RogerBW's Blog

Winged, Joyce Chng 23 September 2019

2009 short collection of science fiction stories. In steampunk Victorian England a young woman learns to fly; in the distant future the heir to the Phoenix Empress learns to control her powers.

There's a great deal of interest here, let down at times by Chng's command of English. It's not just that nobody ever speaks in contractions; it's oddities of sentence construction like the spurious conjunction in

It was going to be a great display of Britannia's ingenuity and talent — and Paul Forrester mused as he scrutinized the blue prints before him closely — and military prowess as well.

and vocabulary such as when someone takes off her shirt to reveal a "skin-colored brasserie".

The Basics of Flight follows Katherine Riley as she learns to fly "lion fish" airships, makes friends, overcomes various challenges, and… that's it. There's an assassination plot and a hint of a war coming, but the story ends before it can get very far.

The short story "The Garden of Crystals", not listed in the contents, expands on some characters and events that happen earlier than The Basics of Flight, and really ought to be read first, because the extra detail here would be interesting in advance but is unhelpful in retrospect.

Phoenix with a Purpose deals with Min Feng, first daughter of the Phoenix Empress, in what seems at first like a fantasy setting (she can, after all, turn at will into something hot enough to start fires and kill people) but turns out to be SF-ish. She learns to control her powers, makes friends, overcomes various challenges, and takes up her position as heir. This one feels a bit more solid; there's stuff going on that isn't just about the viewpoint character, even if she'll have to be the one to resolve it. (But it's never made quite clear why a major interstellar trader had taken up a job selling frybread in the market. Or what the opposition's actual goal was.)

Neither piece is truly great, but even with the linguistic problems they have a basic sense of fun and enjoyment which I find missing from all too many modern SF stories.

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