New review of “A City on its Tentacles”

Editor Ranylt Richildis alerted me to a new review of the first issue of Lackington’s #1 by Vanessa Fogg, who highlights my story “A City on its Tentacles” for an in-depth and very positive writeup.

Luba is both a mother and storyteller. She dreams wonderful tales and grows within herself a magic pearl. But her daughter suffers from a mysterious illness, and the only way for Luba to save her is to periodically enter the Undersea and give up her pearl and all the storytelling/dreaming power which is tied to that pearl. She doesn’t give it up completely; the pearl will grow back, and while Luba’s storytelling powers return her daughter again declines, until Luba has to return to the Undersea and give up the new pearl for her daughter’s health, again and again. […] Charlotte Ashley in her positive review read this story as a narrative about addiction. My interpretation is more literal: I take at face-value the sacrifice that Luba has to make.

I am thrilled to have this reading, and such a detailed and positive review, alongside Charlotte Ashley’s also very positive, but very different reading. When I was shopping/showing this story around, there’d been some commentary on how editors and readers needed to know “what the story really is about.” Is it about a drug addiction? Is the magical setting real? Is it about poverty? Is it about what happens to women when men leave them? (ok, this last one was a bit baffling).

All I can say is this: not all stories need to have a One True Reading. This one doesn’t. It’s amenable to many readings, it is unreliable, malleable, shifting – like the octopus at the heart of the Undersea, like stories we tell ourselves, those stories we take at face value at one moment and disbelieve the next, those less-than-straightforward tales that circumnavigate and shape our painful magical lives. In her editorial, Ranylt Richildis talked much about language versus plot, but from where I stand, Ranylt’s editorial process was not about accepting a plotless story  (“City” most definitely has a plot), but about taking a chance on a story that has many readings.

It is a feature, not a bug.



  1. Vanessa says:

    Seconding Ranylt Richildis’s comment. Yes, it seems to me that this ambiguity, this malleability, is an *essential* feature of your lovely story! I’m so glad you liked my own personal take on it!


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R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards.

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