“The Singing Wind and the Golden Hour” by Nicole Feldringer (7463 words)
No Spoilers: Kala is the daughter of one of Mars’ wealthier citizens, and yet for that she’s something of a mess, a landscape photographer who completely blew her first (and what could have been her last) big chance to make a splash. Creatively frustrated and plagued by guilt and self-doubt, she doesn’t have much direction until her best friend, Abe, becomes sick with an infection that is threatening to become epidemic. Spurred by frustration and the need to Do Something, Kala finds a direction to move. The piece is slow and not exactly action-oriented, focusing instead on leveraging privilege to try and do something for those who are being ignored and preyed upon. The story reveals a colonized world that has brought all of its old problems with it, where class and money still dictate who has a voice in government, and who is sacrificed for the “greater good.”
Keywords: Photography, Infection, Mars, Colonization, Corruption
Review: I like how this story balances the fact that the main character comes from a rather privileged background and has so much more power than the people she’s trying to help with her awareness of that and her desire to use what power she has for good. It’s something that often doesn’t appear in fiction, or at least that I don’t see examined an awful lot, because of how close it can cleave to treating this problem like it requires her to be a savior, to swoop in and see something and do something that no one else can. Because right, fuck that. But I think that’s exactly the impulse that the story is addressing. In that Kala is aware of her privilege and doesn’t want to be that person, that interloper, that savior. She is paralyzed by the knowledge that she could have things easily, that her mother can smooth her way with money and influence. So that she doesn’t feel anything is earned. The real question becomes: is she that person anyway, despite her fears and her efforts not to be?
And fuck is that a deep question. To me, Kala can see the situation fairly well, can see how much she has and knows that there is corruption going on around her. She’s afraid that by trying to push herself forward, even in a “good cause,” that she will end up pushing others out. That she wouldn’t have “earned” whatever success she could manage. So she sabotages herself, makes it so that she has no success, and is still rather miserable. The thing is she wants success even as she wants to be a good person, and because she’s been positioned closer to cucess through nothing she’s done, she recognizes that the system isn’t fair. She feels she can’t do work, until that work becomes justice. Because once she finds that there is a problem, and not only can she do something about it, but her privilege means that she should do something about it, she begins to feel better.
And I like this solution, and how the story imagines it. That, essentially, this isn’t a traditional hero’s journey. Instead it’s much more practical and more real. Corruption cannot always be fought effectively through legal channels. It takes influence and power to get things done that way. Which is what Kala can offer. And she can do it not to enrich herself but to enrich others, to redistribute power and privilege. The story seems to ask if justice can be achieved by using the tools of injustice. This story implies that it can be. Especially by giving those tools, by giving advantage, to people who did not have it. Kala isn’t just pushing herself forward, but rather seeking to surround herself with others who might not otherwise have been able to achieve their goals so that together they are a force for change. As long as she doesn’t stop when she becomes popular, as long as doesn’t accept the corrupting influence of money and power, then the story seems to retain hope that she can do good. And it’s a rather fun story for that, about art and responsibility, and it makes for a great read!