In her first short story collection, Samatar (The Winged Histories, 2016, etc.) brings together 20 tales ranging widely in form and tone but all offering vivid, fantastical speculation.
These stories are windows into an impressively deep imagination guided by sensitivity, joyful intellect, and a graceful mastery of language. They play with form—appearing as Middle Eastern fairy tales, heartfelt letters, a teenager’s school paper, a catalog of supernatural beings in East Africa—and explore an intriguing variety of imaginative landscapes, from surreal contemporary worlds to future dystopias to myths with a slippery grasp on time. They often feel like many things at once. “Walkdog” is a teenager’s essay, complete with footnotes, about a monstrous and possibly made-up creature, but it is also a declaration of fury, an admission of guilt, and a love story. “Meet Me in Iram” is a hallucinatory description of a lost city, but it is also thick with moments that feel solid with both family history and loneliness. “Tender” is about scientific self-sacrifice, the story of a woman who monitors radioactive material in a containment center with sensors implanted beneath her skin, but it is also a brutal account of self-destruction and unhappiness. The stories vary in length and tone, some playful, some disturbing, some deeply sad, but each one is told poetically, in language that is particular and only judiciously lavish. In Fallow, a novella appearing for the first time in this collection, the characters in a far-future space colony capture precisely the delicate confusions of knowing oneself: “Into the icy darkness of our room came the words I would not have dared to say, but which perfectly articulated my own feelings, words that fell on my heart with a bursting shock of recognition, reverberating for days afterward.”
An impressive collection of stories that excite the imagination.