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

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Dancing by M. E. Garber

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 9, 2014 in Reviews

Daily Science Fiction

Minutes after an explosion kills Arun, beloved father and husband and pilot to their antique spaceship, a mother and daughter are forced to put aside their grief to land the ship and find a way to save both of their lives.

The ship’s belly bumped the ground, rose up, and dove hard. Tearing metal shrieked louder than Natesha. Seema buffeted in her restraints as a series of booms shook what remained of the ship. Then it settled, hissing, to the ground.

 She freed herself and raced through the chaos of debris to Natesha, who sagged against her restraints. Trembling hands touched her daughter’s cheek, her neck. A pulse! Natesha’s eyes fluttered. Seema’s clenched body released, and she placed a kiss on her daughter’s bruised forehead.

Tears welled in Natesha’s eyes as Seema’s hands flew over her, loosening her restraints.

“Daddy wouldn’t have crashed us,” her daughter said, then threw herself into her mother’s arms and wept.

We’re instantly thrown into a tear jerker, these two women and a child on the way, set down on a hostile planet whose air will kill them in an hour. All of their emergency lifesuits have been destroyed by the explosion that killed Arun. Mother, Seema, cannot see how life will be possible without her husband, but for the sake of their children, she pushes forth, trying to be strong for their guilt-ridden daughter Netesha.

This piece of flash hold’s its fair share of emotion, and then some. Their reactions rang true, and their anxiety transferred to me as I read along. I felt Seema’s frustration of her daughter refusing to listen, but understood that Netesha was not in a place to make a rational decision of her own. The ending image (without spoilers) is a very powerful one that echoes the relationship between mother and child. My only gripe is that Seema stumbles onto the solution to their problem rather abruptly, and I would have liked it to be more of a natural discovery, but still, this is a very quick and emotionally potent read.

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“Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind)” by Holly Black

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 6, 2014 in Writer's Life

Lightspeed, September 2014
Author Website:


Short Women in Space, Review #6

In this novelette, a young girl stows away on her uncle’s cargo ship, fleeing a homesteader lifestyle on the boring planet her parents immigrated to. Life aboard the ship presents its own challenges when she realizes that her parents’ warnings about her uncle weren’t completely unfounded. He’s an intergalactic smuggler, but there’s no turning back now. She’ll just have to learn the rules so she can properly follow in his footsteps.

She’s heard a lot of bad things about spaceports, but when she lands on Zvezda-9, it doesn’t live up to the hype. No one’s trying to slip her drugs, no flesh-ripping Charkazak anywhere in sight.

Zvezda-9 is a big stretch of cement tunnels, vast microgravity farms, hotel pods, and general stores with overpriced food that’s either dehydrated or in a tube. There are also InterPlanetary offices, where greasy-looking people from a variety of worlds wait in long lines for licenses. They all stare at your homespun clothes. You want to grab your uncle’s hand, but you already feel like enough of a backworld yokel, so you curl your fingers into a fist instead.

There are aliens—it wasn’t like your parents were wrong about that. Most of them look human and simultaneously inhuman, and the juxtaposition is so odd that you can’t keep from staring. You spot a woman whose whole lower face is a jagged-toothed mouth. A man with gray-skinned cheeks that grow from his face like gills or possibly just really strange ears loads up a hovercart nearby, the stripes on his body smeared so you know they are paint and not pigmentation. Someone passes you in a heavy, hairy cloak, and you get the impression of thousands of eyes inside of the hood. It’s creepy as hell.

After she’s over the initial shock of it all, after she’s gotten herself some high-tech threads, some trendy holographic earrings, and a don’t-mess-with-me swagger, she realizes this place is exactly what she was running away from — boring.

That is until her uncle scores a no-questions-asked job of a lifetime, smuggling a cylindrical casket full of something, or more likely — someone — to an unscrupulous genetics lab. And of course, these things can never go well. Will pluck and her uncle’s rules be enough to get our heroine out of an intergalactic bind?

For all of the blood and guts and gore in this story, it’s a truly charming one. On top of being emotionally wrenching, it’s also masterfully written. The first time I came across this story, I moved right past it, thinking the format was a gimmick, but there’s no gimmick here, just pure and awesome storytelling. I’m so glad I went back to give it a full read. It’s really uplifting to see a young woman in space, setting out on adventures, solving momentous problems, and making a name for herself. This one is a bit of a time commitment, coming in at over 8000 words, but I promise, by the end of it you’ll be wishing there were 8000 more.

Sally Ride

REAL Women in Space
Sally Ride
First American woman in space
STS-7 (Jun. 18, 1983)
Creative Commons

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