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Akari moved to the Island two years ago and built her one-bedroom house on the edge of a lake.

She lives with Ren, a robot.

Clear spring sunlight spills through the French doors that open to the porch. A kingfisher sings its rattling call somewhere nearby.

In the gleaming kitchen, Ren makes breakfast. He cooks a delectable soft-boiled egg. It took a little tinkering, but now his eggs are all precisely soft, gently heated through so the white is opaque, but still runny enough to mix into the yolk. It’s her favorite. Eggs really are the ideal food, superbly self-contained, portable, adaptable.

Carmen had hated eggs. Even the smell made her nauseous. Akari sometimes boiled her egg in secret, while Carmen was still asleep.

She drifts to the window to watch the kingfisher hunt. Her hands curl around a cup of tea.

“It’s a lovely day,” says Ren. His voice is low, sonorous, with a slight rasp. She’d spent months getting it right. She was inspired by the accent of a well-known Argentinian actor and the low-pitched sonority of a man she’d spent a month with in Barcelona, long ago. She’s programmed Ren to perform light chitchat between seven and nine AM. His pleasant remarks help set her mood for the day, blending smoothly with the sounds of the morning.

“Yes, it is.” She sits at the counter and touches on her device, checks messages. Clients, colleagues; nothing from her mother or her brother. She works remotely most days, commuting into the city a few times a month to check prototypes in the lab. She takes a minute to plan her workday, then switches it off. Work comes after breakfast.

Her life wasn’t this orderly, back in the city with Carmen. Carmen brought chaos. One morning, almost as soon as they’d woken up, Carmen cried. Dont you feel anything? Her tears ran black with mascara, painting her cheeks. Dont you care?

Were each responsible for our own feelings, Akari said. I cant be responsible for yours.

I hate you, Carmen said. You don’t even pretend to care. (Later that evening, Carmen sobbed into Akari’s shoulder: I love you.)

She steps out onto the porch. The air is chill, but the sun on her face feels heavenly. She sips her tea. The kingfisher trills and flits off in a panic. She peers at the edge of the trees along the rocky beach to see what’s scared it off.

Her breath catches. A magnificent lynx stalks out of the shadow, as sleek as a trout, blinking sleepily in the sun. Lynxes are functionally extinct. She hasn’t seen one since she’s lived here. No one has.

She lets her breath out slowly. She’s afraid to move. She doesn’t want to miss a second of its presence.

The lynx surveys the beach like an emperor. “Ren,” she calls. “Ren, come here.”

“Your egg is almost done.”

The lynx pads to the edge of the lake. Its attention is caught by something in the water. It lunges, splashing into the shallows, and retreats.

“Ren. Now.”

In an instant he’s at her side. “How can I help?”

“Look.” She watches, her heart filling every corner of her chest, as the lynx circles lazily back to the water. The sunlight gleams on its silver-gold fur. It lunges again and surges up in a spray, clutching a writhing fish in its jaws. It drags its prize to the woods and fades back into the shade.

Her eyes sting. She remembers: walking with Carmen along Tower Beach early morning; surprised by a pod of orcas dancing on the waves; Carmen gasped; they held hands tight and watched in silence. We are alive, she remembers thinking, and the orcas are alive. We are alive and together this moment.

“Oh, Ren.” Her voice is hoarse. “Did you see that?”

“Video recorded,” Ren says. “Lynx canadensis. A very rare occurrence.”

Belatedly she realizes she’s seized his hand. It feels like a human hand — her team has gone to great lengths to ensure that it does — but she drops it as if it burns her. She looks at him. His face is serene. But did you see it, she wants to ask. It’s an absurd impulse, and she quells it.

“Breakfast is ready,” he says. “Although I’m afraid your egg is slightly overcooked.”

“That’s all right.” She sits at the counter and picks up her spoon. The egg is complete and smooth. The yolk inside will be luscious gold. When she taps the fragile shell with her spoon, a network of fine cracks will breach its perfection.

I have to break it open to eat it, she thinks. It’s a normal thing to do, to break an egg.

She puts down her spoon. “Ren, delete the video,” she says. “Delete it. I never want to see it.”

“Of course.” Ren is unconcerned. He is always unconcerned. “Is there anything else you need?”

“No,” she says, and it sounds like a sigh. Outside, the kingfisher cries its wistful shattering trill again.

Miyuki Jane Pinckard is a writer, researcher, and educator who was born in Tokyo and now lives in Venice, California. She is a graduate of Clarion Workshop, and she lives on Twitter (@miyukijane) and at She’s fond of dog photos, wine, and Stardew Valley.
Current Issue
30 Jan 2023

In January 2022, the reviews department at Strange Horizons, led at the time by Maureen Kincaid Speller, published our first special issue with a focus on SF criticism. We were incredibly proud of this issue, and heartened by how many people seemed to feel, with us, that criticism of the kind we publish was important; that it was creative, transformative, worthwhile. We’d been editing the reviews section for a few years at this point, and the process of putting together this special, and the reception it got, felt like a kind of renewal—a reminder of why we cared so much.
It is probably impossible to understand how transformative all of this could be unless you have actually been on the receiving end.
Some of our reviewers offer recollections of Maureen Kincaid Speller.
Criticism was equally an extension of Maureen’s generosity. She not only made space for the text, listening and responding to its own otherness, but she also made space for her readers. Each review was an invitation, a gift to inquire further, to think more deeply and more sensitively about what it is we do when we read.
When I first told Maureen Kincaid Speller that A Closed and Common Orbit was among my favourite current works of science fiction she did not agree with me. Five years later, I'm trying to work out how I came to that perspective myself.
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In the vast traditions that inspire SF worldbuilding, what will be reclaimed and reinvented, and what will be discarded? How do narratives on the periphery speak to and interact with each other in their local contexts, rather than in opposition to the dominant structures of white Western hegemonic culture? What dynamics and possibilities are revealed in the repositioning of these narratives?
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Most likely you’d have questioned the premise, / done it well and kindly then moved on
In this special episode of Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, reviews editors Aisha Subramanian and Dan Hartland introduce audio from a 2018 recording for Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast Cabbages and Kings which included Maureen Kincaid Speller discussing with Aisha and Jonah three books: Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar.
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By: RiverFlow
Translated by: Emily Jin
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