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Review: “Triptych” by J. M. Frey

Title: Triptych
Author: J. M. Frey
Genre: sci-fi
LGBTQ+ Category: bi/pansexual, nonbinary
Publisher: StrangeFuse
Pages: 286

IN THE near future, humankind has mastered the arts of peace, tolerance, and acceptance. At least, that’s what we claim. But then THEY arrive.

“You know…” she said slowly, so softly that Evvie almost didn’t hear it. “You know those movies where the aliens come to Earth, and they… I dunno, they try to steal our natural resources, or create a nuclear winter so they can turn the Earth into slag, or they melt the polar ice caps and New York is under fathoms of water, or they clone us for slaves, or create terrifying bio-weapons and wipe us all out and use our cities for farmland, or… all that stuff?” Evvie’s heart trembled. She could taste her pulse and her fear, thready and metallic on the back of her tongue. “Yes,” she said softly. Gwen looked up. “It was nothing like that.”

Review by Dan

THIS BOOK isn’t what I thought it was going to be. For one, it’s bittersweet. It opens with a tragedy. Triptych moves through settings and time frequently but never becomes hard to follow. It also changes its point of view character fairly often and I thoroughly enjoyed reading from the POV of Kalp, an alien refugee from a destroyed world. The pace also waffles at times, moving very quickly in some parts, then slowing to one that focuses on cozy domesticity. The contrast works.

I also didn’t expect this book to be as good as it was. I am a deeply biased person and the more I read, the more I come to realize how finicky I am. But this book is good; it never felt like a chore to read and the writing style kept its action tight, its romance sweet, and its characters blessedly complex. Often (especially in science fiction), we’re given static, one-dimensional characters. Basil could have been nothing more than a cowardly, sharp-tongued nerd, Gwen could have been a ‘strong woman’ with blunted emotions, and Kalp could have easily stayed a sweet, naïve thing, lost and hurting. And they were those, sometimes. But they were also more than that and tagging along as the book peeled back the layers of it characters proved enjoyable.

Frey also goes out of her way to create an alien that is humanoid but still clearly not of our world. I appreciated this more when reading from Kalp’s POV; learning more about his physiology, culture, and perception of the world is a refreshing change from aliens that are either mostly like humans or monstrously inhuman.

Of course, not every element of the book worked for me. The main conflict in the book revolves around people targeting the thrupple for homophobic and xenophobic reasons; violence against people who don’t fall into the banality of cis-heteronormativity will always leave a bad taste in my mouth. It’s an old story and I just don’t like sad endings. I want, I need to see queer people happy at the end of it all. I need that light. More than that, this is the first time that I’ve been given a main character who is nonbinary and that character dies because of humanity’s intense hatred for things that are Other.

I knew it wasn’t coming, that it couldn’t be, but I held out so much hope that somehow the three of them would find a way back together. The ending, overall, wasn’t unsatisfactory, but I also got the sense that Kalp, in the end, didn’t matter. Yes, he was a driving force for change in both Basil and Gwen, but in the end, he is gone. Basil and Gwen move towards a future from which Kalp feels excised. The next part of their life is about finding a way to still be together without him and I understand that dwelling in loss isn’t healthy, but to go from the violent death of a partner to moving on in a matter of weeks feels abrupt.

Dan Ackerman is a writer and educator who has lived in Connecticut for their entire life. They received their BSED from CCSU in 2013 and wrote their Master’s thesis on representations of women in same-sex relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and cinema. Currently, Dan is studying for a second MA in ABA and works in a center school for students with variety of intellectual, developmental, or multiple disabilities. In their spare time, Dan continues to read and write, supplemented with a healthy amount of movie marathons and gaming.


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