“Susan Forest is a consummate stylist, and a master of subtle characterization. She draws you in from page one, and doesn’t let go.”
— Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of HOMINIDS
The Only Road
Readers familiar with the Canadian speculative fiction scene will recognize a number of the included authors, including Ira Nayman, Matthew Hughes, Susan Forest, and Candas Jane Dorsey. Forest’s story, “The Only Road,” was one of the standouts. Historical fiction with a fantasy twist, “The Only Road” whisks the reader to India at the time of British occupation. Forest provides a strong description to aid the reader in making the trek. The story opens with the lines:
A tin wind-up drummer marched jerkily in its red uniform along the broad, flat surface of the Thangdu Temple balustrade as Orville waved a handful of the mechanical soldiers and cried out to buyers in the crowd. Above the restless flow of the market, the high, white cliffs of Khangchengyao sparkled in the clear morning air.
Though “The Only Road” reads like historical fiction, there is a mystical twist with references to the mystical land of Shangri, “a land of magic, a land said to perch at the top of a hanging valley, accessible only by no more than a gossamer ladder, a land that touched the realms of the Gods.” “The Only Road” is a backstory to Forest’s Addicted to Heaven series from Laska Media. The first two books in the series won Canada’s Aurora Awards for Best Young Adult novel in 2020 and 2021.
“The Only Road” by Susan Forest takes place at the time when the British ruled India. The setting is Sikkim, a supposedly independent kingdom, but in effect a British protectorate. The protagonist is a thief, blackmailed by an acquaintance to act as a guide for an Englishman, while actually stealing his plans for an arms factory. The Englishman is dying of cancer, and seeks the fabled land of Shangri in search of a supernatural cure. (This appears to be an allusion to Shangri-La, the imaginary land in the famous novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, although the current story is entirely original.) An encounter with a magician from Shangri changes the life of the protagonist.
This compelling tale works well both as historical fiction and as fantasy. The author portrays the time and place convincingly, and the story’s supernatural content is equally believable. Richly developed characters and a dramatic climax add to the work’s appeal.
Flights of Marigold
Publishers Lunch Buzz Books 2020 selection. Recommended by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Foreword Reviews.
“Forest skillfully uses her fantasy setting to spin a tale of addiction and familial loyalty…sure to satisfy readers who are invested in the Falconer sisters’ story lines.”—Publishers Weekly (May, 2020)
“A definite twist to the fantasy genre is that while the logical consistency of the magic is there, the book (and series) is meant to focus on addiction and its many incarnations. It is an unusual subject choice for fantasy but one that is interesting, enjoyable, and relatable.”—Library Journal (June, 2020)
“Though episodic and of epic length, the book still maintains its focus on the sisters and their goals above all else.”—Foreword Review (June, 2020)
“The author successfully drew me into believing the addiction trap that her characters are in, the addicted sister and the sister who wants to help but can’t really. The dynamic was real and powerful. Despite the serious theme, the story was engaging, extremely interesting, and kept me flipping the pages, desperate to follow along. Loved it!” —Goodreads (August, 2020)
“The Addicted to Heaven series creates a fantasy world that deals with so many problems that our world deals with: addiction, race, and social status. It feels like a real world because the characters are struggling, doing the best they can, but that doesn’t always lead to the results they expect or want.”—Goodreads (May, 2020)
“I liked the ending. It was a cliffhanger done well. The kind that makes you want to read the next book, not the kind that makes you feel like you got shorted half the fries in your lunch, you know?”—Goodreads (May, 2020)
“Here we see the three sisters reunited and their worlds come crashing together as they all struggle with what they want and what the world needs them to be. There are some pretty intense moments as well as heartbreaking ones. The secrets that come tumbling out at the end made me like the book more.”—Goodreads (May, 2020)
“The relationships between the two sisters are so well fleshed out. They are utterly believable, and fall naturally into the sibling dynamics that I recognize so well from my own family! The double-dealings and grey areas also make this a book where nobody is ‘good’ and ‘evil’: a nice change from the binary choices we often see. Also, the magic system is excellent and unusual; I’d give it a read for that alone.”—Goodreads (August, 2020)
