Review of “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas

Leave a comment

This fantasy short story is a finalist for the 2019 Nebula Awards. It was published by Strange Horizons on 9/9/19. This review contains spoilers.

Matriarch Apa is an artisan in Midnapore who makes magical dolls out of jute fiber, and sometimes lets her grandson Nilesh help in small ways. She is visited by Captain Frederick Bolton, of the Calcutta Presidency Battalion, who brings a demand from Sir John Arthur Herbert, Governor of Bengal, who wants to buy one of Apa’s dolls for his beautiful English wife. She refuses—they are not for sale—and comments about the governor’s poor treatment of his subjects. Conditions worsen in Midnapore, and people begin to starve as the British take food stores to supply their army. Nilesh dies and Apa is on the point of death when she is revived by Bolton’s men. Again, he demands that she make a doll for the governor’s wife. Should she agree this time?

On the positive side, this is clearly an #OwnVoices work, and Ramdas is using rural Bengal as a setting. As background, we’re seeing what I expect is the Bengali famine of 1943, generally thought to have been caused by the British during World War II (following another in 1770 caused by the East India Company), and one woman’s revenge—always a feel-good result. This is historically enlightening and brings to life the evils of Imperialism. Under the surface, it’s also revealing of the desperation of the British government under Churchill, heavily under pressure from the Axis Powers in WWII, who robbed India to support the war effort.

On the less positive side, the setting and characters aren’t that well developed in the story, and the characters, especially, seem one-dimensional stereotypes without any complexity. Although Nilesh fills an important role as the emotional heart of the story, he has no real presence here. I never formed more than a vague picture of him, and felt nothing much when he died. Instead of having this take place off-stage like an afterthought, Ramdas could easily have made his death an important centerpiece of the story.

Three and a half stars.

Review of Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Leave a comment

This novel is science fiction and #2 in the Skyward series, following the novel Skyward. It was released by Tor in November of 2019 and runs 461 pages. This review contains spoilers.

At the end of Skyward, Spensa Nightshade has found that reality is a long way from what she’s always believed. Humans have been imprisoned on Detritus, guarded by the Krell, and Spensa has found she has cytonic abilities to hear and teleport ships through the Nowhere—the method her ancestors used to get around in space, which can be amplified by an unknown “cytonic hyperdrive.” As the humans have made advances into space, conflict with the Krell has increased. Human techs locate a video on one of the orbiting space platforms and, watching it, Spensa has a terrifying vision of delvers (inhabitants of the Nowhere). She screams cytonically and accidentally contacts an alien pilot, who hyperjumps into Detritus space. The ship is damaged by the automated guns on the platforms. Hoping to capture its hyperdrive, Spensa and her Skyward flight try to rescue the ship, but find there’s no hyperdrive aboard. The pilot is injured in the crash landing, but gives Spensa coordinates for Skysight, the center of alien government. Spensa and her flight leader Jorgen make a quick decision, and Spensa disguises herself as the injured pilot, then uses the coordinates and her cytonic ability to hyperjump there. She is welcomed by Cuna, a representative of the Superiority, and enters a training program to provide fighter pilots for the Superiority, supposedly to defend against the delvers. With the help of her ship’s AI M-bot and Doomslug, her odd pet that has stowed away, Spensa tries to navigate the alien politics and manages to make friends with various representatives of the “inferior” races Cuna has assembled into his fighter units. Spensa builds a spy drone from a cleaning bot and finally learns the secret of the hyperdrives. She gets caught with the drone, but there’s a coup afoot in the Superiority government. Can Spensa save Detritus, rescue M-bot and Doomslug and get away?

This is a really condensed summary, of course. The novel has a great plot, full of twists, turns and revelations. The characters are very well developed, full of alien idiosyncrasies, and the action/suspense starts up right at the beginning, making this a pretty gripping read. Spensa operates by the skin of her teeth, developing into a leader herself within the assembly of misfits that makes up her new flight. The book also features a constant undercurrent of discussion about aggression versus non-aggression and how each one affects a particular society. The Superiority prides itself on non-aggression, for example, but has to draft alien pilots to do the dirty work of defense. Meanwhile, they suppress these “inferior” races, keeping hyperdrives away from them so they can’t develop economically. Humans are painted as the real bad guys in the picture for their highly aggressive and dominant tendencies. Meanwhile, M-bot is finding ways to work around the programming that keeps him confined and enslaved. Will that turn out to be dangerous?

On the not so positive side, Skysight doesn’t seem that alien of a place, and some of this seems a little over-simplistic, especially the way Spensa interacts with the aliens and the way she develops a method to deal with the terrifying delvers. M-bot comes across as immature and sulky, and we all knew Doomslug was going to figure in this somehow, right?

Highly recommended.

Four and a half stars.

%d bloggers like this: