REVIEW: "War Lily" by Beth Dawkins

Review of Beth Dawkins, “War Lily”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 140–142 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Before dying in combat, Shelby was able to record an imprint of her mind on a device called the “war lily.” The war lily can be used a total of 4 times by her friends and family for a final goodbye. The first three go to her wife, Rosa, their young son, Henry, and Shelby’s dying mother. Years later, a grown-up Henry summons his mother one last time, hoping to make her stay more permanent.

Though it features an abundantly common trope in science fiction, I enjoyed reading this story. One thing science fiction does well is to literalize abstract concepts, and “War Lily” is a perfect example of that, demonstrating a person’s inability to let go. It deals with universal theme that I never get tired of reading about, especially when done well. Here, the prose was evocative enough to bring out the emotion without sipping into melodrama. It’s a simple, yet effective.

Unfortunately, I did not quite buy the ending. We don’t get to know the main character well enough to find her final choice justifiable. Many questions are left unanswered. What was the nature of the war she died in? Why did she fight? I did not see a strong reason for her not to accept the body offered by her son. Perhaps in her quest for brevity, the author left some important exposition out of the story.

REVIEW: “The Pulse of Memory” by Beth Dawkins

Review of Beth Dawkins, “The Pulse of Memory”, Apex Magazine 116 (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

It is generally agreed that, on a generation ship, nothing can be wasted. But what about memories? In this unusual story, people have discovered a way to recycle the memories of the dead, so that no knowledge or experience will be truly lost. How is this feat accomplished? Through fish. The fish eat people before they die, and then teenagers eat the fish when they come of age, thus gaining the memories of the people that fish dined on. It’s morbid, but effective.

The brilliance of this story lies not in the idea of memory-eating fish (though that’s a pretty great conceit), but in the way it shows how different people respond to this practice. Society is not a monolith, even in the constrained environment of a generation ship. Some people feel an almost religious reverence for the fish, others are disgusted by them, and some yearn to do away with them entirely. It’s a rich and organic source of conflict, and one that is too rarely used in most stories, making this story all the more sweet for really exploring it.

For such a strange (and at times, confusing) story, Dawkins keeps us grounded with a strong point-of-view character. Cal’s love for the fish, and for the role they serve in society, provides the reader with a hand to hold from beginning to end. This story gives us a unique take on generation ships, a staple of science fiction, and I’m grateful to have read it.