REVIEW: “Interlingua” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “Interlingua,” Unfit Magazine 2 (2018): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The primary characters in this story are the Hwacha and the Sarissa, both sentient spaceships. They’ve been assigned to the same Contact mission, and amongst the many duties involved in keeping their crews safe and hale is keeping them occupied, because bored crews get into mischief. Reading the story it becomes apparent that bored ships also get into mischief, and this is what happens when the Hwacha start designing games for its crew to play. Of course, the Hwacha convinces itself that it’s doing this for the good of its crew, rather than itself; in this case, to prepare its crew for this particular Contact situation by giving them a simulation of what it may be like to understand the novel language of the people they are about to meet.

There is a moment about 12 pages when I had a sudden premonition of what was to come, and I spent the rest of the story in delicious anticipation of the end (which was even better than I could’ve imagined). I’ve come to expect good solid SF cross-cut with novel observations about languages (whether verbal or mathematical) from Lee’s stories, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint.

REVIEW: “The Chameleon’s Gloves” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “The Chameleon’s Gloves”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

You can never go too wrong with a swashbuckling space adventure. Two thieves (one exile with extraordinary lockpicking abilities and one pilot) are bribed and threatened into stealing a superweapon that could blow up thirty thousand light-years worth of space. It’s a wild ride with a fascinating and ingenious narrator at the helm.

My only complaint is that the ride was, perhaps, too wild. Our narrator, Rhehan, switches allegiances between factions several times, almost at the drop of a hat. The stakes (thirty thousand light-years worth of space!!) seem very high, and yet Rhehan is fairly nonchalant about playing hot potato with such a powerful weapon. I felt that in the kaleidoscopic narrative of shifting loyalties, Rhehan’s haunted past and history with their clan (one of the factions) was lost as a theme, only to return at the end as though we should have been following it the whole time. Overall, the story caught and held me, but I wondered if the complicated plot eclipsed some of the finer nuances of characterization.

REVIEW: “The Mermaid Astronaut” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “The Mermaid Astronaut”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue 298 (February 27, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.  

This story’s wonderfully imagined central character, is a mermaid who has named herself Essarala, or “seeks the stars.” She is one of many mermaids who dwell “in the deep and dreaming oceans of her world.” But unlike the other mermaids, including her younger sister Kiovasa, Essarala really does long to visit the stars, not just sit on a rock gazing up at them. She gets her chance when traders from off-world arrive. In exchange for a promise to the witch beneath the waves, Essarala gives up her mermaid’s tail for legs and joins the traders on their voyages. After many wondrous years of travel, she finally returns home for a reason much more important than the need to fulfill her promise to the witch. This is a charming story about the competing desire to explore the wider world (or universe) and the joys and duties of home and family. It’s an excellent way to open this special, double-sized issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.   

REVIEW: “Obscura” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “Obscura”, Strange Horizons 29 Jan. 2018: Read online. Reviewed by Danielle Maurer.

There are plenty of stories floating around the world about Faustian bargains and cursed objects. The trope is commonly associated with musicians and artists. So it’s no surprise that in “Obscura,” as the name would suggest, the object in question is a camera which takes pictures of absences.

The fourteen-year-old narrator (it’s never definitively established whether the narrator is male or female,) meets a strange man with a stranger camera, and the stranger ends up bequeathing the camera to the narrator after warning the narrator not to use it on people for fear of what it might show. Humans aren’t so great at resisting temptation, however.

The story showcases Lee’s gift for words. The sentences are rarely long or flowery, but there’s a power in the bluntness, in a single, precise sentence of description. The camera itself is fascinating, as are the brother and sister who bring it into the narrator’s life. However, I found myself a little confused at what, exactly, the camera’s powers were. In a novella or novel, there would be more time to learn by osmosis, but here I would have loved a slightly clearer explanation.

That said, the story is still captivating. It draws you in easily, hooks you just as the narrator is hooked, and its climax and denouement are equally memorable. Well worth a read.

REVIEW: “Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “Effigy Nights”, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series, Vol. 8. Reviewed by Drew Shiel.

I am very much a fan of Yoon Ha Lee’s work. Paper, writing, and perception of the written and thought word are recurring themes through much of his work, so it can be argued that “Effigy Nights” is almost iconic in that regard. This story is written as though a reality in which words, when treated in particular ways, form objects and people, is normal. But it would be unfair to say that it’s written prosaically; instead it is poetic, personal and epic at one and the same time. There is something about it of a Middle Eastern feel, as suggested by the echo in the title of One Thousand And One Nights, but there are aspects of other cultures drawn in as well. It is a story about stories.

Recommended for those who can cope with a little surreality, who don’t need all the rules laid out, who can extrapolate, who think about the words on the page and the intrusion of text into the world.