembles that, I still don't know where it is or what it looks like.

Still, this is an intelligent and well-written piece. The characters are nicely realised (particularly the enigmatic Letourneau), and the plot is compelling enough. Aside from some slight confusion at the ending, I thought it was a good read. “Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History” can start to sound like a history book at times, but then, it is a historical story (of sorts). Equally, the title had better be some sort of Dr. Faustus reference, because “tragical” really put me off. But, Albert Cowdrey has clearly put a lot of work into his piece, and for the most part has produced a polished and engaging story that is certainly worth a look.

“Star-Crossed” by Tim Sullivan

It is very easy to summarise this story. “Weird stuff happens. The end.” Tim Sullivan's “Star-Crossed” is the baffling tale of Wolverton, a man who is forced to jump through a “temporal displacement bubble,” and finds all manner of curiosities on the other side. It is the sequel to Sullivan's earlier work, “Planetesimal Dawn,” and the story opens with a giant-robot-beetle-mining-machine from another reality. It begins eating the asteroid that the characters are living on, which is a bad start to the day for even the most stalwart space adventurer. Countless time bubbles and black holes and many-fingered aliens with eyes in their armpits later, we arrive at the ending, possibly a little out of breath. It certainly was a wild ride.

But, the question is, was it worth reading?  I do not wish to generalize, because Sullivan certainly has a fan base, and has been published by F&SF several times before. People, plural, must enjoy his work. So, all I can say is that I found this piece impossible. Call it rich or imaginative if you will, but the sheer amount of “weird” crammed into every single paragraph had my eyes glazing over from the outset. The prose is not brilliant either, littered with wildly unnecessary words like “prognostication,” and there are some downright cringe-worthy bits of dialogue and description. The pacing is all off, and I found it confusing and hard to follow.

I won't labour the point: I did not care for this piece. Admittedly, I have not read any of Sullivan's previous works, so I don't know the back-story for this piece (incidentally, “Planetesimal Dawn” will be available on the F&SF website in March for anyone interested). But, I can only make so many allowances before I'm just reading through rose-tinted glasses. For me, “Star-Crossed” was way too much; for other readers, good SF is a case of “the more the better.” Only you know where you stand. Fans of Sullivan's work will snap up this story (and future ones) in an instant; it is disappointing that I will not be one of them.

“Make-Believe” by Michael Reaves

“Make-Believe” is a good old-fashioned ghost story. A “real life experience” told by the narrator, as part of his acceptance speech for the Outstanding Alumnus award at some unnamed institution. When, as children, he and his friends venture a little too close to “the cave” during a game of cowboys and Indians, the line between make-believe and reality becomes dangerously blurred.

To be honest, there is little more to say about this story. It is one of the shortest pieces in the issue, and not particularly complicated. I don't want to say it was “boring,” because it wasn't exactly, but the plot is entirely predictable. Indeed, the narrator seems more interested in using his anecdote to make some indistinct point about reality and childhood psychology. Or something. He asks us, “What could possibly have happened that was so horrible that I might have made up such a story to normalize the reality?” Well, I have no idea. But, whatever it might be, I suspect it is the crux of his speech.

Reaves' address-style narrative is reasonably well constructed, but the innate detachment it creates kept me from becoming fully involved in the story. Then again, since I don't think the “story” is particularly important in this piece (now there's a concept), I suppose that doesn't matter. Unfortunately, whatever Reaves was driving at, I seem to have missed it completely, and I don't think that “Make-Believe” will stick in my head for long. By all means, give it a go – it'll only take you about 15 minutes – but don't be too surprised if you get to the end feeling underwhelmed.

“Waiting for the Phone to Ring” by Richard Bowes

“Waiting for the Phone to Ring” is a complicated tale of prostitution, sexual torture, and nostalgia; be prepared for adult themes, and a whole lot of gay sex. The plot unfolds in both the past and the present, relying on flashbacks and a forgotten manuscript (“The Kid with the Sun in his Eyes”) that is progressively revealed to us. Our narrator is a retired writer and board-game designer. When a bygone acquaintance asks him to resurrect some old material for a new play, his sordid past is dredged up along with it, and a twisted tale of murder and mind-games rears its ugly head.

