Monday, December 7, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #111

For it's December issue, Clarkesworld's gift to you and me is a month of great fiction. Four stories anchor the issue, all of them science fictional in nature. This issue manages to mostly stick to hope, most of the stories finding a way forward despite ugliness, despite despair, despite adversity. And all of them tell some fine tales about the edges of space, about the edges of human achievement. About people surviving and thriving in environments that could easily kill them. It's a full issue of fiction, plus an interesting nonfiction piece dealing with a topic I have OPINIONS(!) on, the Classics. So let's get to it!

Art by Peter Mohnbacher


"Yuanyuan's Bubbles" by Liu Cixin, translated by Carmen Yiling Yan (7329 words)

Well way to make me all emotional, story. Gosh. This is a very sweet story of a daughter and her father. A daughter who loves to blow bubbles. Who is intelligent and driven, but not in the purposeful way of her parents. Her father views her as airy, as light, this despite that she is brilliant and ends up making tons of money. It's not that she makes money, though, that bothers him. It's that she has no idea of sacrifice, of "hard work." She does what makes her happy, and what makes her happy is blowing bubbles. Enormous bubbles. And in the end the story is about generations, and about what the future needs, which is not just hard work and sacrifice. The future needs creativity. The future needs people to do what they love, and to find ways to take that in directions that benefit everyone. The science fiction in the story is hopeful, practical even if it doesn't always seem it. The call is to let people go where their passions take them, even if that seems to be away from their parents, away from the values of the past. Because even as it seems that, there is something necessary about it. That some will choose to come back around, and that whatever the case, what the world needs is innovation, is people wanting to change things. Is people in love with ideas and experiences. From that comes the greatest leaps. The biggest advancements. It's a fun story and a poignant look at how generations change, and how that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Indeed!

"Union" by Tamsyn Muir (5531 words)

I'm not going to lie, this is a rather conflicting story for me. It's disturbing and dark and rather uncomfortable. It strays heavily into the horror side of science fiction, showing a group of farmers and their town dealing with the arrival of new genetically spliced wives. Which is the first uncomfortable thing, that these people are referred to only as wives, are property to be bought and bred. To be used. They are bough by the town which is organized like a union, workers surrounding a Mayor. But these wives are…off, spliced from lichen which has never been done before. As a result the wives are slow and seem to be a pollutant. Things rot around them. Animals die. The town argues what to do about them. And in that it shows the way people can scapegoat others, especially those seen as property, those deemed lesser or slow. What vaguely bothers me about it is [SPOILERS] that the wives kind of are the cause of problems. That they seem to be something of a curse for the town. That they are dangerous. And that seems a little…I don't know, off somehow. The story does a good job of being provocative, and not really going where expected. Perhaps I need to spend more time with the ending, which is incredibly dark and explores how people refuse to stand together. Or perhaps they are just being punished for allowing something awful to happen to the wives. Whatever the case, it's an interesting story and one worth sitting down with.

"Morrigan in Shadow" by Seth Dickinson (14475 words)

Wow, that was a rather intense story. And a very long one, but it definitely uses its space. It is a rather beautiful and violent and philosophical story, but one framed by the relationship between two women. Both of them fighters, but one of them a maker and one of them a destroyer. The story is an extended study in the differences between the two. In the benefits of chaos over order, of renewal over cancer. The bit with cancer, I will admit, did seem a bit difficult to navigate, a bit too much of an easily argued-down idea. That cooperation leads to cancer, or is a cancer, that makers need to be curtailed by some looming other and the only thing to be done is to try and protect what you love for as long as you can. But it is fun to see that argument played out with epic space battles and a rather sweet love story that throws in some twists and turns. The character work is strong, Laporte and Simms rather conventional but still entertaining protagonists. Really they're there to complicate war, the war they're all fighting and losing and winning, to complicate the idea that war can be won or lost. To complicate morality in war, honor in war, all of it. Hovering above the story is the looming hammer of the Nemesis, who are interesting and who are dealt with in a rather inventive way. They are the ultimate chaos, the check of the universe, and as that sort of cosmic force they work, though how they came to be is a little muddy. Still, all in all this is a fine story, a bit romantic and a bit mired in Big Ideas but that's how I like my science fiction. And through it all it manages to be action-packed and driving. A nice long read!

"When We Die on Mars" by Cassandra Khaw (3076 words)

Awwwww. That is an incredibly sweet story, of course nicely punctuated by family, trauma, and death. It really is a beautiful piece, about a group of twelve people going up to Mars, to make it into something that can hold more people. To tame it, I guess. And it's about the lives of those twelve people, the isolation that will be endured, but also the bonds between them, the making of a family that is not related by blood but is the stronger for it. The main character here is in some ways running from their family, from something in their past that they're not ready to forgive. It doesn't mean that they don't have regrets, but regrets here are part of life, and avoiding regrets isn't reason enough to cross certain divides. It's a slow story, and there is a softness to it, an intimacy that comes from seeing people who know each other quite well, who are family despite everything, draw together by their common vision and drive. It's fun to watch, and it's painful to watch, because all of these people are damaged in some way. You sort of need to be, to leave behind your home planet forever. But their hurt helps them connect with each other. To know and to trust and to heal. It's a great message and a stark way of showing it, that blunt idea of dying on Mars, at once horrifying and hopeful. A great way to close out the fiction this month!


"Another Word: On Reading, Writing, and the Classics" by Cat Rambo

Ah, hmm. I have some pretty complicated ideas about the Classics. Part of this might be insecurity (I never seem to have read enough of the classics to be anything more than an interloper in them, and what I've read is too common, not esoteric enough...there is a certain condescension that can, though not always does, go along with talks about the literary and SFF canon and what one should read). But I like a lot of the points in this article, the idea that SFF is in conversation with itself and its past and with other genres as well, with the literary canon as much as with itself. Of course I agree with that. Of course, I feel that things are getting mighty complicated with that these days. For instance, where do non-written Classics enter into the mix? It would be foolish to say that writers are not as much in conversation today with movies and television and videogames as they are with SFF stories and novels. To what extent do we need a working knowledge of Alien to add depth to our science fiction horror readings? Thinking of how The Thing is something people consider a classic more so than "Who Goes There?" is means Classics are strange. And now videogames are becoming just as important and it seems easily dismissed to go tell people with a very deep understanding of the literary and written SFF Classics to go play some videogames or watch some shows or movies. Not that they don't. Just problem with Classics is partly discussed in this article, namely that the Classics are shaped by suppression and some pretty shitty things sometimes. It kind of teaches that there are certain "acceptable" inroads to SFF and I'm not sure that's the case anymore. Of course, if you value current works that honor the Classics, that are in conversation with the Classics, then yes you will greatly benefit from reading them. If your reading takes more of its queues from gaming or movies then...well, things get more murky. But this is definitely a conversation that should be had. I read more new stuff than I do old stuff (though I do go back and read the "Classics of SFF). But I do understand that my classics are not necessarily the Classics. There are so many ways into the genre now, and telling people that their's isn't correct or that they need to read up to continue (not that I feel that's what this article is doing, but it's a sort of inherent thing with Classics discussions), especially those for whom the past of SFF holds absolutely zero appeal, isn't how I would counsel going forward. The idea of the Classics, in my mind, needs to be challenged. But this is a very good article to provoke some thought on the matter. Indeed!

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