Anchored by a novella in translation and populated by powerful stories, the June Clarkesworld takes a look at identity and self, harm and loss. The stories all crowd around moments of otherness and bridging otherness, of hurt and soothing hurt, of alien voices and learning to see the human in them. These stories are difficult and raw and imaginative and I almost can't believe that there's The Thing fanfiction but there is and I'm just going to jump into these reviews!
|Art by Vincent LAÏK|
"And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices" by Margaret Ronald (5273 words)
This story to me is about confronting death and loss and tragedy and how people react to it. I love the way it slowly reveals the premise, this world where humanity caught a transmission from four hundred light-years away, from an alien civilization, only to watch that civilization die, extinguish into the night before they ever knew their transmission got through, was received. It's a picture of tragedy, especially because for humanity it had seem this ray of light and hope, that we are not alone, only to find ourselves by ourselves still, without a clear idea of where to go or what to do. Should people shrink back into the space we once occupied, turn inward in our grief at the loss of possibilities? Or is there another option? Wrapped up in all of that is a story about a mother reconnecting with her son, about family and generations and hope. I find the story very hopeful, very much excited about the idea that the next generation growing now will approach problems in profoundly different ways. And not standing in the way of that. [SPOILERS] And I love that the story doesn't shy from the hurt and the disappointment the main character feels. She cries, and it is no less uncomfortable to read, to see grief in that way, in story form as in real life. It confronts the reader with the loss but still manages to be hopeful. It refuses to write off the newer generations who see native to technology, native to this new world that many of us are more like immigrants to. This is the kind of story I like to see that deals with the future, with a trust in young people to not fuck everything up. An amazing read!
"Things With Beards" by Sam J. Miller (4712 words)
Right, yeah, so this is perhaps the best piece of The Thing fanfiction I have ever read. And perhaps that's being unfair, to call it fanfiction, but I fucking love fanfiction and to me there is such power to it and it's here, at a venue like Clarkesworld, and that is amazing. The story picks up after the movie ends, with MacReady and Childs freezing in the cold. And like all good fanfiction this story makes the original text better by providing a new lens through which to view it. Not one intended by the original creators but one that creates a new meaning, a new interpretation, and one that I like so much better than whatever was the intention of the movie. The main characters are queered here, and brought into a context of activism in the early 80s, where race and queerness intersect and there are threats everywhere and passing is something that has to be done. [SPOILERS] And I love the way that MacReady is a Thing, is a monster who is essentially contagious with a disease, with something inside him that destroys. But that he doesn't know about, that is dormant inside him. It works so well both with the viral realities of transmitted diseases and what's happening to the people around him and with the idea of passing and privilege, that he has to hide on so many levels, that his beard is a cover but so is his humanity, that there are so many fronts to his fear and to his being that influence his decisions and give meaning to his actions in the story. And as a bearded individual, and as someone with complex feelings about passing and how to fight, how to push for change, this story just speaks to me in the way it tramples expectations, the way that it refuses to hide, the way it takes a text that in not queer and shows that, under the beard it wears, of course it can be queer. That lurking in these texts that people assume are only about straight issues, only about white issues, there are other texts. Dangerous texts. Affirming and complex and beautiful texts that cannot be denied or destroyed. Be sure to check out this story!
".identity" by E. Catherine Tobler (5290 words)
This is a moving story about life at the end of a trip on a generation ship set for a new world as one of the ship AIs and her lead engineer find something…not quite right. The story is something of a mystery, something of a tense science fiction thriller, a killer lurking in the dark, none of the characters really aware of what's really going on until it's too late. All that, of course, condensed down into a short story, which is a testament to how well the story sets up the scene and the stakes and maintains it's pace and suspense. There is a slight claustrophobia that is inherent in the piece, even given the largeness of the ship, because of the isolation and danger that comes with being on a ship in space where even small mistakes are easily fatal. The relationship between Venningen, the engineer, and Daidala, the main character AI, is effortless and heavy. There's a lot to that particular relationship, part romantic and part just how people who know each other get. There is a regard and a suspicion as the story advances and I think the slow reveal of information in the face of the enduring trust between them is well done, compelling and interesting. And the reveal of what is well done and rather creepy, even if there are some lingering questions as to the why of it. Still, it's a fun story, one that's not without its tragedy but is more about the overcoming of obstacles, the triumph of the characters over their adversaries and their doubts. A fine story!
"The Snow of Jinyang" by Zhang Ran, translated by Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan (21386 words)
This story is by far the longest of the month and offers a very interesting take on time travel. Here, the main actor (though not the main character) is Wang Lu, a man from a future where time travel is relatively easy, as is passing through dimensions. By accident he lands in a city about to fall to siege and be destroyed, and sees in that moment a chance to return home. The actual main character, Zhu Dagun, is a rather directionless internet troll roped into a number of plots and trying to save his city. What results is at turns comic and tragic, wildly imaginative and yet bound to the thoughts of a person from the "future" trying to replicate future technology with the tools of the past. "Ray-ban" sunglasses and "light-saber" flashlights appear as joking asides to time travel tropes while the story itself looks at the nature of blame in historical context and how atrocities happen even when no one is necessarily acting wrong. Or, rather, that the story looks at how even when people think they're not acting wrong, they still do, that historical tragedy is built not just on the backs of individuals, not on the "great men" as some think, but on collective shortcuts and ideas that shape prejudice and conflict. The story is, again, a bit long and it wanders a bit as it moves, but at its heart I think is the idea that bad things happen through a convergence of unfortunate steps, that the [SPOILERS!!!] city burns and people die not because any one person but because everyone, in trying to do the right thing, make sacrifices that shouldn't be made. In some ways, that power is often not just, so trying to wield that power to do go often ends up causing the pain and misery that was supposed to be avoided. It's a complex and well-crafted work, and keeps a nice momentum going with a sly humor and a great set of characters. Indeed.