“Murmuration” by E. Catherine Tobler
Reviewed by Rebecca DeVendra
E. Catherine Tobler writes a tale from the perspective of an archeologist called Sita on Mars in “Murmuration.” After the excavation of a mammalian bone, speculation and excitement buzz around Sita, who has just learned she’s been infected with a Martian bacteria. It’s hard not to think about Ray Bradbury’s contribution to the genre when reading about Mars, and Tobler doesn’t try to avoid those comparisons. The result is effective, riffing off of aspects of The Martian Chronicles with a welcome freshness, the narrative propelled by probing questions about life, the mystery and intrigue of discovery, and what it means to be human anyway.
“The Warrior and the Sage” by Shweta Sundararajan is a story steeped in Indian lore about transformation and the romanticism of storytelling. Stories are about escape, a noble thing as it enriches the spirit and shows us who we can be. We follow Ashraf and Sojanya, dreamers who imagine themselves to be glorious warriors, only to find that once their stories start to come true, they are not yet ready for the roles they desire. A bittersweet story about what it means to grow up and abandon the fantasies of youth that are no longer prudent.
“Shadows and Shore Leave” by Brian Trent is a delightful tale about cloning and family dynamics, helped along with Trent’s witty and charming prose style and knack for dialogue. Darron returns home to find that he and his sister have some differences over the alien krolort. He fights them up close, she wages a battle of conscious anti-war activism against his efforts at home. The ending is rather hard-hitting yet necessary, so the reader will be left with a sense of ennui for the state of politics and its ability to rip up families. Fiction that makes the reader contemplate the state of the world is doing its job right, as it can expand our thinking.
“The God in The Window” by Steven R. Stewart is a delightfully original and hair-raising treat, tension and eeriness conveyed by the accumulation of details all leading up to the finale. A mother who makes a deal with a demon for her voice. A child, ungifted, undergoing throat surgery to sing like an angel, instead reduced to speaking only in cryptic lines of poetry. The death of songbirds, the lurking of shadows. Stewart’s prose does the ambitious tale credit, and he makes his characters pay their dues: the ending is horrifying and therefore satisfactory.
“Super Action Excite Team Go!” by Matthew Shean is about regrowth, literally and figuratively. A middle school student deals with family tensions while helping his brother re-grow an arm; the scenes of the limb process drawing strong parallels to the memorable scene in the movie Deadpool. The characters are heartfelt, but do not resonate as much as middle-school dramas like Stand By Me or Stranger Things. It does, however, leave the reader with the warm-fuzzies at the end as there’s sweetness indicative of such coming of age tales.
“The Ship that Forgot Itself” by Daniel Rosen is told from the perspective of a sentient ship that contains an ecosystem and the people in it: a driftcolony. When the ship starts to make deadly mistakes, like exposing the human cargo to radiation, the crew realizes that the ship is not doing well. While the ending makes sense, it isn’t a very original story, but the narrative style is worth experiencing.
Rebecca DeVendra is a figure artist and speculative fiction writer living in Boston. She grew up in Ohio and went to school there, and has a background in curriculum writing. She's also a mom to three cacophonous, early-rising children. She's probably in her pajamas, but she has an emergency collar shirt for video calls. Check out her blog.