This poem managed to tell a complex story in a compact fashion. Reading it, I felt that it hinted at so much more than it was able to say, and I wondered if the title held clues to what the “more” was. Unfortunately, no dictionary shed any light on either term, so I remain intrigued, but baffled.
I think lots of people, especially people who take solace in reading and writing speculative fiction, have What-If imps of their own, hanging around and making unwarranted trouble, or if not a What-If imp, one of its cousins. But I think there is some solace in reading this story, whatever kind of imp you’ve got.
Review of Emma Johanna Puranen and Patrick Barth, “A Spark in a Flask”, in Around Distant Suns, ed. by Emma Johanna Puranen (Guardbridge Books, 2021): 73-84 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
It’s been ages since the last humans left this base on the moon, but SPARC, a Self-sufficient Primordial Atmosphere Robotic Caretaker, knows its duties: to keep the lab, and especially the Flasks, safe and clean and running — and to test the Flasks for signs of life. Computer knows how to adjust the contents of the Flasks as needed, but Computer can’t fix a physical problem if one occurs, only SPARC can. When Computer is no longer able to detect the contents of Flask H40, it’s SPARC’s job to go in and find out what’s wrong — or, in this case: What is wonderfully right.
I found myself responding to SPARC, left behind, sending messages back to an Earth that doesn’t respond, very much the way that people across the world have respond to the Mars rovers, to the satellites sent off to explore asteroids; it’s astonishing how easy it is to anthropomorphise the little machines we send into space. There were moments in this story when I was desperately afraid that SPARC wouldn’t get his happy ending. Because discovering life isn’t enough; one must sustain it too…
A very satisfying read!
Review of Kiale Palpant and Oliver Herbort, “After Colour”, in Around Distant Suns, ed. by Emma Johanna Puranen (Guardbridge Books, 2021): 63-72 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
This was such an unexpected story — unlike any of the other ones in the anthology. On the one hand, it’s probably as close to a horror story as this collection has; on the other hand, I want to describe it as “Exoplanets x ‘It’s a Beautiful Life'”. Even writing that feels like a contradiction! But it’s not, these competing descriptions really are the best way to explain this short, intriguing story.
Review of Laura Muetzelfeldt and Martin Dominik, “A Momentary Brightening”, in Around Distant Suns, ed. by Emma Johanna Puranen (Guardbridge Books, 2021): 49-61 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
Content note: Death of a parent.
This was an immensely human story, the story of Karl simultaneously mourning the death of his wife Sofie, navigating his role as now-sole parent of his young son Joshua, and also charting his path through the stars. The science took second billing to the emotion in this story, and yet this was done without sacrificing the science in any way: Though the reader is given little detail about how star lensing works or what it signifies, everything still feels viridical, as if there is far more beneath the surface, if only one wants to scratch. And that’s what I love in a sci-fi story: The sense that there is something real, that this is not just — or merely — a story.
I also particularly loved the writer/scientist reflections from this piece. Muetzelfeldt talks about the challenge that comes in shifting the solitary business of writing fiction into the more collaborative setting of science, while Dominik shares of taking his own aspirations and dreams and turning them into a story for Muetzelfeldt. Their collaborative energies shine through.
Review of Maeghan Klinker and Aubrey Zerkle, “Rise in Perfect Light”, in Around Distant Suns, ed. by Emma Johanna Puranen (Guardbridge Books, 2021): 33-48 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
This story begins with an epigraph from Sarah Williams’s “The Old Astronomer to His Pupil”, which perfectly aligns with two reflections at the end of the piece, of which I’ll pick out one from each — Klinker speaks of “how science and art can build off one another” (p. 47) and Zerkle of the joy of seeing your dearest ideas “as seen through a[nother]’s eyes” (p. 48). These form a lovely bookend for what was a very satisfying “first contact” story, full of vivid characters and realistic science.
Review of Guy Woods and Sven Kiefer, “Cloudgazing”, in Around Distant Suns, ed. by Emma Johanna Puranen (Guardbridge Books, 2021): 85-109 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
You’ll probably be as surprised as I that there were not one but two radio plays involving clouds in this — otherwise rather small! — anthology.
And yet, even though both plays featured a scientist who found something radically unexpected in the clouds, the two plays could not be more different. This one feels very slow, and pregnant: In many scenes, not much happens, and it’s what isn’t being said that is important. Whereas in the previous play, the reader was given the discovery in the first few lines, and the rest of the play dealt with the aftermath, here the final reveal was kept underwraps until the very last scene, which sent shivers down my spine. The dramatic build-up was exquisitely crafted.
Review of Priyanka Jha and Nanna Bach-Møller, “One Cloud at a Time: A Radio Play”, in Around Distant Suns, ed. by Emma Johanna Puranen (Guardbridge Books, 2021): 21-31. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
This play was simply a joy to read. It was written as a dialogue between two scientists, one named Bach, one named Møller, and it moves from the intimate and mundane (trying to create life; trying to decide what to eat for dinner) to the tragic and serious (we try not to think about how often scientists are paid to keep their mouths shut, or the lengths governments will go to shut them up.)
If you’ve ever been bothered at the way conspiracies can take hold in people’s minds, forcing out the understanding that scientific knowledge can bring, this is a piece for you!
Review of Honor Hamlet and Till Kaeufer, “Soonest Mended”, in Around Distant Suns, ed. by Emma Johanna Puranen (Guardbridge Books, 2021): 17-20 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
I have pretty narrow tastes when it comes to poetry, and I’ll admit this one wasn’t exactly my cup of tea; it was a bit too “post-modern”, I think, for my tastes — unsurprising because Hamlet and Kaeufer’s collaboration is one of the closest, with Kaeufer contributing a machine learning programming that actual wrote a line of the poem! But what I loved, and which makes poems like this such a wonderful contribution to the volume, was what the poet and the scientist said in their collaboration notes: “While writing a poem, you’re constantly asking if the information in the previous line is relevant enough to trigger a reaction in the next line” (p. 20). What I want from my fiction and poetry is something that makes me think about things differently, and I got that.