There were several pieces that really resonated with me. My favorite was the story of a coin, passed from person to person, telling each one’s story as it traveled and giving just enough backstory to flesh out the world in which the story takes place. The world building was admirable and so intriguing that I hope Walton eventually uses it as the backdrop of a future novel. “The Panda Coin” travels between various members in a civilization in space arranged in twelve sectors based on the months of the year. The socio-econonic realities of this world were illustrated by dividing people among classes who tried to move into the warmer “months” where the rent was high and life was better.
There were several short stories that retold fairy tales or mythology, even religious stories. These were always interesting points of view. Although I’ve tired of some of these re-told fairy tales in the past, I have to say Walton’s take on a Snow White prequel was beautifully handled, told from the point of view of a sentient magic mirror.
Walton also uses the tool of science and speculative fiction to provide discussion on topics like pain and loss. In “Joyful and Triumphant: St. Zenobius and the Aliens,” the patron saint of Florence tries to explain Heaven and the need for pain on Earth. One part really hit the nail on the head: “When you’re asked to intercede, when somebody prays to you, they are often asking to be relieved of pain. What you have to ask yourself is whether the pain is necessary for the story.”
That theme of pain is echoed in a later, unrelated story: “A Burden Shared.” It was a fabulous depiction of a world where transferring pain from a loved one to yourself is possible. A separated mother and father share custody of their daughter’s debilitating pain. In this world, it’s easier for someone else to bear another’s pain, than for them to have it themselves. There’s so much weight in the meaning behind this story, and there’s a twist at the end that is so good I can’t give it away.
There’s also a play in the book that’s quite good. “Three Shouts on a Hill” is an amalgamation of myths and legends, all smushed into the same quest story. There is a twist on this story too that must be experienced first hand, though the very end still perplexes me because I expected something a little flashier.
I recommend Starlings to lovers of science fiction and fantasy who want bite-sized pieces to enjoy and savor. It’s an eclectic mix of themes and tones, some humorous and some dark, that will keep you guessing.
PAT’S FANTASY HOTLIST runs an excerpt for the collection.
Once upon a time, a courting couple were walking down the lane at twilight, squabbling. “Useless, that’s what you are,” the girl said. “Why, I could make a man every bit as good as you out of two rhymes and a handful of moonshine.”
“I’d like to see you try,” said the man.
So the girl reached up to where the bright silver moon had just risen above the hills and she drew together a handful of moonshine. Then she twisted together two rhymes to run right through it and let it go. There stood a man, in a jacket as violet as the twilight, with buttons as silver as the moon. He didn’t stand there long for them to marvel at him. Off he went down the lane ahead of them, walking and dancing and skipping as he went, off between the hedgerows, far ahead, until he came to the village.
At THE ANTICK MUSINGS OF G.B.H. HORNSWOGGLER, GENT., Andrew Wheeler discusses the book.
Because STARLINGS is about half stories and half poetry, which those of you allergic to poetry – or who claim that they are, for whatever reason – will want to know. In any case: a new collection of short material from one of our best writers. In trade paperback from Tachyon Publications, available right now.
Paulo Vinicius F. dos Santos of FICCOES HUMANAS includes STARLINGS among Best International Releases of January 2018.
For more info on STARLINGS, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story