“A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power,” by Rose Lemberg

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Art by Jeff Brown

“A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power,” by Rose Lemberg.
Novella. Published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, July 2017 (issues #229 and #230).
Part of Lemberg’s Birdverse series.

Content notes: BDSM; negotiation of consent.


Charles Payseur raves about this one at Quick Sip Reviews. It’s worth reading his entire piece, but I’ll excerpt a few different notes:

I have of late lamented that there was not enough queer smutty stories appearing in pro SFF venues. Here is one that captures the scope and awe and magic of fantasy and builds a world that is both shatteringly real and peopled by characters diverse and raw and hurt and yearning for something they can’t quite give breath to. (…)

The web of characters the story creates is one that, like the Grid of the world, is weakened by absences and a general distrust. And while some of the characters seem to think the only way to counter this decay is to create one person to anchor the web and dominate, Tajer and the Old Royal push for a different way, a more subtle and in many ways more precarious way. They seek to strengthen not by creating a powerful single point but by working on the bonds between each person and strengthening those bonds with affection and trust. (…)

(plus OMG THE CHARACTERS!!! They are all so awesome and if everyone doesn’t want all the Marvushi everything then YOU HAVE NO TASTE! There are just so many great characters all orbiting around each other and I love them all and can’t wait to read more amazing BirdVerse stories!)

On the other hand, Rocket Stack Rank is unenthusiastic:

Pro: The world is very elaborate and well-thought-out. Dialogue and narration are flawless.

Con: The protagonist is so powerful that the plot suffers. For the first ten thousand words, we’re not even sure what it is that they want, and the story really drags. Even then, the only problems that they have seem to be self-inflicted. This makes this very long story a real slog to get through. (…) Finally, I found the graphic S&M scenes at the end seriously disturbing.

Ada Hoffman at Autistic Book Party delves into the story’s treatment of sex, gender, and BDSM:

There’s also surprising depth to the kink in this story. Many nuanced issues around consent and negotiation are portrayed, including the question of whether and how someone as powerful as the Raker can ethically pursue relationships. Both characters make mistakes with each other, and then are quick to talk out those mistakes and fix them, which is basically my favorite romance trope ever.

Two other aspects of the romance provide refreshing representation. The kink in the story isn’t held to a perscriptive idea of what dominant and submissive partners should do: the Old Royal and the Raker are both tops, who negotiate complex and fulfilling interactions without either one psychologically submitting to the other. I also liked the way the Old Royal’s gender is handled. They’re gender fluid and undergo a magical gender transition every few years. They also preside over a festival where they help other trans denizens of Birdverse to do the same. In a very nice touch, Lemberg manages to make this aspect of the Old Royal’s gender clear without ever having to specify the anatomy of their current body.


What did you think? Read the story, and come discuss with us in the comments!

 

“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker

Uncanny March/April 2017;
Art by Julie Dillon

“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker.
Novella. Published in Uncanny, March/April 2017.

Pinsker is a particular favorite of mine, clones and doubles and alternates are a particular favorite of mine, and murder mysteries are awesome! Also, it seems a bunch of other people really liked this story:

“Drop what you’re doing and read ‘And Then There Were (N-One),'” tweeted @SFBluestocking, and in her blog she writes:

Sarah Pinsker’s story of a convention–SarahCon–for Sarah’s from thousands of alternate reality might be my favorite novella of the last several years, to be honest. It’s smart and funny and thoughtful in perfect proportions. It was enchanting from page one, and it’s a story and concept that has been often on my mind ever since I read it.

Rocket Stack Rank awards a rare five stars, calling the story “Intricately plotted, Moving, and Fun.” Full review (spoilers! murder mystery spoilers) is here.


What did you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

“Brushwork,” by Aliya Whiteley

“Brushwork,” by Aliya Whiteley.
Novella. Published in GigaNotoSaurus, May 2016.

This is the first time on the new site we’re discussing a story that’s novella-length and novella-scope! (And if you like longer, weightier fiction, GigaNotoSaurus is well-worth your time.)


Charles Payseur goes into this story at length:

It is not exactly a happy sort of story, nor a short one. It is an experience, though, appropriately weighty and dense with a fully realized world (all contained inside an insulating dome). Drifting through age and love and loss and struggle, the story doesn’t offer any easy answers, but it certainly knows what questions to ask.

This is a complex, long, and emotionally gripping story about the power to resist and the power to comply and the prevalence of violence and privilege and loss. About how everyone has their own views of what happens to them, and that everyone is the hero of their own story, and the victim too. And it’s also about fruit. About stewardship. About growing things.

On File770’s “Novellapalooza,” JJ is of a similar mind:

This is an incredibly uncomfortable story to read right now, because the main theme is echoed repeatedly throughout the narrative: just how willing will people be, to make the moral and ethical compromises which throw their co-humans “under the bus” – as long as they think that they themselves will benefit? Just how large does the possibility of personal reward have to be, before human beings will choose to be complicit in sacrificing others — and then to look the other way when the inevitable happens? This is a moving and powerful story, and it is on my Hugo Novella longlist.


What did you think of “Brushwork”? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!