The Other Half Of The Sky by Athena Andreadis – Advance Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the latest anthology from Candlemark & Gleam, featuring stories that are primarily about female protagonists and how they fit into the wider SFF worlds.
“A very thought-provoking anthology that forces the reader to realise that female protagonists can be just as incredible and compelling as their male counterparts in the wider SFF fields, particularly space opera. ” ~The Founding Fields
I heard about this anthology on twitter via Aliette de Bodard, one of my favourite SFF authors and also one of the most helpful. She mentioned, if I recall correctly that she had a space opera short story coming out soon, and my interest was immediately peaked. Having read her Obsidian and Blood novels, I’ve been very keen on reading her work and her short stories for various magazines have been tremendously excellent, particularly Immersion for the Clarkesworld Magazine, which I think is her finest short story to date. Anyways, as I was saying, I expressed an interest in reading the anthology, and Aliette put me in touch with her editors, who were gracious enough to provide an early review copy.
The Other Half Of The Sky is a very interesting anthology, in no small part due to the fact that all the stories contained therein have female protagonists, a rarity in space opera in my experience. Editor Athena Andreadis and Co-Editor Kay Holt have done a wonderful job of showcasing how science fiction, and particularly space opera, is not just the provenance of strong (in more ways than one!) male protagonists, and that female protagonists can be at least just as interesting.
There are two short stories here that I think deserve a hell of a lot of praise, both because of their content, their narrative style, and their settings. And these are: Sailing The Antarsa by Vandana Singh, and The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard. I loved the former because of how sweeping it is in scope and because it deals with the concept of rediscovering your species’ roots. Reading the story, I was put in mind of the narrative for the blockbuter video game Homeworld, in which the people of Karak discover the ruins of a great spaceship in the desert, and this discovery sparks off their space age, culminating in them building a new mothership and making a great trek to their lost homeworld. Sailing The Antarsa is focused more on how the bonds of “species-brotherhood” develop and are broken, in addition to showing off strange new space monsters. Also, Mayha is a very engaging and thoughtful narrator, written with a lot of introspective depth by the author. I can imagine her as a starship captain very easily, she is such a natural at that, though here she commands only a small scoutship. There is a very strong mystical and metaphysical feel to the short story that I just loved. The Waiting Stars, in comparison, is very different. We still deal with spaceships here, but the focus is… unique. To give a hint as to what this story is about, consider the Kevin Sorbo-starrer show Andromeda. I was quite fortunate to read and comment on an early draft of the short story back in September, and it was a great feeling to be able to read the story in its final form. Aliette’s prose is very to-the-point and simple to grasp, although there is a lot of conceptual nuance to it. And where Sailing The Antarsa has a very strong Indian cultural component to it, The Waiting Starshas a strong Vietnamese cultural drift. And that, if anything, is the best selling point of the story. Aliette writes a very compelling story about a woman who has to adjust to a different life while she has no recollection of her previous one, and two young women who are looking for one of their aunts in the depths of space, in a spaceship junkyard. The story resonated very strongly with me since Aliette captured Catherine’s jumbled life very well, with Lan Nhen and Cuc getting a good portrayal as well.
In stark contrast, I found Nisi Shawl’s In Colours Everywhere and Joan Slonczewski’s Landfall to be really tough reads, among some others in the anthology. I had a hard time getting involved in the narratives as the stories were a bit too complex for me to understand. I found myself skipping pages often in these two stories in particular. The various protagonists are portrayed well, but there was just too much going on in both that I just didn’t care what happened by the end. They were… uninspiring and dull, which is regrettable since they showed a lot of promise in the early pages.
Martha Well’s Mimesis, and Alexander Jablokov’s Bad Day On Boscobel on the other hand are delightful short stories with some excellent premises and and engaging narratives that held my attention until the very end. They were really fun to read, the latter more so since it was such a typical (in a good way) story about rogue Martians and bounty hunters, except that almost the entire cast is female rather than male. Bad Day On Boscobel is an excellent example of the direction that Athena Andreadis wanted to take this anthology into.
Taken as a whole, The Other Half Of The Sky deals with a variety of concepts, themes, and styles with stories that are both complex and simple at the same time. It’s also a challenging anthology to read because of its core concept (female protagonists). As someone who has (primarily) only read male-centric space opera, the anthology takes some time to build up and to get familiar with, but after the first couple of stories (Melissa Scott’s Finders and Jablokov’s Bad Days On Boscobel) that challenge is lessened. In the end, both the editors achieve what they set out to do, and their resultant effort is something that they should be proud of because of what they’ve accomplished: challenged the male-centric ideology in space opera and offered a great counter-point.