REVIEW: “And Never Mind the Watching Ones” by Keffy Kehrli

Review of Keffy Kehrli, “And Never Mind the Watching Ones “, Escape Pod Ep. 725– Listen online. Reviewed by Kat Samp.

This two-part story portrays a cast of teenagers dealing with bizarre alien frogs, on top of all the drama of their daily lives. Each character faces relatable problems with fitting in and forming relationships, and layered onto their stories are their encounters with the glitter frogs, colorful frogs that appeared out of nowhere one day and cover the world. It is one of those wonderful stories where the SFF elements illuminate and strengthen a powerful message about what it means to be human.

The stylistic quirks accompanying some of the perspectives made me prefer reading this story, rather than listening to the podcast. But both were excellent, and I highly recommend reading “And Never Mind the Watching Ones” for a lot of feels, as the teens might say.

REVIEW: “Falling Through” by Steen Comer

Review of Steen Comer, “Falling Through”, Escape Pod Ep. 725– Listen online. Reviewed by Kat Samp.

This story hit a chord for me, because I recently had a moment where I saw a protective wall near my house that I had never seen before. It looked old and worn, but I had never noticed it despite walking by it at least hundred times. Was it just a fluke of memory, or had I woken up in a parallel universe where everything was the same except the wall?

A phenomenon like the “Mandela Effect” becomes an interesting and compelling complication for the main character, a ‘shifter’ who is constantly falling through parallel realities. The format of the story is a journal, where he documents memories of past universes even as he shifts into new ones. The confusion of memory, the questioning of reality, and the search for human connection were strong threads throughout.

What worked for me: The author offers an excellent inner look into how shifting through alternate realities would affect the human psyche. It is fascinating to hear how the main character navigates personal identity, dreams for the future, and above all, making (or fearing to make) meaningful human connections. His loneliness and doubt, but also hope and determination, make this an emotionally fulfilling read. Additionally, I liked how the author keeps listeners/readers on their toes with details that contradict earlier statements, signalling that a shift has happened.

What didn’t work (spoilers): I was surprised and disappointed by the ending of the story. It felt like the work that the main character did to reach out and make connections, despite his fear and apathy in the face of an uncaring and constantly universe, was completely undone. Some readers might prefer this (mostly) sad ending, but I felt a bit thrown off-balance by how it veered off from the tone in the first half.

REVIEW: “The Spice Portrait” by J. M. Evenson

Review of J.M. Evenson, “The Spice Portrait”, Escape Pod 594: Listen and read online. Reviewed by Duke Kimball.

“They said my love for my daughter was excessive, that I made her weak by kissing her and singing in her ear at night.

They also said I killed her.”

With these opening lines, “The Spice Portrait” introduces the fear and self-doubt of every mother who has had her parenting corrected into a world of oppression and brutal scarcity. It is a visceral story of love and loss set in a sparse post-apocalypse, within a rigid society motivated almost entirely by lack. All the while the question looms: in a world in which only the strongest can survive, can there be room for a mother’s love to blossom? 

I like that Evenson shows us a section of this society with no direct masculine influence, (including merely oblique and ominous references,) and instead lets us live through the women of this future world. Naz and her mother endure backbreaking labor, petty squabbles, and ever-present hunger- only to face the greatest loss possible. I found the tale tempered with moments of incredible humanity and compassion throughout. The world is nuanced and effortlessly grounded, from the faith to the food to the daily chores- and while a difficult place, it was easy to find myself immersed in it. 

With resonant notes of Atwood and Le Guin, Evenson’s heart-wrenching story is one that is worth tasting.