Bowes' writing is really very good, and he captures the essence of the shifting decades perfectly. No accidental anachronisms in sight. His characters are all well-realised, the quiet menace of the Man is well-accomplished, and the intricate relationship between the central figures is nicely constructed. Aside from a plot that gets possibly a little too complicated by the end (it took me a feat of mental gymnastics to figure who killed who, how and why), I really can't fault this piece. So why am I not raving about it?

When I sat down to write this review of Richard Bowes' piece, I found myself at a loss. Confused, I blinked at an empty page, trying to coax a thought into existence; rarely am I without a clear opinion on literature. So, the fact that “Waiting for the Phone to Ring” left me blank is, I believe, worth noting. It's not that the story is bad – far from it, I found it most compelling – but simply that at the end, I had no idea what to think, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing. I enjoyed the read, particularly the old manuscript, and so I say give this story a go. Just be warned that if you're anything like me, it will leave you pondering, and maybe a little uncomfortable.

“Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot” by Ramsey Shehadeh

Door is a self-respecting chair.

… I will pause my introduction right there to clarify something: I haven't gone mad. The narrator in Ramsey Shehadeh's latest tale is an invisible chair named Door, and as with any decent, upstanding piece of furniture, it has no interest in going on wild adventures. Unfortunately, being magically chained to an idiot wizard has made Door's life anything but ordinary. When its master, Epidapheles, has a vision of a kingdom in turmoil (and, more importantly, of a damsel in distress), Door is dragged halfway across the world on an insane rescue mission. The question is, with Epidapheles' knack for making every situation a hundred times worse, will the two even survive the journey?

This is a fun story. Not brilliantly written, nor in any way plausible, but it coaxed a few laughs from me, and gave me more than a few smiles. The plot is absurd, and barely worth mentioning. Instead, it is the characters (particularly King Treacle; “Why do you not love me, Kitty?”) and the narrative voice that make “Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot” an entertaining read. Door's world-weary sarcasm and Epidapheles' overblown oratories work well together, but the ideas in this piece are hardly new. An inept wizard, lots of running away from things, some sentient furniture... it's all very Terry Pratchett. Very Rincewind and the luggage.

Equally, the humour isn't perfect. For every genuinely funny passage, there is another gag that falls flat on its face. The prose is littered with unnecessary capitalisation (which, I can only assume, is a slightly clumsy indication of Epidapheles' tone), and the author's word choices often left me scratching my head. Nothing is “wrong” exactly, but the dialogue in particular smacks awkwardly of a thesaurus. It's like Shehadeh pressed <shift>F7 and chose the longest (latinate) words in the list, just to make Epidapheles sound more pompous. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

On the whole I was entertained, but events get somewhat stale by the end. Epidapheles and Door find themselves in all sorts of interesting situations, but every five seconds another “angry mob” turns up that they then have to run away from, all in a very slapstick fashion. After about the tenth mob, it starts to wear a little thin. The ending, too, is something of an anti-climax, though I suppose there's nothing really wrong with a tied-up conclusion.

I suggest you read this piece, especially if you like Terry Pratchett, or fantasy-comedy in general. The silly humour and wild imagination of it are enough to get you through what is, after all, a fairly short story. And like I say, it did make me laugh. Just don't expect anything even close to Pratchett's flair; a comparison here is, I believe, inevitable, and “Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot” will never win that contest.

“The Frog Comrade” by Benjamin Rosenbaum

“The Frog Comrade” is a political tale of social revolution, of love and life, told in the style of an old fairytale with a new twist. The royal family has been deposed by the “new system,” and is being kept under house arrest. But, when the former king is released from the work camps, he brings home a present for each of his daughters. The elder princess receives a hat that turns her invisible, and the younger is given a talking frog. Rosenbaum's story follows the life of the younger princess, and as she grows up, her debates with the frog will shape the way she views the world and its constant changes.

