Scenting the Dark

Kowal is primarily a puppeteer, and the sweetness so much puppetry conjures flavors her writing. And not just in “This Little Pig” and “Jaiden’s Weaver,” which would fit cozily into any good YA sf collection. The first, set in a near-future Iceland that has virtually banned fossil fuels, features a 17-year-old whose fondest dream, to drive a classic 1950s MG-TD, propels him into the workforce, where he meets with humiliation but also hope. A 13-year-old girl who cares not for horses but for “teddy bear spiders”—an endearing species that grows to ridable size on the Earth-colonized planet New Oregon—is the focus of Jaiden’s Weaver,” an endearing kid-and-critter exercise. Less YA friendly, “Some Other Day” resolves as warmly as those two, though what is resolved is very dire, indeed. In the remaining five, a dollop of acid sours any sweetness, either, as in the tense title story, immediately; as in “Just Right,” terminally; or, as in “Portrait of Ari,” just beyond the story’s last word. Lucid and engaging work from a probable rising star. –Booklist