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: “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer

Review of Suzanne Palmer, “The Secret Life of Bots”, Clarkesworld 132: Read online. Reviewed by Kerstin Hall.

Bot 9 has been in storage for a while. It’s a dated model with a reputation for instability, but when the ship runs into a crisis, even temperamental old multibots are called to assist. 9 is to deal with a pest problem –something is chewing through the walls– and while it would prefer a more important job, it dutifully sets about hunting down vermin.

This story is warm and funny and endearing. The narrative is well-constructed, and balances humour and tension throughout. The narrative voice is especially appealing when 9 is the focaliser. The newer bots and the ship are dismissive of 9’s limited functionality, so there’s something thoroughly charming about our hero’s gung-ho attitude. It might not have access to the newfangled ‘botnet’, but it never doubts its ability to get the job done.

The situation onboard the ship escalates. In between fighting off the pest (which is a bit like a bug, and a bit like a rat, or perhaps more like a “Snake-Earwig-Weasel”), 9 decides to fix the humans’ rather more life-threatening problems too.

If you are looking for something amusing, satisfying and easily digestible, “The Secret Life of Bots” won’t disappoint.