Primrose or Return to Il’maril by Mary McMyne

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 20, 2014 in Reviews

Apex Magazine
Author Website:


Virginia Booth is a noted xenoanthropologist well past the end of her career, during which she held a deep connection with the people of Il’maril, a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. She is called there out of retirement by Vierro Casstratil, a powerful Il’marilian shaman, who she must convince to leave their homeworld due to the impending supernova of their star. Despite the threat of extinction, it will not be an easy task. The people of Il’maril hold tightly to myth and beliefs:

I’d awakened that morning with a particularly germane line of scripture on my tongue. All day, as the caravan led me to this cave, I’d been repeating it to myself, worried I would forget without the memory chip I’d refused out of respect for the taboos. “‘Without the sun we are nothing.’”

He nodded. “Your teacher taught you well. And yet you advocate for evacuation?”

“No matter how much I love this place,” I hoped he could hear the regret in my voice, “I must.”

From the surface, the Il’maril sky was enchanting, the crimson sun bathed in rose–coloured light. Only from space was it clear the planet actually had two suns: a tiny white dwarf and its companion, a rosy red giant blooming petals of dust. Probe ships had been making passes over the system ever since convection began in the dwarf star, which accreted enough mass to go supernova long ago. This year, after their annual pass, the astrophysicists projected the disaster’s date: one month from today. Only a splinter group of Il’marillians had agreed to evacuate so far — the emigrants, they called themselves proudly, though the word for the concept was considered obscene. My mission was to convince Casstratil and the rest to go.

I gestured at the floor, the traditional place on Il’maril for discussions of state. “Should we sit?”

Casstratil nodded almost imperceptibly beneath his hood. I still couldn’t see his face. Somewhat further down the tunnel, I was certain now, I could see a light glowing on the wall. Orb–shaped, it glowed a vague silver colour with hints of purple; it wasn’t very bright. In my first pub, I’d speculated that they kept some kind of ancient tech in these caves, which ran on the mysterious geothermal energy the shamans referred to as zim–zivat. It had only been a storytelling device; now, I wondered if I was right.

The superiority complex of humankind extends well into our future in this piece. With all of our science, tech, and knowledge obtained over artificially lengthened lifespans, we know what’s in the best interest of a planet in a galaxy far, far away, right? Our calculations and predictions could never be wrong. We are infallible, after all.

It does not take much to draw modern-day parallels to this story, so this is an important tale to take to heart. It’s sad to think that in half a millennium from now, we’ll still be making the same bull-headed mistakes we are today, so it’s good to read a story that puts humanity in its place. This piece does so, and gives us great characters to cling on in the process. Virginia gets  a glimpse of how despite our ability to skip across the stars, we are still toddlers in our knowledge of so many things–going confidently about our lives, completely unaware of the danger lurking in the pretty fire upon the stove top, of the hundreds and thousands of small lives extinguished beneath our oblivious footfalls on the sidewalk.  And yet, I don’t think this story was meant to disparage us, but to encourage us to grow. It’s okay to be born not knowing everything, and learning doesn’t have to be a race. Sometimes it’s important to just stop and smell the primroses.

Tags: , , , ,

No Comments >>

The Speaking Ground by Erica Satifka

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 19, 2014 in Reviews

AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review
Author Website:


The doctor of a colony several years removed from any possibility of outside help, is desperate to keep the colonists from destroying themselves. They seem to be answering some siren call of the land–one patient has ruined her gut from ingesting rocks and dirt, a boy has gone blind but claims to see every thing this world has to offer. Measures are taken to keep others from leaving the safety of their dome and suffering the same fate, but will it be enough?

Red Dome

Image derived from photo by atomicjeep, Creative Commons

Even though he was blind and restrained, the boy smiled beatifically. He’d refused to name his kidnappers, the older children who had driven him out to a nearby meadow and left him there. As a result, all vehicles were put on lockdown until the colony’s eventual rescue by Central Control, estimated at three years from now. All exits were sealed, the code to trip the doors known only to the mayor and the doctor. The doctor kept the code in his pocket, a little lifeline.

This piece of flash takes just a few minutes to read, but manages to churn the gut nonetheless. Lots of grotesque images, and a clear path to oblivion, paved with self-destruction and misplaced optimism. From a couple paragraphs in, we know this is not going to end well, but still it keeps the reader wondering–What is the planet saying? Why is it speaking to these people? What does it want from them? Perhaps if you are curious enough, you’ll find a way to step out of the dome yourself.

Tags: , , ,

No Comments >>

The Symphony of Ice and Dust by Julie Novakova

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 18, 2014 in Reviews

Author Website:


Some eleven thousand years from now, Chiara and her fellow Jovian composers are looking to create the greatest symphony of all time, and they think they will find the material they need to do so on the dwarf planet Sedna. What they discover is not one, but two time capsules buried deep beneath the layers of ice. Two ships, one human and the other decidedly not. Theodora, co-pilot of the human ship, has long since passed on, but has left a detailed assessment of her short time upon the Sedna where hopefully someone, somewhere, from sometime will find it:

Theodora was descending through the tunnel in the ice. It was dark except the light from LEDs on her suit and the reflectors from the top of the shaft. Her rope was winding down gradually. She could see the drilling device below now.

The light above seemed faint when she reached the probe. It took her only an hour to get it operational again. She smiled and let the winch pull her up again.

Just as she neared the surface, she heard a noise in the speakers of her suit. “Dimitri?” she spoke. “What is it?”

“Have to . . . come down . . . ”

She barely understood him through the static.


For a while, she heard nothing. Then the static returned—and after that, Dimitri’s distorted voice. “ . . . have to land.” Cracking and humming. Theodora tried to amplify the sound frantically. “ . . . send you the coordinates . . . hope it works out . . . ”

A file found its way through the transmission. It was a technical report generated by Kittiwake. Theodora opened it and glimpsed through it quickly.

“Oh no,” she whispered.

I liked the surreal feel of this piece–composers from Jupiter looking for musical inspiration in ancient ship wreckage? Sure, sign me up. For me, it is a little difficult to project what humanity will be like eleven thousand years in the future, but maybe we’ll be a lot like we are today, just with fancier gadgets, weirder tastes in music, and hopefully enough technological advancement to escape the clutches of what is apparently one cursed dwarf planet. Still, it seems like there is something deeper to this story. It manages to hold tension, despite the fact that we know Theodora will not make it very early on. I found myself hoping for her safe escape anyway, tensing at impending dangers. She is a hero, working diligently at her job, so focused on leaving some sort of legacy in the wake of personal disaster, hoping that her voice will be heard and that her story will be helpful. It’s a bittersweet story, probably more bitter than sweet, and the ending might leave you a little misty eyed.

Judith Resnik

REAL Women in Space
Judith Resnik
First Jewish-American in space
Died in the Challenger disaster
STS-41-D (Aug. 30, 1984)
STS-51-L (Jan. 28, 1986)
Creative Commons

Tags: , , , ,

No Comments >>
Copyright © 2014 Diary of a Short Woman. All Rights Reserved.