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In Deepspace Shadows: A Dramatic Poem in Two Acts
Kendall Evans
Mythic Delirium Books, 32 pages

In Deepspace Shadows: A Dramatic Poem in Two Acts
Kendall Evans
Kendall Evans' work has appeared in numerous magazines including Asimov's, Fantastic, Weird Tales, Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Dreams & Nightmares, etc. He freqently collaborates with David C. Kopaska-Merkel. His recent book is Poetry Red-Shifted In The Eyes Of A Dragon, out now from Spec House of Poetry.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Amal El-Mohtar

When Mike Allen asked me if I'd like to review a chapbook called In Deepspace Shadows, I wrinkled my nose. Mike and I have had many discussions about science fiction poetry, centering around how when it's good, it's very good, but when it's bad it makes me want to gouge out my eyes with rusty sporks and feed them to the Vogons. What I particularly don't like to see is a bunch of genre conventions hugging the left margin and masquerading as a "science fiction poem" by dint of line-breaks and the presence of spaceships, aliens and artificial intelligence. My own tastes fall much more to the fantasy side of the SF&F divide anyway, so the poetry that I like to read and seek out to publish tends more towards the mythic and surreal than anything else -- but the trappings of genre aside, my taste in poetry's pretty much the same across the board. I like subtlety, beautiful language, I like to be moved and shocked, I like to taste it as well as hear it when I read it aloud.

"Try it," said Mike. "I think you'll like it."

In Deepspace Shadows calls itself "A Dramatic Poem in Two Acts," and that's precisely what it is. It isn't quite a play, it isn't quite a poem -- it's that unstageable union of the two that English majors can write essays about without knowing a thing about theatre. It showcases a cast of artificially intelligent robots of different shapes and sizes, created by humans and placed aboard a spaceship (with photon-catching sails!) called The TransAtlantic Tortoise sent out to find new, habitable worlds. The ship is also intelligent but, at the play's opening, it has mysteriously stopped communicating with the crew. We follow Gael-all-of-metal, the dog-shaped captain, as he reflects on and tests the boundaries of his programming, encourages mutiny aboard his ship and discovers love with another crewmate.

Kendall Evans has written a piece set in the far-distant future written in more or less Renaissance English. The language is well-crafted into meticulous iambic pentameter, with no touch of the florid or overdone. It's tightly plotted, and does a beautiful job of exploring a theme that I thought had been done to death in science fiction: the humanity of machines created by humans, and their capacity for independent thought and genuine feeling. I think the writer's greatest success is in showing how that concern dovetails perfectly with the Classical obsession with fate and free will, skillfully layering irony over irony as the story unfolds through the blank verse. I found myself being consistently surprised by just how much I was enjoying the reading of it.

A word, too, about Tim Mullins' cover and interior art: it complements the text very well, and helps visualise certain aspects of the ship and crew that I blinked at initially. I came away from the combination feeling that while a stage production wouldn't work, Mullins' art would help turn it into a great animated short.

In Deepspace Shadows is an unusual hybrid, but one that is certainly subtle, skillful and thought-provoking. Also, its hybridity works to its advantage: rather than needing to like both poetry and science fiction to enjoy it, I believe you can get away with only a token appreciation of either to be thoroughly engaged. It certainly worked for me: I've read it a few times now over the course of its review, and it still manages to take me by surprise.

Copyright © 2008 Amal El-Mohtar

Amal has a history of reading anything with pages. Now, she reads stuff online, too. She sometimes does other things, but that's mainly it.

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