Bursts of Fire
Publishers Lunch Buzz Books 2019 selection
“An emotional story of familial love, tension, and mistrust among three sisters and three brothers . . . devastated by conquest and fanaticism.”—Publishers Weekly (March, 2019)
“Forest depicts strong female characters, with varying motivations and personalities adding plenty of action in daring raids, battles with war machines, and magical time walking, though equal attention is given to exploring relationships between the sisters and their allies. This exciting new series will have fantasy fans eagerly awaiting the next installment.”—Library Journal (May, 2019)
“The first book in the Addicted to Heaven series promises an exciting political fantasy with realistic representation of mental illness and addiction and is sure to entertain fans of epic adventures.”—Booklist (July, 2019)
“Themes of religious and democratic freedoms; magic-based time travel’s addictive, almost hallucinogenic, qualities . . . readers can hope for more in future installments.“—Kirkus Reviews (May, 2019)
Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders
“Political and daring, this collection adds to the future imagined by Philip K. Dick, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and Aldous Huxley.” — Foreword Reviews
“[T]hese stories read like they were ripped from present-day headlines.” — Booklist (American Library Association)
“Highly recommended for its breadth of stories that look at having to leave home — or discover it.” — Library Journal
The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound
This collection drew me in more than I expected. True, there are similar themes: a person caring for their charge in a group home. Robot caretakers. But the stories also surprise in their uniqueness. There is the henchman protects and aids his aging supervillain boss. A doctor uses nanobots to heal refugees, but needs the help of another doctor to confront the horrors of her own past. An attendant assists a dying Oracle as she goes to make her final prophecy. A space welder and her human guide begs the question: which one is the caregiver? Which one receives care? The answer is both: the line between them becomes blurred.
Some stories are breathtaking in their brilliance. Sandra Kasturi’s “The Beautiful Gears of Dying” is angry, full of spite and pain, yet achingly gorgeous as the robot nurse tries to soothe its human charge’s remaining days of life. In “A Mother’s Milk”, Heather Osborne has an alien on the verge of a breakthrough discovery with humans learn to her dismay that her partner has initiated a pregnancy that threatens to bind her to her ship. Shawl’s protagonist in “Sunshine of Your Love” wavers between the duty of caring for her disabled sister and the attraction she feels towards a dangerous research participant. And Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Dreams as Fragile as Glass” is brief, but heartbreaking for any parent who learns that their child has a terminal disease.
The Fat Man
Excellent story which addresses the real problem we face, the root of all others, namely over-population. — SF Crowsnest (April, 2018)
For A Rich Man To Enter
The protagonist must find a solution to a problem that offers no easy answers. — Tangent Short Fiction Review (April, 2018)
Sun-Splashed Fields and Far Blue Mountains
Well-written and sad story. — SFRevu (February, 2018)
It is hard to imagine a “civilized” country where a sickness might very likely bankrupt you. Oh yeah, there is one. But is it civilized…? — TPI’s Reading Diary (March, 2018)
To Go Home To Leal
Once again, Beneath Ceaseless Skies features moody and atmospheric stories in their issue # 94. “To Go Home to Leal” is set in a port city where Kaul works at odd jobs just to stay afloat. His father Daugh has had his hand cut off as a thief and longs to go back to his home in Leal, but thieves are not allowed in. Kaul comes up with a plan involving a wizard and a magic spell that will allow them both to return, but things don’t go quite right, and not in the way I may have implied by those words. Susan Forest adds some unexpected and fascinating complications and gives Kaul a heartwrenching dilemma in the end.
Lois Tilton, Locus Online (Starred review from 2012 Recommended Reading List)
I found the ending unexpected, though oddly right.
The ending is quite arresting. I felt relief at Kaul’s final choice, and then I was ashamed, and that’s an awesome thing to evoke from an audience.
Loved this story. I won’t spoil the plot of it in my praise, but it had me by the nose all the way through, and, like a character caught in a story, I did not know which way things would turn out. This, to me, is one of the key things in story-telling–to make the inevitable ending in the writer’s mind become the consequences of a character’s choices. An excellent tale. Thanks.
