REVIEW: “Aboard the Mithridates” by Sean Vivier

Review of Sean Vivier, “Aboard the Mithridates”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 86–89 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Aboard the generation ship Mithridates, the passengers are slowly adapting their bodies – through training and gene therapy – to survive on the planet Hephaestus, the atmosphere of which contains large amounts of sulfur. Zarah Ngata is coping well with these changes, but not all kids at school are handling it as easy. One young man, Gavin, is having a hard time as his lungs seem unable to process the increased concentration of sulfur in the air. Zarah speculates that he won’t survive the next stage of the adaptation process. She’s determined to do whatever she can to help save the life of her less capable schoolmate.

In “Aboard the Mithridates,” Vivier presents an interesting take on the popular science fiction trope of the generation ship. Many stories such stories are often focused on the breakdown of the generation ship’s society, whereas here, the ship’s inhabitants remain focused on their goal. Vivier also comments on the unpredictability of the offspring and the real possibility that they’re not fit for the harsh environment of a generation ship. I was happy the story addressed these issues. Running at approximately 2400 words, the story does not have the chance to dive very deep into its themes, but it does, nevertheless, raise some interesting questions regarding the communal lifestyle that would be required in a generation ship. Is individual sacrifice acceptable if it benefits the rest of the community?

There are some plausibility issues, however. For example, I find it unlikely that Gavin’s health issues would be totally ignored by everyone except another child. It’s also unlikely that a society capable of building generation ships would not have some way of easing his pain. A respiratory aid, perhaps.

REVIEW: “Rite of Passage” by Jerry Oltion

Review of Jerry Oltion, “Rite of Passage”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 99 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

After graduation, Roshi prepares for his first solo moonwalk in his new 5-piece space suit.

There’s not much happening in this story other than the titular “rite of passage”, which presumably is the act of putting on the new suit. There’s a brief moment of tension (if one can call it that) when the character almost forgets to put on a helmet, but otherwise there’s not much plot to speak of. The story is simply a 460-word description of someone putting their space-suit on.

REVIEW: “The Augur and the Girl Left at His Door” by Greta Hayer”

Review of Greta Hayer, “The Augur and the Girl Left at His Door”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 306 (June 18, 2020): listen online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Knowing what lies in store for you versus the perhaps illusory freedom that comes from not knowing is the conflict that lies at the heart of this story. As its title suggests, the story revolves around two main characters, both unnamed. The augur somehow has the ability to foretell a person’s future by examining “every bump and line in his flesh.” The girl abandoned on his doorstep is, from the start, a spirited creature. Each comes to rely on the other, but the relationship is not without conflict. Though the augur has taught his adopted daughter to read and write, he refuses to teach her his way of foretelling the future. When one day he finds the girl reading a priceless volume called The Diviner’s Book of Augury, he rips it from her hands and throws it in the fire. Was this cruel or kind? I have my own opinion, but I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself. 

REVIEW: “Ganymede’s Lamps” by Michèle Laframboise

Review of Michèle Laframboise, “Ganymede’s Lamps”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Many stories have been written about what life would be like living on another planet (or moon) in our solar system — the lack of air, the difficulty in growing food, the distance between you and your family and friends left at home — but Laframboise eschews all those grand issues for a much simpler one: What about pets?

More specifically, this is the story of Bethesda’s journey towards getting a cat — and not just any cat, a real cat, not a mech one. On Ganymede, cats are hard to come by and hard to justify. But her birthday is coming up, and maybe this is the year she can convince her mom to get her one.

This is a story any cat lover will appreciate!

REVIEW: “The White Place” by Dana Berube

Review of Dana Berube, “The White Place”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Berube’s story drew me in right from the opening paragraph. I felt the cold of the snow, felt Ti’s hunger, want to know more of how he ended up in Berron’s bed, who the Ordermen were and what sort of church law they maintained. It was the perfect balance of engaging characters, poignant description, and a heart-breakingly sweet and heart-breakingly sad plot that I enjoyed all the way through to the end.

REVIEW: “The Midwife” by Carol Scheina

Review of Carol Scheina, “The Midwife”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Childbirth.

Hannah is a midwife of whom it is told she has never yet lost a mother or child. When she’s called to Emmilene’s childbed (far too late, in her opinion), she must draw upon all of her skill and experience to ensure her streak is not broken.

