Short Story Review: SWANWATCH, by Yoon Ha Lee



My search for interesting short stories (and a quick sample of authors who are new to me) continues. This week is the turn of:


SWANWATCH, by Yoon Ha Lee

(click on the title to read the story online at LightSpeed Magazine)


When the first reviews of Yoon Ha Lee’s novel, Ninefox Gambit, started appearing online, I was immediately curious about this intriguing new story and, more importantly, about the author’s writing style. Since I always enjoy sampling a shorter work from a new-to-me writer, I was quite thrilled when I saw this story on the online version of Lightspeed Magazine.

Swansong is the kind of story that requires all of your attention, because it plunges you straight in with the bare minimum of context – and in this particular case even less than that – and forces you to learn as you go. I always enjoy this mode of writing because I like to be challenged, so I waited patiently for events to unfold and for details to come into focus, and in the end I was happily rewarded.

Swan is a young woman from an affluent family in the Concert of Worlds and she has been sent to the Fermata as a punishment for offending a ship’s captain: the sin looks quite trivial, because she merely “addressed him in the wrong language for the occasion”, and yet the girl is sent into exile at the station orbiting near the Fermata, that sounds like a black hole, one where swanships come to die in an endless plunge toward oblivion, ruled by the relativistic forces of an event horizon – or at least this is how I interpreted the situation.

The only way to leave the place is to create a work of art so sublime that the judges, coming to the station every ten years, would lift the sentence. None of the other exiles present on the station – Dragon and Phoenix, Tiger and Tortoise – are artists, so only Swan, trained in music, might be able to compose a symphony worthy of her freedom.

This story seems built more on emotion than fact, images and sounds rather than characterization, and for this reason it had an enormous impact on my imagination: there is a current of quiet despair in the group of exiles manning the station, a despair that is enhanced by the sight of the ships, big and small, that cross toward their endless doom. And yet there is something more at play here, a glimmer of hope, a seed promising something more and better – I don’t dare say more, for fear of spoilers – that changes the reader’s outlook as it changes Swan’s, and it’s something, quite appropriately, quietly beautiful.

Highly recommended.

My Rating:  4 star half


Posted on June 13, 2017, in Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. A unique concept. Quite interesting. Thanks for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Lee’s novel but I tend to struggle a bit with his shorter works because they are so short that, by the time you figured out the world, the story is almost done! This one sounds really interesting though so I might give it a try! ^^

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad you enjoyed it – are you planning on picking up Ninefox Gambit ? I quite fancy giving that one a go.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love everything I have read by Lee. Currently reading Raven Stratagem myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ninefox Gambit was an interesting read, though to be entirely honest, it wasn’t really my type of book. I’d be willing to give this one a try though, since I might do better with the author’s style in a more compact package 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly what I thought after finding myself a little… lost with Ninefox: this is an author who makes you *work* with his stories, and requires a level of attention we are not always ready to give them. But I have not given up, not at all! 🙂


  6. Added to my TBR, sounds great, thanks! Maybe I’ll read it right before Raven Stratagem, that should get here soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ooh this sounds wonderful. And I’ve loved all of Lee’s work that I’ve read so far, so I should definitely check this out.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Never read anything from him, look like I should put this on my list. Thanks for the great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: