|Art by Sung Choi|
"A Salvaging of Ghosts" by Aliette de Bodard (4225 words)
This is a lovely story about diving, about loss, about holding onto the ghosts of people and about letting them go. The plot focuses on Thuy, a diver for gems made up of the bodies of people lost in the strange space where ships travel through, an unreality that twists and compresses human form into a solid mass that is euphoric and addictive when ingested. Divers do not typically live long, though Thuy is older than most and her mothers were legends in the field. Her daughter, though, has recently been lost, and Thuy is determined to bring back a piece of her, to place it on her altar, to keep a part of her always alive. What she discovers on the dive, though, complicates everything, and I love the way the story moves and flows, the way it sinks and rises like the act of diving. Thuy’s journey to the wreck is a journey down put also inward, to examine the absence and the presence that her daughter has left, the loss and the ghost. The mindship becomes an extension of her own mind, trapped with itself, with its sorrow. Kept alive because it was designed to. Like the memory of Thuy’s daughter with the altar, the way she would have kept the ghost alive, dead, in stasis. The story is sad and moving and deep, with Thuy descending far past where she thinks herself capable only to find the strength to keep going, the strength to mourn and get back up, changed but ready to continue her own life. It’s haunting but it’s also about the power to end hauntings, to release those held prisoner. It is a wonderful story, stark and beautiful and definitely a must-read!
"Blood Grains Speak Through Memories" by Jason Sanford (12260 words)
Well this is a rather long but also rather moving story about a world with the tools to protect itself and the overriding need to prevent its exploitation and destruction. The setting created is at turns one that is finally more able to prevent human excess through the grains, nanotech that works through special anchors, people who are the land’s deadly fists. Everyone else who isn’t an anchor must travel constantly, is denied settling, and anyone who dares raises a hand against nature is dealt with…harshly. I love that in some ways the story pits environmentalism as both savior and enemy, like if the Earth had a voice it might be that of violent eco-terrorists, and that Frere-Jones, the main character of this story, must navigate a space between extremes, must keep in mind that this world is the result of rampant exploitation and basically the fact that humans had lost their right to self-determine and the different injustice that is the land’s exploitation of humanity, the appropriation of memories and the violent suppression of subversive thought. In many ways, because the grain didn’t just completely wipe out humanity it fell victim to the same mentality and so…well, the story is complex and rather tragic, Frere-Jones victim and murderer, trying hurt and very willing to hurt others even as she yearns for human contact free of the grain. The setting is bold and the situation complex. There is a lot going on and none of it involves simple answers. The players of the story, from the grain itself to Fre to Alexnya, a young girl chosen by the grain to try and fix things, are all trapped by their programming, by their pasts. And the story shows that the only way out might involve very drastic action to wipe the slates clean, to acknowledge wrong from both sides and so demand concessions from both sides, that humanity is not inherently evil or untrustworthy but perhaps deserving of another chance. It’s a fine story and one well worth its fairly substantial weight. Indeed!
"The Mountains His Crown" by Sarah Pinsker (6717 words)
This is a rather slow and methodical story, one about planting and patience and growing up. It centers on Kae, a farmer and parent trying to make a living of it their partner in a land ruled over by an Emperor, a man who hordes technology for himself and who is rather obsessed with his own image. With seeing himself everywhere, in everything. The story sets up its stakes early on, saying that catastrophe can happen at different speeds. And it happens slow here, with the passing of seasons, with the surveying of land, with the greed and self-aggrandizement required to want to be a nation, an entire land. To embody a place so fully that it becomes your body. The Emperor himself is largely absent from the piece but the prose does an excellent job of giving him a presence through the oppression of his reign, through the way that he seems to live in the land, his power omnipresent, indisputable. Kae and their family hatch a plan, or perhaps more than one plan, and it's a good example of a story that doesn't rely on violence to sell what it's trying to say, though violence is a looming threat, something that goes along with the Emperor and his power. But Kae seeks to find another way and it's interesting and complex and quite well done. I love the character work put into Kae and their partner, the way that Kae is rebellious, doesn't really like to talk, and yet learns how. The more drastic action of their past is tempered by being a parent, having people to look after, and by the recognition that the Emperor is a parent as well, and deserves a chance to do the right thing. And it's a fine read, a nice setting and a great cast and a compelling situation. Indeed!