I found the story weirdly glorifying of the mystical experience of childbirth; it was also uncomfortably exclusionary (falling back into the default assumption that no husband could ever have a place beside his laboring wife). Just little things, but as a result, this story didn’t really do it for me.

REVIEW: “Depth and Meaning” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Review of Jennifer Lee Rossman, “Depth and Meaning”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Rossman’s stories appear in LSQ not infrequently — but after a couple of years of reading and reviewing LSQ stories, seeing her name attached to one of them is guaranteed to make my ears perk up, as her stories are pretty reliably good ones.

This present story is the story of Emi, a pictomancer like many others in her town, but unlike them, her paintings don’t take on the same magical life as theirs, the potential once seen in her (“People used to tell me I’d be an elder by the time I was twenty.”) trapped and inaccessible.

No one, least of all Emi, talks about what happened to make her this way. But even before she finally articulates it to her sister, it’s easy for reader to fill in the gaps, at least for anyone who has experienced how depression can prevent you from exercising your creative outlets.

That being said, I wasn’t especially keen on the way depression was treated in this story. Dex, Emi’s sister, tells her that it’s a good thing she’s depressed, that suffering is what gives art depth and meaning. Emi’s friend Ronaldo warns her against taking medication for it. Parts of the story felt heavy-handed and preachy at parts, and I’m not sure I liked the message.

REVIEW: “TheraBot” by Hannah Frankel

Review of Hannah Frankel, “TheraBot”, Luna Station Quarterly 42 (2020): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Velma’s got a new task at work — to program her replacement, a TheraBot called JoyCE. Why have people administer therapy when a robot can be trained to do the same? Angie works in customer support at the same company, and she’s one of the first to receive therapy from JoyCE.

The story alternates between the two women, and collects together all sorts of present-day anxieties about the future of employment — how AIs will integrate into the job market, the damage caused by anti-absenteeism culture, the rise of workplace-caused depression and anxiety, the panacea of “wellness” — there’s something in it for everyone to identify with! Sometimes it hits a bit too close to home for comfort. 🙂 But rather than accept these things as merely inevitable, Velma and her partner Todd make a decision to pro-actively embrace the future, turning JoyCE to their own purposes, and affecting the course of Angie’s life. I really enjoyed the optimistic turn the story took at the end.

REVIEW: “Breath of the Sahara” by Inegbenoise o. Osagie

Review of Inegbenoise O. Osagie, “Breath of the Sahara”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 305 (June 4, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Like its companion piece in the latest issue of BCS, this is a story of transformation—physical for one character, psychological for another. The story is narrated by a girl named Obehi Ehichoya, whose feelings for another girl, Esohe Okhah, deepen as the story progresses. For reasons that are not immediately apparent, Esohe is fascinated by and something of an expert on The Order of the Zephyrs, considered by the people of her village to be “our link to the gods.” Among the most striking creations I’ve encountered in recent fantasy fiction, Zephyrs look odd but for good reason. “Zephyrs were wind lovers, even if the wind shrank them; breathed through their skin so that it became loosened enough that it turned floury. They only came to the surface and gratified their wind lust on first Sabbaths . . .”  When the two girls sneak into the Zephyrs’ temple ostensibly to steal gold, they meet a Zephyr who conveys information to one of them that will forever change them both. This is an excellent story, and one I recommend highly. 

REVIEW: “And Never Mind the Watching Ones” by Keffy Kehrli

Review of Keffy Kehrli, “And Never Mind the Watching Ones “, Escape Pod Ep. 725– Listen online. Reviewed by Kat Samp.

This two-part story portrays a cast of teenagers dealing with bizarre alien frogs, on top of all the drama of their daily lives. Each character faces relatable problems with fitting in and forming relationships, and layered onto their stories are their encounters with the glitter frogs, colorful frogs that appeared out of nowhere one day and cover the world. It is one of those wonderful stories where the SFF elements illuminate and strengthen a powerful message about what it means to be human.

The stylistic quirks accompanying some of the perspectives made me prefer reading this story, rather than listening to the podcast. But both were excellent, and I highly recommend reading “And Never Mind the Watching Ones” for a lot of feels, as the teens might say.