|Art by Julie Dillon|
"Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (15805 words)
A long translation but a very interesting one that delves into ideas of class division, employment, economics, and desperation. The main character of the story, Lao Dao, needs money to send his daughter to a decent kindergarden and so takes on a rather dangerous mission to earn it. He braves sneaking into the riches of the three Spaces of his folding, mechanical city in order to deliver a message. Along the way he encounters a whole different world and set of issues. He discovers that the arrangement of the city, and the situation with poor and rich, is somewhat manufactured. It's fascinating stuff, and Lao Dao is not a very typical main character. Older and more run down, he concentrates on his daughter, on his need to do right by her, as he faces obstacle after obstacle. The visuals of the story, the folding city itself, are awesome, and the suspense was good, the sort of hopelessness that Lao Dao has to fight against. He never gives up, and in the end the story felt rather uplifting, rather hopeful rather than wallowing in the depressing truths that he learns on his journey. Complex and hefty, the story moves nicely to the very end, leaving me about as tired as Lao Dao after finishing it.
"The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History" by Sam J. Miller (5581 words)
Man, this story makes me feel both like a part of something and also completely alone. It's a good story, one that puts a supernatural twist on the Stonewall Riots, an important event in the gay rights movement. It's a great story, conjuring up the fire of oppression, the anger and the violence that bubbled over. It brings together a great variety of voices, captures a moment in time, in frustration, very well. And it makes me a bit ashamed that I don't know more about gay rights, about the history of it. Like I'm on a little island that is fairly safe from harm but that is also so isolated from a culture and a place where I would actually feel welcomed and like I belong and this is becoming something not at all about this story. Back on track. The story is great, with all sorts of feels, and examines not only the people in the incident but the journalist who is collecting these voices, and her struggle to make up for what she had done. An amazing story.
"After the Moon Princess Leaves" by Isabel Yap
A poem conjuring up old myths and legends, this one is a blocky sort of poem, with longer, more prosaic lines. In that it's a bit easier to get more literal meaning about what going on. The form fits with the meaning in that the sentences (if they can be called that) are typically broken in the middle, leaving a disjointed feeling that mirrors the sadness and loss that the couple feels. The lines are elegant and tell the story nicely, but are also enough to leave the emptiness mentioned at the beginning of the poem. Who is missing? The princess herself, missing even in the memory as she is an absence in the poem, a question of what happened and why. Only at the ending is there a small shift, a small hope, and even that is tinged with grief.
"After the Dance" by Mari Ness
A haunting poem, short lines and deep implications. Steeped a bit in fairy tales, the poem hints with dark implications about what happens after the story closes, or perhaps offers a different glimpse into what might have been. I like poems that play with the ideas of fairy tales, that twist them, because that seems to be what they were intended to do in the first place, before their Disney adaptations made them tools to spoon-feed people gender roles and terrible expectations. So this poem has some power, though holds itself back, concentrating on the silence. The short lines imply longer meanings, more that is left purposefully out because of the silence. It's a neat tool and works well here.
"Age of the Geek, Baby" by Michi Trota
Why must there be so many good non-fiction pieces? Makes my reading pile so huge. But I would be in error to overlook the stuff here, as Michi Trota makes some excellent points about how culture has changed and how Geeks are not really what people think of them as. I love how she cuts through the notion that Geeks are still persecuted for their interests when their interests are guiding so many huge things. But it is straight white male geekdom that gets attention. It is the stuff from Big Bang Theory cliches that people want to believe when reality has shifted. And pretending that it hasn't, that Geeks are still the victims when really there is an awful lot of privilege to being the white guys in BBT is harmful to all the other people who are just looking to be accepting, looking to have a voice and be listened to and all of that. A very good piece and worth a look.
"The Politics of Comfort" by Jim C. Hines
And there's more? Glob! I love how this piece makes it perfectly clear that every choice for a writer is a political one. To write or not write diversity. That there is no normal, no neutral, that what is meant by that is not challenging the existing norms. And as writers I think there is some responsibility to do that, to question and kick and yell. I think that we should be conscious of our politics, not willfully ignorant of what we do and who we hurt. Existing, and especially writing, should be done with open eyes. It's a fascinating article. Don't ignore the non-fiction!