The poems and flash fiction in this issue tend to feature ornery characters, leading to lots of humor and dark twists. Something else besides the flower is in the gifted pot in “The Lovely Amaryllis,” leading to some really great images and humor in a story told through email. “Sack Race to the River” reads like magical realism, starting dark and just getting darker. “Bad Spelling” is all about the title pun, with an abrupt and horrific twist. I found “Broads and Batwings” pretty opaque but I think there is something Lovecraftian to it. “Troublemake” introduces a character with a signature voice, one to root for in a circus setting.
Several absolutely fantastic and often chilling flash horror, fairy tale, and science fiction stories. Some highlights: “The Hitchhikers” remind you to always look behind you. Or don’t. “Moonspots” waits for daddy to come home. “Questions For the Ages” prepares you to spot twentysomething time travelers in your job as a time cop. A dying woman learns from her twin what she should do when necessary in “Bred in the Bone.”
All the praise. Let’s start with the characters: I loved the protagonists and companions and many others along the way as they struggled in a fallen world full of dangerous mountain-moving magic. Caring about these characters made the awfulness even more awful, but it also provided relief and balance. For example, Syenite’s sarcasm added much needed humor while it also seemed natural for the character to have honed such a skill.
Jemisin’s level of craft is astonishing and I’ll be looking to her work repeatedly for clues about how to build vivid, realistic worlds and soul-shaking new myths in my own writing. I love how she carefully weaved plot, myth-building, and revelation together for maximum surprise and jaw dropping. She is also a master of time and transition; I found myself on the other side of transitions shaking my head in delight: that’s how it’s done!
There are many other aspects about The Fifth Season to praise, but it certainly tapped my interest in fantasy with science fiction trappings, especially a healthy dose of geology. This is really the first novel I have read that marries geology and myth, something I didn’t realize until now I was craving. Forget the forests of fairy tales and the alien flora and fauna of alien planets in science fiction: I want more rock people, mastery over tectonic forces, and geological jargon in my fiction reading!