REVIEW: “The Acheulean Gift” by Matthew Claxton

Review of Matthew Claxton, “The Acheulean Gift”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2021): 60–68 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

In “The Acheulean Gift,” some children have been genetically modified with DNA from pre-“Home Sapiens” humans, hoping that this will reduce some of humanity’s most descriptive tendencies. The program didn’t work as expected,

I found the “Acheulean genetics” program described in the story rather implausible, in more than one way. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief for this one, though if you are able to, then it is a pretty good story. The writing is competent, the characters were well-crafted, and I particularly appreciated the little touches the author put on the brother-sister relationship (like their playful rivalry in the ax throwing exercises).

Overall, there’s a lot to like about “The Acheulan Gift,” even though I personally could not get past the premise.

REVIEW: “All the Turns of the Earth” by Matthew Claxton

Review of Matthew Claxton, “All the Turns of the Earth”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 132–137 (print) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Narrated in the second person, this story features a  young child mysteriously catapulted into prehistoric times.  There, the child finds the abandoned egg of pterosaur and raises it into adulthood. The two forge a strong relationship with each other, but before long, the child falls back into the present day. She grows up grows up wondering if she’ll ever see the pterosaur again.

First, I must confess a personal bias: I don’t really like stories told in the second person. More than often I find second person stories contrived and gimmicky, adding little or nothing to the core of the narrative. That said, Claxton manages to avoid the usual distractions of second person, creating a rather engaging little yarn. The prose is elegant and poetic, and even though at times it verges on the “purple,” it goes a long way at making the scenery come alive. I particularly enjoyed the description of the transition from the past, back to the present:

You stumble, and skin your soft hands on the asphalt.

The story might feel a bit out-of-place to regular readers of Analog, as it belongs more in the realm of fantasy or magical realism than anything remotely resembling hard SF (Analog’s usual cup of tea), but I nevertheless enjoyed it while it was there.

REVIEW: “The Names of the Sky” by Matthew Claxton

Review of Matthew Claxton, “The Names of the Sky”, Podcastle: 490 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

It may seem odd that the first description that comes to me for a story set in wartime is “lovely” but the language of this one just flowed over me. It hit my exposition sweet spot in laying out the setting with casual description and character interaction, rather than feeling the need to tell the listener where they are and what’s going on. (But I’ll tell you anyway, so the review makes sense.) Zoya, a Russian fighter pilot in WWII has come down in a rural area behind the front and needs to survive, find shelter, and figure out how to get her plane in the air again, in that order. An encounter in a nearly-deserted village leaves her saddled with a responsibility that threatens those goals, but the seemingly senile old woman isn’t what she seems. A familiarity with Russian folklore will aid the listener in keeping up, given the aforementioned oblique approach to exposition. I loved the casually feminist (or maybe woman-centered is a better term) underlayer of the story that grew organically out of the themes and the historic-folklore roots. (Though now I find myself hungry for a story of “Grandma” and her sisters in their youth–and I wonder how much of that reference is based on the original folklore as opposed to being invention.)