Monday, January 18, 2021

Three-Lobed Burning Eye #32 (2020)

Three-Lobed Burning Eye, ed. Andrew S. Fuller. issue #32 (November 2020). Online at

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

I was first attracted to the newest issue of Three-Lobed Burning Eye because of the story “A Consensus Told in Chromatophores” by Andi C. Buchanan, a story about a democratic civilization of cuttlefish, and if you’re surprised I’m interested in a democratic cuttlefish story, you don’t know me very well. It’s not only a fantastically creative story, it’s also a beautifully moving meditation on the meaning of democracy. For me, that’s a perfect combination.

The invertebrate theme continues through the issue. In “Imago” by Octavia Cade, a pair of teen girls in Appalachia fall pregnant with something not human and find themselves inexorably caught in an ancient cycle. The creepiness of the descriptions harmonizes perfectly with the evocative despair of a dead-end life. “The Bombardier” by Vajra Chandrasekera is set in an Office on Persons Yet To Be Missing; that’s a tremendously clever concept but the story itself doesn’t bring much new material to the Gilliamesque world of hapless young men trapped in hellish bureaucracy. It doesn’t initially appear to have much to do with invertebrates, but its insectile nature reveals itself during its unsettling and unresolved ending. “The Bee Queen” by Kristi DeMeester strikes me as less ambitious than I expect from 3LBE, but its lush descriptions elevate the somewhat well-trodden “overworked peasant girl wants to escape her life” premise.

Two more stories round out the collection. There are no insects here, but in their absence the deeper theme of the issue emerges: The profound and painful sacrifices we make to understand and shape the world. In the utterly lovely “Sonata Apocalyptica” by Xan Van Rooyen, a mother plays piano to connect with the daughter she lost to a magical cataclysm, only to come to terms with another truth. The pain and beauty of this world are well worth sinking into. Finally we have the longest story in the issue, “Prelude to Byzantium: A Chronicle of the Second Global War” by Claude Lalumière. It’s a well-planned and smartly-executed alternate history, but mainly it’s a rollicking good adventure, something I’m always hungry for in short fiction.

3LBE has a reputation as a home for the weird, daring, and bizarre, and issue 32 certainly bears that out in a collection bursting with creativity, emotion and depth. If you find yourself bored with speculative fiction that feels too timid or two by-the-numbers, Three-Lobed Burning Eye #32 is for you.

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