One thing that struck me in this shared world collection was how often the protagonists in The Clan Chronicles: Tales from Plexis are of the same alien species as some of the worst villains (or even just minor antagonists from a scene or two). It works, though, precisely because it shows different sides of alien species, and avoids that whole “the warrior aliens,” “the science aliens,” aspect that so often sneaks into science fiction, and instead brings forth some unique characters, often by showing them against the assumptions other races—especially humans—make about them. And sometimes, they even surprise themselves.
That’s the heart of Ika Koeck’s wonderful “Home is a Planet Away,” where we meet Olsi, an alien who communicates through a kind of sign as well as some vocalizations, and comes from an overpopulated planet and struck out to a new place only because it was a chance at something—anything—better. Instead, she ends up in the employ of some horrific people we visit during the main plot of Julie Czerneda’s series, and we witness a major event from the very-much sidelines, where Olsi, and one of the few friends she’s made (and one of the only people she can communicate with), use the uproar of an attack to attempt an escape of their own.
Which is, of course, how they end up on Plexis, the interstellar shopping mall where all the stories collide. Olsi is so very much out of her element—she is large, cannot communicate with anyone other than her friend, and easily startled and overwhelmed by the scents and particular drives of her own species (especially self-preservation and hiding), but has to adapt quickly in the face of some dangerous and immediate challenges. Olsi’s gentle nature and desire to just be allowed to breathe and have a place of her own already had me rooting for her, but seeing her recognize a chosen family, and decide to risk it all? Well, I’ve said it before in this collection, but that kind of story is like catnip to me.