Since October is Queer History Month and spooky season, I wanted to take the opportunity to review a lovely collection of short stories by Jacquelynn Lyon, The Soft Landing Collection: Sapphic Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories, published in 2020. I have been following Jacquelynn Lyon’s work on social media for some time now, mainly through her WordPress blog. She frequently publishes original short stories and novellas and is actually releasing a second collection of short stories this October.
Soft Landing includes five short stories, which follow a variety of girls and women in their journeys of life and love. The stories include two mermaids from opposite tanks in a magical zoo who fall in love, a bog hag bothered by a strange princess, and an intimate conversation between two astronauts—one of whom is on a doomed path towards Jupiter’s atmosphere, while the other is helplessly orbiting on the ISS near Earth.
Lyon is a master of character dynamics, expertly portraying the feeling of slowly falling in love over just a few pages.
While there are some tragic elements in these stories, most of the couples survive, and it feels like the characters have beautiful futures ahead of them. The sweetness of the relationships is really moving. There is also a lot of playful banter, learning about one another’s worlds, and satisfying building to the climactic moment of romance. Lyon is a master of character dynamics, expertly portraying the feeling of slowly falling in love over just a few pages. I had only read one of the short stories in this collection before buying the book, so I experienced most of them for the first time in print form.
The collection’s five stories are an even mix of science-fiction and fantasy, and for each fantastical world, the rules are laid out clearly for the reader. With characters hailing from Ghana, Holland, and the Pacific Islands, Lyon also incorporates a variety of cultural heritages into the stories that are set on Earth.
Lyon is also amazing at building a world through the characters, providing only the information that is essential for them, but still conveying the feeling of a full-bodied world beyond it. For example, in “The Bog Hag,” while there are many other kinds of mythical creatures, the focus stays on the natural environment of the Hag. Since she cannot easily leave the swamp, it makes sense that the majority of her understanding of magic comes from her own experience. I like how the traditional rules of interacting with this kind of figure—such as keeping your distance, or inviting her to public functions—are explicitly put into words through a treaty with the nearby kingdom. These little details make the stories more compelling for me, since I can tell how much thought the author put into them.
My favourite story of the collection has to be “Flower Crown,” the fifth and longest story, which follows Lina, a princess cursed to grow flowers from her skin wherever it is kissed. While it might seem harmless, all magic comes at a price, and the rumours about a cursed princess being an unfit queen weigh just as heavily as the physical toll of the magic. Lyon takes the time to show how the curse builds up over the years, and Lina is slowly isolated by her family, who send away any servant that might discover the secret. They clearly mean well, but of course, Lina just wishes to be treated as a normal princess. Lyon makes the curse feel like a chronic illness. Lina’s situation is similar to a patient who wants to be heard and treated like a person, but has to fight others’ firm beliefs about what is right. The scene where she is finally sent away to a castle truly made my heart ache.
When a knight finally comes along and promises to save Lina, the reader, already primed by the first half of the story, cannot help being skeptical. While the princess goes along with the plan, it feels like a fairytale ending is simply not possible for her, and that she is doomed to die cursed and alone. I won’t give away what happens, but it is suffice to say that the resolution felt perfectly natural.
An incredible collection with very richly developed stories.
Overall, this is an incredible collection with very richly developed stories. Lyon is amazing at weaving romances in these fantastical worlds. Her concise style makes for an easy read, and the moments of humour and intimate conversation balance out the conflict in each story. I will definitely be pre-ordering a copy of Lyon’s next book, and I recommend that you do so as well—but start with this collection first.