Monday, January 5, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #100

So here's my first post, looking at Clarkesworld #100. It's a long issue, with two translations. Just FYI, I don't normally read reprints, but I will read first time translations, as these are. And normally I won't review non-fiction either, but I'll make exceptions at times, like for one of the pieces here. Indeed!


"Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight" by Aliette de Bodard (6934 words)

An interesting story told from three perspectives revolving around the death of one woman who is mother to the first character, a human male; mentor to the second character, a human female; and mother to the third character, a mindship female. The pacing is slow, easy, and the story contrasts nicely how the woman lives on through the people she leaves behind. And though her memories, her electronic remains, are passed to the one non-family member in the story, it is the others, the son and daughter, that keep her more whole. It makes a soft point about grief and about memory, and is nicely written, but it didn't really strike me as much as I would have liked.

"A Universal Elegy" by Tang Fei, translated by John Chu (6898 words)

A series of letters sent from a woman to her brother that trace a very strange journey among the stars, I was at first a little hesitant about the story because it begins with a woman fleeing one abusive relationship for what seems another. It doesn't turn out exactly to be the case, but there is a sense that the main character has some issues with her independence, that there is some serious issues with her life that put her in situations where she's nearly worshipping the men she's with. When she goes along with an alien to his home-world, though, things shift a bit and she learns more about herself, about the way she wants to live. I really liked the ending, that idea that the alien she was with can amputate memories. Those last lines are powerful. The middle dragged on a bit for me, though, and I still feel some of this one went by me.

"Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer (3429 words)

Now here was one that had me laughing and nodding, as a AI tries to be benevolent while harboring a strong passion for cat pictures. I loved how the humor weaved throughout, how the AI makes decisions based on cat pictures, how it tries to help people. I'm not entirely sure about that aspect of the story. The part with the "gay" pastor was cute and I think made an interesting point, but I didn't like that he had to be gay and couldn't have been bi. I understand the point was probably that he was repressing his homosexuality because of his religion, but I don't really like that he is shown to not actually like women, too. It's a small criticism, but one a bit close to my heart. Overall, though, I liked the idea of the trying-to-be-helpful AI who doesn't have it all figured out yet. Learning that sometimes you can't help people, but maybe you can help them help themselves.

"The Apartment Dwellers Bestiary" by Kij Johnson (4109 words)

I did get a kick out of this story, as well. At first I had to kind of squint at it, but by the end those last lines are hardly necessary. Probably anyone who's had roommates or lived communally at all will recognize some of the creatures. It was a little jarring that the entries didn't seem joined by a common narrator or recorder. They seemed to jump around, which offers a bit more diversity (which was nice), but for a while I wanted to think that it was the same person again and again and that stopped making sense to me at some point. Still, the creatures are fun and the story taken as a whole provides some interesting glimpses into what we choose to live with. Probably it wants more than one reading, though, so there's that.

"Ether" by Zhang Ran, translated by Carmen Yiling and Ken Liu (14684 words)

This one was long. I will admit that there was a stretch where I really wanted to set it down and abandon it. Which would have been a mistake, because it is a very neat story, one that imagines a world where dissent isn't exactly impossible, but that it's isolated. Where the government controls things not so that people can't say what they want, but so that people can't hear what other people say. They filter out the controversy and dissent so that people only hear inane drivel. It's a cool concept but one that takes a long time to come out. And in the end there isn't too much the story does with that idea, though there is a sense it will happen. That something has to happen. It does a great job at looking how humans need other humans to be passionate, how destructive it would be to take away the echo chamber. It doesn't really examine the dangers of the echo chamber, nor does it complicate the matter by looking at how the world has changed for the better at all, but it's still an interesting story, if very long.

"The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild" by Catherynne M. Valente (5982 words)

Weird and tragic, this one took me a while to get into. The lingo is foreign and very strange. Is it a bit gimmicky? Yes, but not in a bad way, or at least not in the worst of ways. The language, the landscape, are strange and much of it has meaning to unpack. And like most stories that use such an altered language, it gets easier to read as you go, perhaps because you get used to it or because it's hard to maintain as a writer and it just eases as things go. There's a very interesting story here, but it's only the first part. Violet Wild is a fun character, rebellious and trying to recapture her first love. It does not have the feeling of a story that is going to end well. The more child-like setting, one where things don't work by adult logic, seems more like it will contrast with the tragedy of death and the tragedy of whatever is going to happen to Violet when she gets to the Red Country. But I guess I will have to wait and see.

"An Exile of the Heart" by Jay Lake (7001 words)

Definitely one that will bring a smile. I must admit that I have a soft spot for sci fi stories like this, ones that don't mind showing people breaking out of expected roles and norms. Showing that loves rises. There is a bit of uncomfortableness because of how a "love potion" is used and so there is some question of consent at times. I want to believe that it doesn't really matter, but maybe it does. I'd have to think on it more. It's a fun story, though, light and adventurous and with a good ending. Narrated, too, which is a bit more odd, because it does a good job of staying out of people's heads all the time. It's a story to speak aloud, and one that's definitely worth reading.


"#PurpleSF" by Cat Rambo

Some nice stuff here about encouraging diversity in SFF. Given that it touches on Gamergate and other rather horrible things that have happened in the last year, it's a really fine map of what's been going on, and where things can perhaps move now that we're through and (hopefully) beyond some of the idiotic crap that Gamergate brought with it. An excellent read!

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