Review of A. Brym, “Antarctic Birds”, Clarkesworld 132: Read online. Reviewed by Kerstin Hall.
Genetically modified lovers live within a compound in the Antarctic sunshine, teaching strange children about rainforests and cabbages. This story was a strange one, rooted in a very human relationship.
Nikau and Charlie aren’t at the best point in their romance; Nikau is preoccupied with his secrets and Charlie despairs of ever connecting with her students. The gradual regeneration of their relationship forms the emotional heart of the story, and it’s a sweet, delicate thread running through the narrative.
The worldbuilding in Antarctic Birds is of the work-it-out-yourself variety, which has both its uses and limitations. While the strong character focus allows readers to zone in on what is relevant –Nikau and Charlie’s feelings– I found that the lack of explanation grew distracting. Nikau can fly, Charlie can’t, and this appears to be related to their students’ burgeoning telepathic abilities. Two factions of an alien species compete for power, Masters and Makers. They have some kind of symbiotic relationship with humans and help our species to evolve, but this is perhaps against our will.
While a reader can discern something of the structure of the outside world from hints, I felt my grasp on the situation was too tenuous. As a result, Nikau’s choices in the conclusion lacked the significance they might have otherwise held.
Antarctic Birds reads like a snapshot into an intriguing narrative universe. It’s a brief glimpse of something larger, framed by the lives of two flawed but lovely characters.