This was a strange story, and I must confess a certain ignorance: I have no idea which fairytale Rosenbaum is referencing. Google tells me it is probably “The Frog Prince” (though, it is a happy coincidence that Disney has just released its latest film, The Princess and the Frog), but this means little to me. As such, my understanding of the political and social commentaries at work here is rather stunted. The piece seems to explore the flaws in two opposing ideas: the pleasure-orientated public, and the work/state-driven (socialist) society. Neither the frog nor the princess draw any conclusions, and I suspect we are meant to be left pondering their various arguments.

At just over 3,500 words, the story is not long (which is to be expected, I suppose, from something written as a fairy tale), and so is not hard to get through. The prose is fine, and the plot develops quickly enough to be interesting even to those of us who have missed the deeper content. In that sense, I cannot really criticise this piece. Did I enjoy it? Perhaps that is the wrong question. If you are looking for a happy story, or a nice and uncomplicated SF adventure, then “The Frog Comrade” is not for you. But, at 3,500 words, it's certainly worth keeping it to hand for when you're feeling a little more speculative.

“The Fairy Princess” by Dennis Danvers

“Nothing says it’s over like renting a synthetic replica of your lost love for the night.”

In his latest story, Dennis Danvers portrays a world in which sex is a commodity: a Christmas present, or a little something to help you through a rough day. The Skelley’s corporation builds “Screwbots” – bespoke night-time partners, tailored to meet the needs of even your darkest fantasies. Ever wanted to do it with a movie star? Your best friend's wife, the Grinch, the Virgin Mary? Now for one night, with Skelley’s, you can (and it feels just like a real human: guaranteed!). When you’re done, just send your erstwhile lover back to the factory. That's where our narrator, “The Fairy Princess,” comes in. Every bot has to be debriefed and memory-wiped before it can go out on the job again. Trouble is, after so long in a blank existence, some of the Screwbots no longer want to forget.

“The Fairy Princess” takes an old, familiar plotline, and steers it in an often overlooked direction; it is neither I, Robot nor Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I won’t tell you where Danvers goes with the idea of an android uprising, because that would kill the suspense, but suffice it to say that I found it a refreshing change of pace (albeit, perhaps, a slightly implausible one). The story raises questions about sentience, about love and “the value of life,” etc. – everything you’d expect in an android story. Indeed, aside from the plotline itself, there isn’t much that's new here. The writing is quite good, and only in one place does it start to drag due to a depressed and world-weary narrator: the story is always in danger of lapsing into a whine (especially at the start), and nobody likes to read whiny characters for too long. Still, Danvers is an experienced writer with several novels under his belt, so good prose goes without saying.

This is not a happy or life-affirming story. It is not bursting with action, nor fraught with suspense, and the territory is all very familiar. But, Danvers’ narrative skill kept me reading until the end. I doubt I’ll remember “The Fairy Princess” as one of the great short stories that I’ve read in my time, but whenever I get bored by yet another edition of “androids are taking over the world!” it will be nice to know that someone bothered to do things a little differently.

“Blue Fire” by Bruce McAllister

Pope Boniface XII, “The Child Pope,” is on his deathbed, at the end of a seventy year long reign. In his life he saw great suffering, and guided the Church through a holy war that brought Christianity and humanity itself to the brink of destruction. But now, the fog of old age has descended over his mind. As he lies in his favourite bed awaiting the grace of the Lord, a young archivist enters the papal bedchamber, and makes a final request. For the sake of those who still believe, he wishes to record the story of Boniface's encounter with “The Youngest Drinker.” Bruce McAllister's “Blue Fire” recalls that final conversation.

I think I can safely tell you that this is a vampire story without spoiling anything. Hell, the second paragraph talks about “the Drinkers of Blood” and their onslaught against the Holy City. What's interesting about this piece is that the great war is ignored completely, and the real story takes place many years beforehand, when Boniface was eight. Of course, there have been a lot of vampire-related novels, short stories, and television shows since the arrival of Twilight, so the subject matter is perhaps now growing stale.

