Short Story Review: “Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” by Ian McDonald

3 of 5 stars.

The Victorian steampunk voice may be applied to many fantastical landscapes while still pinning the tale in the antiquated era and attitude. Here, the genre conveys the particularly Victorian “noble” cause of “experiencing and “exploring” foreign cultures, flora and fauna yet takes it into normally sci-fi territory by landing the adventure on Venus with its native biota and colonies of humans from Earth. However, all of this is done through the filter of the Victorian POV which means 1) rank, class and gender matters, 2) while local culture barely registers, and 3) local biota is appreciated merely aesthetically with superimposed, circumstantial stories to add worth. ie There is nothing particularly scientific about the collection of “13 Botanicals from Venus.”

Also particularly Victorian and worth noting is the detached storytelling where the ultimate narrator is merely piecing together context from letters and diaries and other found works having experienced none of the adventures for herself. Here, a descendant of Ida describes the paper-made exquisite art of Botanicals from Venus while injecting tales from Ida as written in Ida’s found diaries. Those diaries also tell various accounts from third parties from different species and classes of people across Venus. The flowers play merely the thinnest of plot points.

Most of this tale is about the telling, not the plot. However, the plot boils down to: Ida tours Venus presumably to experience and re-create unique flowers. Secretly, she’s tailing the path of her brother who disappeared 15 years prior from Ireland on the same night that the prized sapphire, the Blue Empress, went missing. Arthur’s trail wends across the formidable landscape of Venus, crossing cultures and peoples that Ida’s breeding wouldn’t normally allow.

“People have tremendous ideas of family–loyalty and undying love and affection: tremendous expectations and ideals that drive them across worlds to confess and receive forgiveness. Families are whatever works.”

This tale appears in a couple “best of” anthologies. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan, I received from Netgalley. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

One response to “Short Story Review: “Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” by Ian McDonald

  1. Pingback: Short Story Review: “Tonight We Fly” by Ian McDonald | Jaffalogue

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