REVIEW: “The Gates of Balawat” by Maria Haskins

Review of Maria Haskins, “The Gates of Balawat”, Strange Horizons (Samovar) 25 Sept. 2017: Read online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, this story follows its nameless main character into the ruins of the British Museum. The main character and his team have been tasked with scanning the artifacts so limited edition replicas can be produced and sold to wealthy collectors. The originals will then be destroyed to preserve the company’s license. During the course of this job, the main character encounters one of the titular Gates of Balawat.

On the outset, this seemed like a story I would enjoy. Museums are some of my favorite places, and I’ve made an amateur’s hobby of learning about archaeology. The twist of setting it in the future addresses the old question of so many archaeologists: what will the archaeologists of the future think of us when they dredge through our ruins? Haskins touches on this throughout the story, and the bits and pieces of her larger world that leak through make the reader curious to learn more.

However, I found the execution lacking in places. Haskins makes it clear that the doors, the Gates of Balawat, have some special significance for the main character; they cause a “dream” that stirs within him throughout the novel. Yet the story never satisfactorily answers what, precisely, that significance is. We learn so little of the character’s past that we cannot guess at why the doors affect him so, or why he should dream of them so often. Ultimately, it causes the climax to fall short of what it could have been.

Despite that, there are still moments of beauty in the translated prose, filtered through a message about how meaningless our remnants will be once we are gone, that make this story worth reading.

REVIEW: “Seven Kinds of Baked Goods” by Maria Haskins

Review of Maria Haskins, “Seven Kinds of Baked Goods”, Luna Station Quarterly 31: Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This is the second story is as many issues of Luna Station Quarterly that should not be read without some sort of homemade baked good on hand. Sadly, I had none, and spent the entire story feeling hungry.

First-person present-tense narration is a difficult combination to pull off well, even though it seems like such an easy voice when you’re writing, so when the story opened up with that, I was immediately leery. The story isn’t entirely told in the present-tense, though; the narrator quickly shifts into a retelling of her past, a past so delightful that I was immediately drawn in. But when it shifted back, I was (and now I am incredibly conscious of the fact that I myself am narrating in the first person shifting between past and present tense. Do you like my glass house?) left with the feeling I often get with FPPT — just who is the narrator speaking to, and why is she wasting her time telling her story instead of figuring out how to get out of the pickle she’s in?

And yet, my qualms about the narrative choices end up not seriously detracting from the story. Haskins manages to work in an impressive amount of world-building in a short amount of space, and her story does what I want any story to do: It left me wanting to read more.