“Blue Fire” deals primarily with the concept of damnation, which is explored in an unusual way through the interaction of two young boys. That the hefty issue of sin rests squarely on the shoulders of children is surely a comment on the nature of faith, and one worth pondering. Putting aside thematic validity, however, this story could have been better written. Boniface is excessively (read: annoyingly) pious at times, and the more tenuous lines of reasoning in conversations tend to be justified with a kind of “and somehow, he knew it was so” approach. The voice of God, too, is somewhat unimpressive when it makes its appearance. Still, the description of the blue fire at the end is quite pretty, and by no means did I have to drag myself through to the finale.

Religious stories always generate opinions, and I suppose this one will be no different. I do not believe it is a “conversion story,” nor does it attack the Christian faith in any way. Really, it's a fairly harmless tale. The reason I liked it – and I did like it – had more to do with the comforted feeling I was left with, and if you're in the mood for a nice, inoffensive story, then “Blue Fire” might be just what you're looking for.

“Class Trip” by Rand B. Lee

This is an excellent story. Frankly, I am tempted to leave it at that, but I wouldn't be doing it justice, so here's a little more information on Rand B. Lee's latest piece. The innocuously titled “Class Trip” sees the return of Lee's friendly alien race, the D’/(see the pronunciation guide. Trust me, you'll need it), and follows the life of a girl called Pink. Pink is a clone, a fact which earned her a considerable stigma when she was growing up in France in the late 2100s. Now, still only a teenager, she is a member of an elite group of humans: the first few ever allowed to visit the D’/ home world (“Shiphome,” or as we call it, Alpha Centauri). But, when Pink wanders into the Tangles by mistake, time and space are thrown into chaos, and Pink's entire future (and the futures of her friends) may soon be lost.

Lee throws us in at the deep end from the very first line, “GATHER ’ROUND, TE’NÉM, gather ’round. Vlíbit, you are treading on your sib’s tail” and makes no apologies for the alien terms and complicated language (hey, if Burgess can do it, right?). The umlauts and accents at every turn are, I will admit, a slightly crude representation of “alieness,” but you soon get used to it. Lee makes sure to take the D’/ alieness right into the narrative, and doesn't just rely on a few silly symbols to do the job (which would have come across as contrived). The finished product is fascinating, and deceptively easy to follow. “Class Trip” is, technically, written in four languages (one of which isn't even real), and the fact that I had no trouble with it is a testament to Lee's narrative skill.

The story is actually a “dream-journey” (a shared memory) taken by a group of D’/children, and is separated into sixteen chapters. However, the events are all jumbled up: chapter one is “THE END OF THE STORY”; chapter two is “THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY (WE WARNED YOU ABOUT THE TANGLES).” I was pleased to find that there is a real, plot-based reason for this – that it wasn't an affectation (aside, possibly, from the interludes) – and it makes the story more compelling as a whole. We get little glimpses of what will, or what has happened, and piece together the events like a jigsaw. It is very engaging.

The D’/themselves were a pleasure to read. Now, I will admit that as a creation, they are slightly predictable: the “superbeing aliens” with a physical complexity above and beyond us little humans. But, they all have vibrant personalities, and the seven stages of the D’/ life cycle show a great deal of imagination on Lee's part. Their interaction with humans makes them instantly endearing, and creates some little conversational gems (“No, there will be no seed-ejection in this story”). The  D’/ language is not simple, however, and my eyes did begin to skim over the longer names and words. Hell, you try reading “Bormwéthu/Havévno’Unésta/” in a sentence. Personally, I found it easier to treat these words more like pictures, and I learned to recognise them whole (rather than read them as a string of phonemes). Once you do that, any awkwardness disappears.

I could go on forever about this piece. It is such a rich creation that there is so much to say. I will not call it perfect, because there are little moments of iffy writing (“the blue green chartreuse yellow gold brown orange red burgundy purple violet turquoise air”), and the narrative does occasionally taste of contrivance. Plus, I would bet money on it that never in the history of England has there existed “an Englishwoman named Gwendolyn Rice-Chakrabarty.” (As an Englishman, I say this with some small authority.)  But, Ke’zhéggha’a! [Grieve not!] The tiny imperfections in this piece are quickly forgotten, and the result is un conte charmant [a charming story] that will keep you glued to the page, and one that I cannot recommend highly enough.