From the Stars They Fell, by H.R. Harrison
Publisher: Less Than Three Press (October 28, 2015)
Word Count: approx. 23,000 words
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy; Genderqueer; Pansexual; Non-Binary; Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5
Buy Links: Publisher
* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *
Science fiction meets fantasy in this delightful short story about understanding, tolerance, and finding love against all odds. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story… I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I think it was a great blend of multiple genres, with interesting characters and a fantastic plot.
An alien ship crash lands on Earth, leaving its only occupant stranded. But in a fortunate twist, Earth is a hospitable planet for Veni, from the atmosphere and food to the friendly and intelligent inhabitants.
The first such inhabitants Veni meets call themselves dwarves. And though they don’t understand the technology that brought the alien to them, they insist on being hospitable. Sure, Veni doesn’t understand why the inhabitants of this land insist on speaking a language that modifies for gender, but ze is anything if not adaptable—especially after ze meets Wystan, a man who speaks only with his hands.
I will admit that I’m not very familiar with non-gender binary characters in a novel. My previous experience with gender-neutral characters was another science fiction, “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie, where all characters were referred to with the female pronoun. So I apologize if I make any errors in my review; please know that it is not intentional, and I am trying to respect the author and character to the best of my knowledge.
The Earth of Harrison’s short story isn’t the one we’re familiar with; this is a land of dwarves and humans, where magic lurks in the forest. When Veni crash-lands, ze are lucky to be rescued by a group of dwarves who help hir adapt to this new planet. While language isn’t a difficult barrier to overcome, thanks to translation chips and advanced technology, Veni is baffled by the dwarves question of whether ze is male or female.
“So, I never did get the chance to ask, Veni. Are you a man or a woman?”
I tilted my head to express my confusion. “I do not understand.”
Ze seemed perplexed, as if I’d just said I didn’t understand that things fall when dropped. “You know… Are you the sort to carry the baby or the one to put it there?”
My head remained tilted. “My kind lays eggs.”
The romance between Veni and Wystan is really fantastic. They’re two characters who are different from those around them, and who bond because they’re able to see beneath the surface. Wystan is deaf, and Veni is one of the few who is able to communicate with him. And Wystan finds beauty in Veni, even when he’s confused or frightened by hir foreign customs.
And there’s a plot! I know, you’re thinking “why is this something to get excited about”? But I find that short stories rarely have elaborate plots with twists and backstories. Harrison has done a fantastic job of weaving together multiple plots to create a story with a great pace, and an antagonist who is more than just a caricature.
This was a great short-story, and I think it will appeal to anyone looking for something different. The sci fi and fantasy elements were subtle, the characters diverse and unique, and the plot entertaining. It’s a quick read, but I’d love to see more with these characters!
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