Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #106

Ah, Clarkesworld. I can definitely say that there are few publications that put out such a daring array of science fiction and fantasy. Most of the stories this month are science fictional in nature, but each takes a quite different approach to the genre. And, of course, the one fantasy story was such that it more than makes up for being the only fantasy story. Both on Earth and far, far away from it, the stories do a great job of capturing a dark truth about bonds, about groups. These stories are about surviving, are about what binds us together. Many deal with families, with falling apart and holding on, and some deal with societies both small (in the case of a group of tourists stranded on a hostile world) or large (in the case of the city with its suppression of the pain it creates). But all are good and there's even a new translated story to enjoy. So let's get to it!

Art by Julie Dillon


"When Your Child Strays From God" by Sam J. Miller (5875 words)

Well damn. First story of the issue and I am crying. Not sure if that's a good sign or not. Probably is, because damn. This story is about a mother trying to find her son, who has run away. Because she suspects he's on a drug called spiderwebbing that allows the users to share a hallucination, she takes some in order to find him. Along the way the mother, who is the wife of a deacon, a man who beats said son for not living up to his vision of masculinity, starts to have to confront the various hard truths about her relationship with her son. It's kind of unnerving how well the story explores the intricacies of the woman's relationship with her son, the woman's own self-image and outlook on life. It would have been easy to make her something of a monster. Or, I guess, it does make her something of a monster, but a very human one, one that is easily recognizable. My gods I want to just put trigger warnings surrounding this for anyone who has issues with a parent because it comes from that, from that urge to protect, and yet also from that sense of ownership, from not wanting to see one of your children be a person, a real person capable of making decisions. This story has twists and turns and all sorts of hallucinogenic dinosaurs and really I'm not sure that I can do it justice. It centers on the search for her son but it's also a letter from her to her husband, raw and naked and showing what happens when a person is confronted by their greatest fears. When it turns out that those fears aren't the ones they thought they would be. It's an amazing story, people, and you need to go out and read it now. Go, go and read and I will find a tissue and probably something to drink. Because damn.

"Further North" by Kay Chronister (4264 words)

This is an interesting story of a pair of sisters sent to live in Alaska following the older of the two, Aliye, coming down with a condition that cost her the use of her legs and partial mobility of her face. Set during an outbreak of a disease that has decimated animal populations, the sisters believed the sister had contracted the same disease, beforehand thought not transmittable to humans, and were hiding to protect Aliye from quarantine. It's a complex setup, but the main focus on the sisters, Aliye and Hafsa, the main character. Hafsa has gone into exile with her sister, but it's not a happy thing. Unlike Aliye, who sees Alaska as her home, Hafsa's feelings are even more complicated, torn between loyalty and love to her sister and her own needs. It's an emotional story, building nicely as Aliye is given a way to recover from her paralysis, as she discovers that the disease she thought she had is not what she had. It adds a layer of pointless tragedy to the exile, to the pain it caused. I liked the way that the sisters split, how the disease and their time in Alaska shaped them. And the ending is well done, a soft finish that doesn't exactly rush things but pulls back the impact a bit to let things linger, not quite resolved, which is quite appropriate given everything. Another good story.

"Android Whores Can't Cry" by Natalia Theodoridou (5516 words)

This is a very strange story told as a series of attempts by a reporter named Aliki to write an article about a section of a city called the Massacre Market. The setting is near-ish future but also might be a different world entirely. There is no name to the city that I remember seeing, and it's a weird place with a Regime that doesn't allow the image of pain or death or suffering. There are androids and there are death cults and everything is complex and nicely intricate, giving the city the feeling of authenticity. It seemed like a real place, with the violence and also the covering up of violence. Aliki meets an old contact name Richard who is renting an android sex worked name Brigitte and who is showing her around the Massacre Market, a section of the city where corpses and images of corpses are shown and glorified, where religions have sprung up around death and the corpse and it's a bit of a surreal experience (especially when drugs get involved). But it's also weighty, an examination of what happens when the image of the corpse is erased, what happens when people live with the constant threat of violence but none of the iconography of it. There is also the androids and their nacre which seems to be representing those things that they are feeling but unable to tell they are feeling. Like the society that doesn't allow its programming to understand its own violence, the death cults and the Massacre Market are the nacre of the city, of something coming to the surface despite everything. An interesting story.

"Hungry Tower" by Pan Haitian, translated by Nick Stember (8374 words)

Well okay then. This is a fascinating story about a group of space tourists who crash on a mostly-barren world and have to walk through a desert, being slowly picked off by a ravenous beast. They find shelter in an old monastery and make defenses so the beast cannot reach them and start looking for food. But there is no food, and slowly the group resorts to cannibalism. It's an interesting story, and I liked how the "civilized" group maintains its propriety even as it begins eating those who get injured in the beast's continued attacks. Despite the cannibalism, everything is neat, orderly. And there is an almost mythic or parable-esque quality to the writing because the people of the group are referred to by their function and not their names. It's the Captain, the Priest, things like that. The Priest starts looking into the monastery, into the tower of hunger, into how the old denizens might have found food. It's something he starts to figure out as he sits in the middle of the room at the top of the tower, a cavity designed to utilize the unique resonant frequencies of the planet. It's a slow build up, or down, as the group revels more and more in eating those killed by the beast. But it isn't until the end, until after the Priest discovers the secret of the tower, that the group finally descends past the point of salvation. With the tools of rescue finally discovered, the group finally loses that last illusion of civilization and becomes something else, becomes like the beast they are fighting against. It's a fine and rather unsettling story, moody and well constructed. It's a bit predictable in execution, but only in the sense that this is a story about inevitable decline, that once people start down a path that they are going to finish it. How the story arrives at the ending is fresh, though, and well worth checking out.

"Snakes" by Yoon Ha Lee (4111 words)

Another interesting and unsettling story, and one with a lyric flow and an interesting premise. It follows Rhiis-1, a gunner-turned-starship, who is on a quest to bring back her soldier-sister Rhiis-2, from death. Once soldiers together, Rhiis-2 died and Rhiis-1 could not accept it, would not accept it. She decided to leave the conflict they had been engaged in and seek out a way to bring her partner back. This meant, however, becoming enough to fly a ship alone, to fight alone, which meant a number of procedures that merged her with the ship. Slowly she lost her human body but not her attachment to Rhiis-2. It's a slow and sad story, nostalgic and full of loss and grief, but with a soft beauty to it, a poetic flow that fills the passages about flying through space with a poetic beauty. The story is about holding onto the dead, to the memories of the dead. Rhiis-1 wants so much for Rhiis-2 to still be alive that she creates ghosts of her in her mind. She fights for these ghosts, to have her love back, without quite realizing that where she has gone has taken her away from the possibility of that love. Only when she has to face the ghosts of her love, the ghosts of herself, does she realize that there are some things that can't be recovered. That there are some things that can't be recovered from. The setting is interesting and well developed, the conflict pressing and captivating, and the lonely characterization tragic and compelling. It's a strong way to close out the issue, so be sure to give it a read.

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