I’ve been on a sci-fi kick lately. When the Phoenix Fiction Writers announced a collection of short stories with water-related sci-fi—oh my goodness so much yes! As somebody who has lived in Hawai’i and is in love with the sound of lapping waves, the smell of sea salt, and the thrill of the ocean and how freakishly big it is, I was a little excited for this collection. Of course, I can be a little picky about my underwater stories and my sci-fi, but I was still looking forward to this one.
Thus I found myself with yet another advanced reader copy for the latest Phoenix Fiction Anthology, so I present you with my humble estimation of the book. All opinions are my own.
Book: Strange Waters by Kyle Robert Shultz, E.B. Dawson, Hannah Heath, Beth Wangler, Nate Philbrick, J.E. Purrazzi, and K.L. + Pierce
Genre: Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Short Stories
My rating: 5/5 stars
Year published: 2019
Short description: WATER-BASED SCI-FI!!! (and fantasy)
“Backpack Boy” by Nate Philbrick
Oh, my goodness. Featuring fear and bravery, pain and adventure, I found this story is so sweet and heartbreaking simultaneous. I called the parallels within the plot, but they in no way detracted from my ability to enjoy the story. I particularly liked the boy’s stuffed elephant as a character who encouraged the boy as he went along. And Philbrick’s description, as always is brilliant:
“The elephant was crayon-blue once upon a time, but a hundred adventures have sapped the colour. He’s a bit lumpy and old, but the boy loves to press his cheek into the ruffles under the elephant’s chin, where it’s soft and warm like Mum’s knit sweaters.”
Overall thoughts: most heartfelt
“Finer Things” by C. Scott Frank
I’m a little biased because I don’t care for romance, and one of the descriptions for this story is “star-crossed lovers.” Suffice to say I wasn’t much of a fan, and I didn’t find the sci-fi elements or the character development to be very believable. But maybe that’s just the skeptical, non-romantic in me speaking.
Overall thoughts: squishy but with good themes
“Roanoke” by J. E. Purrazzi
Wow, that ending though! A sci-fi adventure set on an aquatic world with a ship called The Wells. I need to go back and re-read the story when I’m feeling a little more awake, so I can get a better feel for the narrative and the beautiful descriptions. I sure hope there is more to this world than this one story because now I’m hooked!
Overall thoughts: dynamic world-building
“Kamynosa’s Labyrinth” by Beth Wangler
I’d been reading the stories one at a time, one each day, and I was just going to read the description when I blinked, and I’d finished it. Suffice to say I was hooked by the plot, the beautiful descriptions, and the characters. Can I also say that the style was reminiscent of The Princess Bride, referencing a longer text and giving us gems like this one:
“I will not bore you with a detailed exposition upon the nuances of the Labyrinth and its history, which Professor Daus-sun has described in great detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Kamynosa, curls perfectly tamed and best coral-stamped skirt twisted around her hips, read aloud the script whose origins were ancient even then.
Overall thoughts: beautiful prose
“Barnaby Brown and the Glass Sea” by. E. B. Dawson
Highly entertaining, though the ending was a more abrupt than I would have anticipated. Full of wit and characters who may or may not thrive in an academic society, this story is about the joy and frustrations of discovery, even if that discovery just so happens to be a stowaway. I sure hope there is more to the story of Barnaby Brown because it can’t end like that!
Overall thoughts: most witty
“Through the Lens” by K. L. + Pierce
Not my favorite of the stories. While I liked the combination of fantasy and sci-fi, I was a little confused as to why certain characters behaved the way they did. I think if the story had more pages to develop the characters, it might have made more sense. All the same, I enjoyed the sibling dynamic and the lengths Dion was willing to go to for his sister.
Overall thoughts: dedicated siblings
“Ric Vayne and the Curse of Ghoul Nebula” by Kyle Robert Shultz
Highly entertaining, as is usual for Shutlz’s work. At first, I was a little appalled at the drunken state of Ric Vayne during the opening, but as the story went along, he grew on me. The way he cared for Ovo and her freedom was so endearing. Though are we going to talk about how he nicknamed her Ovo because he thought she looked like an owl but couldn’t explain how the name “Ovo” looks like an emoji of a bird? No? Maybe it’s just me…
Overall thoughts: engrossing story
“The Underground” by Janelle Garrett
Fascinating. Honestly, the description didn’t have me too hooked—a girl is kidnapped by dragons, and her brother is trying to rescue her. Haven’t we heard this one before? But as the story went on, I got the sense that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. While I’m still not sure of all the details, as it’s a part of a series, The Steward Saga, I have a theory that it’s not just fantasy.
Overall thoughts: intriguing
“This Pain Inside” by Hannah Heath
Brilliant, as is usual for Heath’s work. A powerful story with well-developed characters and excellent themes, this one is actually set in an underwater society. I particularly liked the way Heath combined the science of what it might be like to live so deep and the fantastic abilities that come from the Ne, and I’d like to see the concept fleshed out into a longer piece.
Overall thoughts: excellent themes
Let’s chat! Has Strange Waters made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it yet? Have any underwater fantasy/sci-fi recommendations?