REVIEW: “The Painter of Trees” by Suzanne Palmer

Review of Suzanne Palmer, “The Painter of Trees”, Clarkesworld Issue 153, June (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

This is a multilayered story with a great deal of depth. It alternates between a first and third person voice, so you’re left guessing which of the characters our narrator is.

The characters are part of a council who have inhabited a new world. They’re taking over land that isn’t theirs – a forward march only, in their own words. No negativity or nostalgia for the past allowed. They’re all cogs in a wheel with no space to be creative or unique. And they’re reminded of it continually. The great thing about this story is how widely it is open to interpretation.

For me, it was an allegory of the Native American culture. I don’t know if that’s what the author was going for here, but this is what it related to in my opinion. The creatures outside the narrators habitat are slowly being driven out of their own land, just like the settlers did to the Native Americans. Eventually, it led to genocide, and this story also unravels what happened to the original inhabitants of the land.

A bit of history in a futuristic Sci Fi setting. The original inhabitants have not been described minutely, all we know is they are multi legged and do not have a face. They are also referred to as ‘it’. This can also be connected to Native American culture by way of a metaphor of how the colonizers treated them.

Calling them it strips them of their individuality, and leaves no respect. Them not having a face may be about how their identity and culture was forced away from so many. And they live in trees – they’re one with nature. Nature, who will not give up her secrets so easily to the grasping and grabby newcomers.

All this is just a very subjective idea of what I read between the lines. Even if you don’t, it is a still a wonderful story. You’ll keep guessing who the narrator actually is, and the world building will subtly draw you in.

This is a story that’s good at face value, and equally good should you choose to read between the lines.

REVIEW: “While it’s Still Beating” by Emma Grygotis

Review of Emma Grygotis, “While it’s Still Beating”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It’s hard to know whether to describe this story as SF or dystopian, though the unhappy future presented in it makes me lean towards the latter. Sometimes, future-oriented SF can just be so damn depressing.

Reading this, it feels like the tenses and temporal points are not mapped out correctly. There is a lot of past perfect, and a lot of present, and the “once, years ago, Alice could read Lenore’s moods by her eyes” – shouldn’t that really be “once, years ago, Alice had been able to…”? Because surely we are not talking about a single moment in time but rather an extended period. These shifts in tenses and the oblique way with which Grygotis approaches her story combine to make many aspects of the story unclear and uncertain. Both Lenore and Alice know why their insurance premiums are too high, but unfortunately, by the end of the story, I don’t, and the power that the ending might have had is lost on me.

REVIEW: “Beacon of Truth” by Charity West

Review of Charity West, “Beacon of Truth”, Luna Station Quarterly 31: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The writing, reading, and possession of fiction a subversive act. Fiction is the glorification of lies.

This quote sums up West’s story, which weaves together a number of common dystopian tropes — the forbidden nature of books, technology that prevents people from lying, the one person who can lie and will teach others how to.

The middle part of the story reminds me of China Mieville’s Embassytown, in the way it highlights how difficult it is to use language when it can only be used literally and truthfully. Every single analogy or metaphor or hyperbole that the Glib uses, in his conversation so ordinary, is almost unfathomable to the narrator.

But the real punch comes in the final paragraphs. As a parent of a young daughter myself, I found the lead-up to the ending difficult to read, and the very end brought tears to my eyes — but they were tears of happiness, not despair. It was a brilliant finish.

REVIEW: “Two Dimensional” by Kellee Kranendonk

Review of Kellee Kranendonk, “Two Dimensional”, Luna Station Quarterly 30: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was, sadly, not the story for me. Our first introduction to the heroine is a scene in which she takes psychotropic drugs. It’s not that I think all fictional heroines should be held to a high standard of conduct, or that drug use should be erased from the stories we tell, it’s just that such stories are not the stories for me. I say this even given that the drug plays an integral role in the plot — or even perhaps because of this.

Despite this, I think I may have been more disposed to positively review the story if the language were beautiful and well-crafted. Instead, I found it a bit stilted at times, and with a couple of rather abrupt info drops. I found the explanation of the relationship between the two races on the planet a bit strained; the concept is interesting, but could perhaps have benefited from being introduced slower and with more words, i.e., perhaps this would’ve been better suited to a novella than a short story. I also found the ending somewhat unsatisfying: I do not understand why Valo would take the risk that he did if he knew, in advance, that these risks would benefit neither him nor Binya.

It’s never fun to write a downer review, but the flip side of reviewing everything a journal publishes is that sometimes you get a story which just doesn’t measure up — by whatever measure is being used — to the other ones in the same venue. Alas, I think for this issue of Luna Station Quarterly, this story might be the one.

REVIEW: “The Moon, The Sun, and the Truth” by Victoria Sandbrook

Review of Victoria Sandbrook’s, “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth”, Shimmer 38: Read online. Reviewed by Sarah Grace Liu.

Truth riders in the West race through the desert and carry data chips on horseback—data that preserves what the Directorship would kill to eradicate: the last images of their hostile takeover.

Sandbrook’s tale is vivid, plausible, and engaging. She seamlessly blends a wild west atmosphere with nuggets of technological detail that take us beyond the here and now to a place where we are at once comfortable and disoriented.

If I were to lodge one minor complaint, it’s that the story doesn’t seem to be in complete control of psychic distance at points. It opens with a classic tale or fable narrative distance—with Andy’s perspective, yes, but at a far enough remove that the narrator has a distinct presence. Yet we sometimes get Andy’s immediate thoughts in a way that doesn’t jive with this narration. It’s an easy thing to overlook and doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it pulls me out of the story.

Sandbrook offers a perfect balance of details that gives us a sense of the larger world behind the story without bogging us down in lengthy passages of exposition. I enjoyed “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth” thoroughly, and will keep an eye out for more of Victoria Sandbrook’s work.