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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Infinite Matrix, March 12, 2004

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"Safe Haven" by Karen D. Fishler

Image "Safe Haven" by Karen D. Fishler is a bleak, nautical novelette set on an apocalyptic Earth.  It begins innocuously enough with a birthday excursion-a father, Tom, taking his 47-year-old profoundly retarded son for an island picnic.  But there's an underlying specter of foreboding and despair from the start. Fishler shapes an eerie near-future with a deft hand, subtly taking the reader through a steppingstone path of small details that crescendo in magnitude: a tiny, shrinking  population; the last of basic staples like sugar and flour; a history of suicide, sickness, and death; and finally a palpable danger lurking in the ocean depths.

Fishler is  either an old sea hand, or she did her research.  Maritime language and activities initiate the reader into a fully realized world of treacherous salt water and capricious waves.  While there were instances where I found myself skimming through the minutiae of jib furling, sail trimming, and unfamiliar naval terminology, I'm an unrepentant beach-hugging land lubber.  I expect readers with more  seafaring leanings won't be left floundering.

There's also a poignant loneliness reminiscent of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson in "Safe Haven."   Though Tom isn't as isolated as Robert Neville, there is still an unmistakable aura of desolation as we share with him the knowledge that the world as he knows it is drawing to a dismal finale.  Tom, like Matheson's protagonist, isn't a completely sympathetic character either, but the reader is inexorably drawn in empathy to him.

"Safe Haven" is undeniably a riveting display of skilled storytelling, however I was  slightly disappointed by the scope. Fishler leaves the question of how the world came to be in such grim straits veiled in insinuation and oblique reference.  It is clear that mankind is to blame, but the details are left unrevealed, leaving me clamoring for answers.

Despite this, I recommend "Safe Haven" as an enthralling tale of post-apocalyptic conjecture.