REVIEW: “The Ghost Stories We Tell Around Photon Fires” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw, “The Ghost Stories We Tell Around Photon Fires”, Apex Magazine 104 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This is a ghost story in space, a ghost story done up with all the creepiness and ambiguity the genre demands. It is also a love story, which seemed surprising to me until I thought about it. But what makes us want to bend the rules of death like love does? To say more – to try to tell you the plot – would require spoilers, and I would hate to deprive you of the experience of putting the pieces together. In the end, this is another story where the plot isn’t the important thing. The mystery, the meditation on love and loss and living, the lyrically sharp language: those were enough to draw me in and keep me hanging on Khaw’s every word.

This is a very human story, despite being set in space. I think the setting serves to highlight how universal the experience of loss and inability to let go really is. It also provides the a way for the main character to escape the inevitability of loss, but I think it’s contribution to the tone is actually more important.

I’ll admit that, when reading this the first time, I worried about how it would end. Would it dissolve into chaos and vagueness? Would the ending be either too firm or too soft to satisfy, after the beautiful mystery that came before? I should have had more faith. The ending delivers exactly what the story needs, not a drop more or a sentence less.

 

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