SF Crowsnest (September, 2012)
“7:54” by Susan Forest tackles the big question: fatalism. Winnie works with streamsight, a method of checking the data stream to predict the future. How this functions exactly is carefully vague but that’s okay in Science Fiction. The story point is that she sees a road accident in the near future in which her colleague Henri gets killed. She likes Henri and sets out to prevent this happening. Telling it in the first person, from Winnie’s point of view, allows the author to give us lots of her speculations about what will happen next. However, the issue is a key one for humans and for science. Is the future fixed and immutable, or do we change it as we go along?
The Most Invasive Species
Locus Looks At Short Fiction: Rich Horton (March, 2012)
Susan Forest’s “The Most Invasive Species,” set on a human-colonized planet also inhabited by an intelligent indigenous species. A well-meaning newcomer is appalled by the way the indigenous people treat each other, in particular their children so she “rescues” a young family from an apparently abusive parent. This can’t end well. Forest’s message is a bit more complex than tut-tutting about such misunderstandings, though. Ultimately she suggests that human interaction with indigenous species is a priori harmful, at least potentially: we are “the most invasive species.”
Nice story about humans meddling with ecosystems (and species) they don’t really understand, and messing up.
Robert Silverberg (Contest Judge):
“Susan Forest’s “LUCY” is classic science fiction in the problem-solving mode. She creates a realistic alien environment that possesses great difficulties for the humans that have come there, sets her characters in opposition to those difficulties and works out the solution to the challenge with admirable narrative logic. I think that very demanding editor, Horace Gold of the old GALAXY magazine would have responded to this story and author with great excitement.
By Denis G. May
Wow!! I Loved this story and I would enjoy seeing this story made into a novel, or even a series of novels like Allen Steele’s “Coyote” series. This story has just about everything I love in SF; a far off planet (moon in this case), with an alien biochemistry hazardous to humans (forcing people to overcome and/or adapt), adventure, a little romance, and even a little politics. If I were an Anthologist I would put this story in my Best of…. I’m very interested in what happens to Tian and Jerry and their small community in the future, but also the back story, what went on before “Lucy” to create the conditions that take place in the story. Also, Great Title, very appropriate. Susan, please write more, I will be looking for your work in the future!
Review by Donna Jones
Playing Games, by Susan Forest is about a little girl who liked to go on adventures to find the Tooth Fairy and other fantastical creatures. She fully intends to find out where Santa’s elves come from. Her informant tells her that he is an agent in the North Pole and will happily oblige her request. It all seems an innocent game that she plays chasing the Easter Bunny down rabbit warrens and other childish games, but this time it’s no game. This tale follows the Grimm and Dahl method of child story telling, giving them exactly what they hope for!
Review by James Palmer
Playing Games, by Susan Forest is a strange tale of two inquisitive girls, one of whom seeks the answer to where Santa’s elves come from. But when she makes it back to the North Pole, she finds out too late that she doesn’t like the answer. This is a weird one. Cute, clever, but weird. A little dark adult fable disguised as a kid’s story.
The Fix, Short Fiction Review
Back by Susan Forest is so nicely written a short story–one of those familiar little time paradox stories we’ve been enjoying in Analog lately…Read the story. You’ll enjoy it.
SFRevu Column Lawrence M. Schoen
Susan Forest’s “Back” is set in a near future in which two friends, Alan and Victor, are working on a time machine, using Victor’s knowledge and Alan’s money inherited from a rich uncle with the same name…This was a fun read.
The Internet Review of Science Fiction
Alan and Victor are partners in the attempt to build a working time machine. They know that they will succeed, because on the day they rent the warehouse they are going to use for their experiments, a note appears on a desk: “It worked!” Over the years, they succeed in sending various objects and then organisms back in time, but the real test is in returning them to the present. They train chimps to activate the return switch, but while the chimps disappear, they never come back. Sensing failure, their backers pull out, their reputation is ruined and finally, Alan and Victor have a falling-out. But both, in their own different ways are determined to solve the problem. A clever look at an old SFnal problem.
Elizabeth A. Allen
In the thought-provoking Immunity, by Susan Forest, Trine has a dilemma. She can inoculate her suffering baby girl against the plague, or she can use the serum to ensure the health of one of her colony’s members, which she, as a medical admin is responsible for. Forest’s clean, stark style drops you right into the setting of Trine’s colony, where drama seems all the starker because of the isolated setting. Immunity reminded me favourably of the late, lamented TV shoe, Firefly, in which denizens of an intergalactic frontier confront moral choices with no easy answers.
