Thursday, February 1, 2018

Book Review: 'Little Bird' by Seth Chambers

Author Seth Chambers has worked as an army medic, mental health counselor, farm hand, wilderness guide, bike messenger, and ESL teacher. His work has appeared in F&SF, Daily SF, Fantasy Scroll, and Perihelion SF, and The 2015 Year's Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Novellas. He is the author of WHAT ROUGH BEASTS, THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF MONSTERS, WE HAPPY FEW, BEAUTIFUL MACHINES, DETROIT, RUSTY BOLTS, A LITTLE SLICE OF HELL, THE UNFOGIVING MINUTE, TOURIST SEASON, BLUE DEVILS, EDITORIAL LIFELINES, THIS RESTLESS NIGHT, HER RULE WOULD ALWAYS LAST, MORNING AND NIGHT, UNIVERSE IN A TEACUP, LITTLE EINSTEIN, YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, and now LITTLE BIRD. His genre is cyberpunk, fantasy, hard science fiction, and in this vein he has already gained recognition and awards.

Seth wastes no superfluous words – he gets to his character development quick and surely and leaves ample room for character development and growth – and secrets. For example, his unveiling of his heroine is as follows – ‘Even before she had words for "heart" and "blood," she sensed the fluttery bird pushing life water throughout her body. She felt the blood pulse and flow through tiny tubes in her limbs and even sensed the one-way valves that kept it from backing up into her heart. Long before she had words, she knew her organs and what they did. She sent her consciousness through her body: watching, listening, learning. A man placed a cold, round piece of metal on her chest and she knew he was listening to that fluttery little bird within. She sped it up so that its individual beats blurred together so fast they no longer pushed the fluid through the tubes. Then she slowed it way, way down so the beats came only at long intervals. A commotion arose. The man with the round piece of metal seemed upset. She didn't mean to upset him. She let the little bird in her chest beat as it normally did. The man smiled at her and she smiled back. She liked the man. She felt her pupils open wide to let in more of this man's face. She grabbed two of his fingers in her tiny hand and held tight. The man tried to pull away but could not. Not until she let him. The man turned toward her Baba and made sounds: "She's strong." She didn't know what the sounds meant. She just knew she liked the man and she loved her Baba. She felt the muscles in her face move in response to him. "And very cute," added the man. Her Baba looked down at her. "She's still a girl." She didn't know what the sound meant but she didn't like the feel of them in her ears. Then her Baba turned away and walked out of the room. Song Shia cried but Baba stayed gone. She knew that someday she would learn to make the right sounds, the sounds that would make Baba come back.’ Eloquent and magnetic, the passage invites the reader into this strange and beautiful story.

The synopsis provides a guide map to what is ahead – ‘There was always something different about Sun Song Shia, but like most little girls she just wanted to be loved. Strangely, it wasn't until the Chinese government stuck her in a research facility did she find the love and acceptance she craved. Song Shia returned to her parents only to be met with wariness and even fear. She craved her Baba's love most of all, but that love came at a terrible price. Song Shia fled China all the way to the Safe Zone city of Chicago. Even there she was monitored and strictly regulated by the government. Despite it all, Song Shia fell in love with a museum curator named Alex. Right from the beginning Song Shia warned Alex to "Run like hell!" Alex did not run. As their romance developed, Song Shia reluctantly brought Alex further into her world. Then their life together exploded when a devastating secret was exposed: a secret Song Shia kept not only from the world, but from herself.’

Many levels of significant philosophy are contained in this fantasy book. Not only will fans of sci-fi/fantasy be satisfied (‘When she was seven her bones began breaking for no reason at all, and then fixing themselves again. It hurt and yet felt good all at the same time. She also heard music whenever her bones started to break. It was beautiful, wonderful music that nobody else could hear. If she thought about it really hard, she could bend her arms in several places at once.), but readers who are sensitive to those aspects that make a child into an adult will be also well served. This is a fine little novel. Grady Harp, November 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.