Brought to you by OBS reviewer Marie-Reine
*Beware of possible Spoilers*
Camille Alexa’s collection includes no fewer than 26 short works, ranging from whimsical poems on the unfortunate consequences of hoarding fluffy, voracious alien invaders in Poor Little Things to a poignant short story in the form of unanswered letters of a sister to her brother, after she has crash-landed on a seemingly uninhabited planetoid in Flying Solo. Each story is engrossing and bewitching in its own right, and through them, Alexa explores the different facets of speculative fiction. Two teens await the zombie apocalypse, the world’s last dragon wrestles with her hatred of humanity, and a mandroid and the human girl in his keep trudge across the deserts of Mars—these are only a sample of the fantastical tales Alexa offers readers in this collection.
Alexa has a gift for describing imaginary environments. In the previously mentioned Flying Solo, Katherine crash-lands on a small planetoid and at first, she feels frightened by the incredible expanse of empty space. With her, the reader feels anxious at the eerie stillness of solitude and the crushing vastness of the sky. When her attitude towards her surroundings changes, the reader marvels alongside her at the beauty of the tiny planet’s precious ecosystem. Alexa’s stories are tactile, sensory experiences. In Inclusions, the dampness of the planet and the sharpness of the silica plants are haunting, oppressive. When Marta and Danton cut their hands on the brittle plant-life, when the unending oily drizzle drips on their faces, we turn our hands to inspect for scratches and wipe our own brow. Alexa brings the scene of her stories to life vividly, to the point of eclipsing reality. The reader plunges in again and again, in turn tasting the dry dust of a water-less Earth, as in The Taste of Snow, or feeling the briny coolness and the power of the seas, in Neither Wave Nor Wind.
Despite the brief nature of these works, Alexa develops endearing and touching characters. These characters are not always human. In fact, the mechanical and inanimate ones are often the most soulful. In The Clone Wrangler’s Bride, she introduces Matty, a country girl from Earth traded for marriage by her father, and her guardian droid, Echo. Told from Matty’s perspective, Echo only seems to be an unfeeling device at first. But Echo’s quiet and imperceptibly caring actions betray a metaphorical heart where only well-tuned parts reside. This theme is only reinforced in the delightful sequel, Droidtown Blues and in another short story, Shades of White and Road. In a world where things are created and grown like fruit on trees, a girl leaves the city and on her way to the edge, she encounters and befriends objects. Though not anthropomorphized per se, each new acquaintance has a personality, a voice, a purpose. They are identified without an objectifying and humiliating article (such as “the”). Familiar companions, they are simply suitcase, lint, bucket, and stool.
That this review only limits itself to certain stories does not imply that these are the only ones worth reading or the only ones of note. Each piece in this collection is as sharp as a razor and beautifully composed. The author is able to create characters that are immediately beloved so that one story will not be enough to satisfy readers—each story invites imagination and when it is done, there is a teasing need to find that same feeling once more in the following story. This is an enchanting collection, dense with creative, inspiring tales.