Review: The Age of Blight, by Kristine Ong Muslim

age of blight

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: The Unnamed Press (February 16, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • E-Text: $8.86
  • Paperback: $9.33

The newest short story collection by Kristine Ong Muslim, The Age of Blight collects eleven previously published tales, interspersed with five original stories, to weave a tapestry with four main threads: Animals, Children, Instead of Human, and the Age of Blight. In Part One: Animals, “Leviathan” tells of the discovery of an ancient sea creature from the viewpoint of the scientist who found it, and his delight in being vindicated for his obsessiveness. “The Wire Mother” is a poignant story told by the artificial mothers used to raise orphaned rhesus monkeys. Finally “The Ghost of Laika Encounters a Satellite” explores Laika’s journey into space, and her death there, then flashes back to her life on earth before the launch with her human family, and their little child who adores her.

Part Two: Children, includes five stories that show Ms. Muslim has empathetic insight into the dreams and fears of boys and girls. “No Little Bobos” looks at the unexpected rewards of aggression. “The Playground” tells of the ghosts of children that accompany those brave children home who have sneaked out to play on the eternally gleaming swings and structures of a long-abandoned playground. “Those Almost Perfect Hands” shows the ingenuity of a boy frightened by his grandfather’s warning that his hands “will never leave him alone.” A tale of betrayal, “Jude and the Moonman” tells of a boy’s friends who abandon him after they help an apparently alien boy who just wants to play with them. “Dominic and Dominic” speculates on the rationale behind a superstition, prevalent in many global cultures, about the dangers of burying nail clippings and locks of trimmed hair.

Part Three: Instead of Human, presents four versions of “extinction events” and how they affect all the inhabitants of a particular world in the stories “There’s No Relief as Wondrous as Seeing Yourself Intact,” “Pet,” “Zombie Sister” and “Beautiful Curse.” “Zombie Sister” presents a completely original, and deeply sympathetic, look at the undead; the abrupt ending of this story saddened me, as I would have liked to know more about the fate of Beth, the zombie sister, and her family.

Part Four: The Age of Blight, shows how a civilization copes with survival after an asteroid impact wreaks havoc on their cities and countryside. “Day of the Builders” concerns the initial contact from scientists who study the impact site; “The Quarantine Tank” describes an elaborate security system to protect a village of lavender farmers against the Great Beast, released from deep underground when the asteroid struck. “The First Ocean” is a haunting look into the past when large sheets of open water existed on this world. The book concludes with “History of the World,” as two rock climbers view their area’s geological past from jagged cliff faces.

While Ms. Muslim is best known in the Philippines and Singapore as a poet, these short stories demonstrate she has mastered this literary form as well. I will certainly look forward to reading her next collection, due for publication later in 2016. The Age of Blight will be a tough act to follow.

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Carol Shetler

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