Paid in Full
Yeff on Stuff: Favorite
An insect farmer (yes, insect farmer) deals with his relationship with a fellow farmer and the difficulties of the farming life.
This one was fun. It did not take me long to get an image of this world in my mind. The descriptions were great and I really liked the usage of common terms to describe otherworldly things. Gnats are pesky critters on any world I guess. And so are humans; Susan Forest gives us characters that we can all identify with. For me this made it easy to suspend reality and immerse myself in her tale.
The Right Chemistry
Tangent On Line
The Right Chemistry, by Susan Forest has chemistry, real chemistry in terms of the more chemistry you know, the more laughs or insights you may get from it. But even I, who slept through high school chemistry, got enough out of it to appreciate the twist at the end.
Reviews by readers
Wow. I will be thinking about this story all day if not all month! What an appropriate and disquieting analogy, and beautifully written.
Summary Judgement: Orange is a wonderful read that blurs the demarcation between short story and flash fiction.
Style defines Susan Forest’s Orange almost as much as its content. Rather than follow a single protagonist through the end of the world, the story is a fusion of a half-dozen pieces of flash fiction. These smaller narrative units are connected together through the exposition of a photographer who produces time lapsed images of an orange impaled upon a spike. Trust me, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Although the format is unusual, it offers a uniquely cohesive story in relatively few words.
Orange is a story about the end of the world. Although the details of this particular apocalypse are limited, the relationship between The Earth and The Orange offers ample back story. Within the text, Orange presents snapshots of would-be survivors who have taken temporary refuge in the offices of a fictional multinational called SpaceCorp. I’ll let our imagination take it from there as further details would spoil the story.
Despite the brevity of these snapshots, Orange is remarkably nuanced. To call Ms. Forest’s writing rich and evocative is to commit a crime of understatement. However, it’s not just the details that make this story work; the very structure of the text is essential to the overall experience. Short narrative chunks add a consistency of urgency to the story, even when characters find a reprieve from the anarchy of the armageddon. In keeping dialogue terse and descriptions to a pithy minimum, the tempo of the story is similarly accelerated. Such natural pacing happens without the use of extreme violence, immediate doom or other such tropes in the arsenal of plot hastening. Rarely do I find a story offering so much depth for so little investment. Of course that usually means the story’s imagery is going to live in my head for awhile. In this instance, I’ll roll out the red carpet.
I find myself wanting to return to the relationship between The Earth, the orange, and the photogrpher. There’s a certain perfection in having decaying fruit as an analogue to the earth; the symmetry says so much without having to say anything at all. However, the photographer, the voice that connect the narrative bits together, oozes subtext. It’s taking every ounce of my writer’s discipline to avoid turning this review into an exercise in literary deconstruction and analysis. Come on, you know you want to hear me wax poetic about textual nuances, right? Wait, where are you going? Don’t leave!
With an abundance of books and movies jumping on the apocalypse bandwagon, it is wonderful to see a story that taps into popular culture without depending on popular tropes to tell a story. Although Orange’s format is a little more challenging than some other pieces of short fiction, it is absolutely rewarding for those who give it a few minutes worth of thought. The full text of Susan Forest’s Orange can be found on AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.
Overall Score: +4
Turning it Off
This is the first story by Susan Forest I have read. Hoping to learn a little more about her, I found her website, and from the looks of it we should be seeing a new novella from her in Analog in the coming months. If it is as interesting as this short story, it will be something to look forward to. Turning it Off was very creative and a good read. I am looking forward to seeing more from Forest. 4.5/5
Sam Tomaino: Two teenagers in the future try “Turning It Off” in the story by Susan Forest. The ‘It’ is what is called a safety which not only protects them from harm but any kind of sensation. As teenagers might do, they turn off each of their safeties and get into trouble. They don’t learn from this trouble in this amusing tale.
TPIs Reading Diary
Everything has safeties which prevent practically all sorts of accidents. Even people have safety systems which prevent accidents by falls etc. But they also dampen the sensitivity of skin. Two teenagers find a way to turn off their safety systems and experiment a little. ***+