Sweetlings by Lucy Taylor
Published by Tor Books, 2017
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Ah, yes. This hit the exact sweet spot between speculative science-fiction and body horror that I love. This unsettling novella is set in an all too plausible future, where sea levels have risen to swallow much of the Earth, and evolution has taken a frightening turn in response to the changing climate. Strange creatures drag themselves aground, and some of the surviving humans begin to show worrying signs of sickness and mutation. Our heroine must decide whether to stay with her small community by the coast and face a slow decline, or venture into the unknown inlands in search of safer climes.
Things started a little rocky, with some clumsy dialogue and a couple of overdone similes. Taylor soon hit her stride, however, creating a visceral and evocative setting that arrested my attention. There’s a consistently discomforting atmosphere throughout, and a swelling tension that underpins the narrative on its route to a suitably disturbing climax. The vivid imagery is sure to haunt my thoughts for quite some time.
For me, the best kind of horror is always that which combines the physical and the psychological, which this does very well. It’s all the more disturbing when, for all its flirtations with the darkly fantastical, it hits a little too close to home. I hope Taylor has ventured into this genre some more; I would happily reach for her work again when I want to feel my skin crawl.
Sweetlings can be purchased for Kindle from your usual retailer, or read online for free over on Tor’s website.
Ponies by Kij Johnson
Published by Tor Books, 2010
My rating: ⭐ ⭐
This even slighter offering, also from Tor, won the Nebula award for best short story, and was nominated for a string of other major prizes. Perhaps this set my expectations a little too high. It’s a concept presented as an unsettling tableau, more than it is a developed story. Young girls all have their own magical talking ponies. They must attend a ritual ‘cutting-out’ party, where the girls have to remove two of the three things that make their companions special (their wings, their horn, or their voice).
The whole thing is a very unsubtle metaphor for the cruelty that children are capable of, and the sacrifices we make in order to fit in. I didn’t dislike anything about it, per se, but it was too brief and surface level to make any kind of emotional impact.
As before, Ponies can be purchased for Kindle, or read online for free over on Tor’s website.