REVIEW: “The Heavenly Dreams of Mechanical Trees” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “The Heavenly Dreams of Mechanical Trees,” Luna Station Quarterly 52 (2022): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Bita is a botanist living in a world where xylem and phloem have been replaced with metal and gears. There are no botanical trees any more, just metal contraptions that serve the same air-purifying purpose. Only these trees aren’t alive enough to reproduce, they have to be replaced when their parts wear out. And they are all relentlessly the same.

Ailanthus lives in a world of repetition and silence, shuttered away from the world fated to perform the same actions over and over with no way to communicate with anyone. Until Bita comes along, and is the first person who can hear what Ailanthus has been dying to say.

This story was a first for me — the first time I’ve reviewed a story for a second time, at SFFReviews! I recognized the title as soon as I saw it, but remembered little of the story itself. It was curious to go back and reread

REVIEW: “Lonely Children Lost at Sea” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “Lonely Children Lost at Sea”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 302 (April 23, 2020). Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

“The sea giveth and the sea taketh away” could well be the theme of this excellent story. It takes place on an island where a small number of children—only children—have been periodically stranded. Over time, the original children have grown up and a rough but functional society has evolved. More recently stranded children are cared for in a communal fashion, since “the miracle of conception, which reads like fairy tale magic in our books” is impossible on the island. Nevertheless, some of the original children, such as Theodore and Gina, have paired off, while at least one other, Loraine, finds herself in an unrequited love triangle. She yearns for something more with Theodore—one of her closest friends in childhood, as was Gina—while Gina yearns for a child of her own. She gets her wish when a new child, given the name Maris (or “of the sea”) is rescued. However, “be careful what you wish for” could be another theme of this story, and Loraine’s sense of foreboding, brought on by the adoption, is borne out. 

REVIEW: “Around a World in Ninety-Six Hours” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “Around a World in Ninety-Six Hours”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 145–151 (print) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Polly Wynne is on a scientific mission on Venus, while her brother, Casper Wynne, is on a similar mission millions of miles away on Mars. Fueled by a healthy dose of sibling rivalry, the two place a friendly wager: whoever can complete a full revolution around their respective planets the fastest wins a free dinner. While the first 24 hours look very promising for both parties, the excitement does not last long. A violent wind storm knocks Casper’s communications out and leaves Polly uncertain of his fate. Polly must now use every tool in her arsenal to figure out a way to help her brother.

The story was more or less a middle-of-the-road piece for me: an interesting premise (e.g. flying airship on Venus) brought down by a not so interesting execution. The author structures the plot cleverly enough to maintain a well-balanced thread of suspense throughout the story, keeping the stakes high until the very end. On the other hand, I found the prose clunky and filled with unnecessary exposition. I can’t help but think that another round of editing would have benefited this story greatly.

Lastly, I’ve never been one to nitpick the science in science fiction, but there are a few things here that might make the reader raise an eyebrow or two. For instance, why did the Mars rover have to resort to Morse code to send its distress signal? If the mic was broken, couldn’t they have send a written message? Or shouldn’t the rover have a dedicated — and separately powered  — SOS system? The use of Morse code instead does not seem sufficiently justified.

REVIEW: “Things Forgotten On the Cliffs of Avevig” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “Things Forgotten On the Cliffs of Avevig” in Rhonda Parrish, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales, (World Weaver Press, 2019): 288-292 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The final story in the anthology is the shortest. It was less clear than some how it fit the theme of the anthology; but taken on its own merits it was a sweet little story about the importance of memory.

REVIEW: “Rain Like Diamonds” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “Rain Like Diamonds”, Luna Station Quarterly 35 (2018): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The queen hoarded the barrels of seed, keeping them locked within her coffers…

The kingdom is caught in the throes of famine. Every day people plead with the queen to help them, to help their starving children. And every day the queen refuses, knowing the grain must be saved until the dragon-scorched land is healed and it can be planted. But only tears can bring the rain like diamonds.

This is a quiet story of sacrifice and duty.

REVIEW: “The Heavenly Dreams of Mechanical Trees” by Wendy Nikel

Review of Wendy Nikel, “The Heavenly Dreams of Mechanical Trees”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 141-148 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

What a positively delightful title, and what a perfectly wonderful little story to go with it! I was captivated from the opening line, when we are told:

Trees were never intended to be sentient beings, or God would have created them that way, back in the Garden.

But suppose that they were — how would the course of human history have changed? What would the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil have to say, if it could speak?

The trees in this story that think such thoughts and dream the titular dreams are not descendants of the trees created by God, though; they are mechanical trees, created by man. Machines cannot speak; machines cannot procreate; machines can only dream of these things, and pray to their human creator-gods that a miracle occurs.