|Art by Euclase|
"Crazy Rhythm" by Carrie Vaughn (7142 words)
This story, set in Prohibition era Hollywood, features movie-magic and war and what it means to survive. I like the setting (I have recently been quite interested in Prohibition at the surrounding time period) and the post-World War I feel is handled quite well, the war that was supposed to be the last, the one that felt more unreal to America because it didn't fight in it all that much. For most of the rest of Europe, though, and especially for Britain, it was devastating. The trench warfare that fought for the same few square miles time and time again. Here an English mechanic on a movie set, Peter, is tasked with recreating some of the war for a movie. The director is a bit of an ass and wants it to be authentic in all ways except the plot, which is ridiculous. Pete wants to give the director a taste of what the war was really like. And the main character of the story, Margie, the director's assistant, just wants to keep everything from falling apart entirely. It's a fun story with a nice level of humor over top the wounds of war, Margie being a compelling character out to make a name for herself but also invested in the people she meets, in the wounded Peter and in the actors of the movie. And the story moves nicely, setting things up for the emergence of an enormous, automated engine of destruction crashing through downtown Hollywood. For all that it's set in the past, the story almost feels like it would be historical fantasy, but I quite understand why it is science fiction instead, and a rather unique vision of science fiction, worth a look and a smile and probably a second look.
"Violation of the TrueNet Security Act" by Taiyo Fujii, translated by Jim Hubbert (8700 words)
This is an interesting and rather fun story about a man, a former computer programmer who has found the world has sort of left him behind. Working in the security section of a large company, Minami searches out zombies, outdated bits of internet programming from the days before the Lockout, an event when internet code seemed to evolve, though at the expense of locking everyone out of the internet. Only after TrueNet was reinstated did life return to normal, but the Lockout has been a mystery ever since. I loved the way that Minami reflects his job, reflects the zombies that he is hunting down, obsolete technology. It's when he comes across a bit of the past that he himself authored that the plot really gets going and he's drawn into a world of intrigue and betrayal and insurrection. But this story isn't really about rebelling against the status quo. I don't think it's even about respecting the past. I think, instead, it's about the beauty of collaboration and the furthering of technology, of programming, beyond what is strictly useful. In this world, the Lockout seems to have been an excuse for people to cut up the internet, to make it safe and sterile and secure, but at the expense of something else, at the expense of seeing programming as a living thing. And here Minami is, not really qualified to do much, sort of a loser without ambitions, and yet he feels the pull of seeing something truly new, something alive and powerful. It's an interesting story and I like the way that Minami fails upward, the way he stumbles along, is drawn on by the charismatic Chen. I have to assume there's another betrayal somewhere in his future, but Minami has a sort of earnestness that makes it easy to root for him, that makes it easy to want to see him triumph. It's a fun story, and it's always interesting to read translated work. A solid story.
"Saltwater Railroad" by Andrea Hairston (14800 words)
Well that was certainly a fine way to close out the fiction for the month, a long and satisfying story centered on a group of people who ran to freedom, who escaped slavery and pain and injustice to find a place for themselves, an island where they can be free. The story mostly circles around Delia, a former slave who had informed on others hiding or running away in exchange for what she thought would be freedom but only ended up being a lifetime of guilt and trouble. But she did find the island, and slowly gathered others there, founded a place where people could be free, where local superstition kept people at bay. When another person washes to shore, a woman named Rainbow, Delia knows that the time has come for her to act. Though she doesn't want to, though she is afraid to leave her island, the spirits tell her that change is coming, and she's not fool enough to not know what to do about it. The story evolves as Rainbow meets the island's inhabitants, a strange bunch pulled from all over, and Delia has to deal with the conflicting personalities, with those that want to act out in anger and those who want another way. She puts her trust in people even when those people don't seem trustworthy, and in her act of giving trust she shows them that they are capable of more than they thought. This is a very complex story, and rather long, and I feel like there is so much to examine. The ideas of star people, of losing body parts and having other grafted to your body, and a very story vein of what it means to be brave, and how violence is not always the answer. I commend this story for reaching its resolution with so little violence, with a scheme instead, a clever one that works and that shows how people together can do more than die gloriously. This group, diverse and yearning, find a way to escape the cycle they had been stuck in, find a way to be free, and Delia finds a measure of absolution and peace, and Rainbow finds a future worth living, and this really is just a great story that has left me feeling full of breath, powerful. Go out at read it. Indeed!