Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #109

Keeping with the theme of tons of fiction in October, Clarkesworld is new and offering five pieces of new fiction. I'd be angrier with the story-load as a whole except the month has managed to be mostly incredibly good so far. Seriously, there have been some amazing stories, and this month's Clarkesworld is no exception, taking some mostly science fictional views of the world. Indeed, I think all of these stories swing much more science fiction than fantasy, though there are of course elements in some of them that could be a bit more magical. Whatever the case, most of the imagine futures, imagine situations, where people see the need for action and act. Not always with the greatest of outcomes, but with a strength to take control of their presents and their pasts, to try and reach for a better future. So to the reviews!
Art by Shichigoro-Shingo


"And If the Body Were Not the Soul" by A.C. Wise (8725 words)

This month is honestly trying to kill me. Not only with sheer amount of fiction, but with fiction that makes me want to curl into a tight ball and feel for a bit. And this story is definitely one of those, building up three characters, Ro, Audra, and Xal, in such a achingly beautiful way that it's wrenching, heartbreaking, even as it opens up new worlds of possibilities, even as it reaches for the stars. Ro is repulsed by touch and yet desperate for understanding. Insecure, Ro worries about hurting others, worries that others will think that there is something wrong, something broken in not wanting to be touched. Until Ro accidentally is touched by Xal, an alien to Earth who experiences things much different than humans. In Xal's touch Ro finds something without expectation or fear, without revulsion. It makes Ro's friendship with Audra much more complicated, but there's something about the three of them that just works. That I want so badly to work. The story builds the three of them so well, the mixture of anger and tenderness and fear and desire. The way they compliment each other. I just wanted to read more, so much more of it. But…but…but where there is injustice they cannot rest, and "happy" endings are not really possible. And I liked that the story didn't offer a lesser outcome, even when it might have been more satisfying. Or at least happy. I liked that it didn't "resolve" Ro in a way that was fundamentally different. The story sells the struggle, the resolution, and there is a change in Ro, but not one that betrays them. Seriously, go check this one out.

"Ice" by Rich Larson (3778 words)

Ah, brothers. This is an incredibly moving story about them, about difference, about competition and hatred and love because those things are always linked with siblings. Always linked and nested and here Sedgewick and Fletcher are new to a colony-world. New and eager to fit in, which means going with some older boys out onto the ice to race frostwhales breeching. But it's about more than that, because Sedgewick is unmodded. Freestyle, while his brother was grown in a lab and fully modded. Which means that Fletcher is better than his older brother, better and faster and it eats at Sedgewick, leaves something raw and hurt here. It's a tense story, a race and more than a race, two brothers seeming to come together only to be blasted apart. It's…it's good, and unsettling and really nails the way family can be, the way hate and love mix so close. Too close. The story is visually gothic, isolation dominating until a crash and something out of dreams and nightmares shows up, the sublime making its presence known. And it's grounded by that human drama, that familial drama, which just works, tragic and moving. A very nice story.

"The Father" by Kola Heyward-Rotimi (3088 words)

This is a bit of a surreal story, a man involved in not one but two...well, they seem like cults. One cult, the one he was supposed to be a part of, is trying to recreate a goddess. Something to bring back a dead empire. So they found a group of engineers and set about doing it. And succeeded. At which point the engineers were supposed to kill themselves and the Goddess could be reborn. Except that the main character changed his mind, defected to another cult who very much doesn't want a return of the old. They arranged for him to survive his "suicide" so he could steal the seed Goddess and escape. The story does a fine job capturing his altered mind state, fleeing the destruction of his life, high on LSD, weeping for his dead fiance, for his past in general which now seems for naught. Except for the seed, the Goddess, which he sees as his child. And he, its father, musts protect it, must get it out of the hands that would use it or destroy it. That he's making very important decisions while high and experiencing extreme trauma only adds to the tragedy of the story, the tragedy of life that has led the main character to this moment, his life a map of use, of betrayal, of manipulation. And for once he makes a choice for himself. Perhaps not a smart choice, but one just for him. And the universe might have to make way for him, for once. An interesting tale and one with a great feel to it, a fractured mind telling a fractured story. Indeed.

"Egg Island" by Karen Heuler (4257 words)

This is a very interesting science fiction story, one that imagines a sort of healing, a sort of reconciliation of man and plastic. Synthetics. Because such things don't break down, don't really go anywhere, and plastics are in many ways what is poisoning us, what is poisoning the world. This story takes a look at that relationship and imagines a world where plastics have evolved. Not really about people stopping creating waste, though there is that too, but more about plastics becoming something other than trash. Not recycling exactly, though. At least, not in the way most people would think. The story does a great job of going forward and showing the positives of what plastic has to offer. Plastic limbs and eyes and hearts, technologies that raise humankind up, which make things better. At the same time, it shows a group of people making islands out of the trash in the oceans, islands that have become natural even as they are plastic. Just as plastic has been incorporated into the world, into the animals and people. There is a surge of optimism about this, not only that we as a species can do better with regards to waste but also that we'll find a way forward, perhaps even better than before, creating with us a world that works, a world that redeems our past. Hopeful and very scenic, very visually stunning, the story imagines a world where humans, nature, and plastics are all together and making the best of the world. A rather fun tale!

"Summer at Grandma's House" by Hao Jingfang, translated by Carmen Yiling Yan (4971 words)

Well this is a charming, almost funny story. Have I told you I love awesome-Grandma stories? Well it's still the case and this Grandma is great. The embodiment of not really taking things too seriously. She firmly believes that things will work out because she decides that they will. She acts, not with a plan going forward, but with a plan going backwards. It's fascinating and it's rather fun, because her grandson is a bit of a loser who can't decide what he wants to do with his life, what he wants to be. He thinks that he's constantly making mistakes. And yet, and yet it turns out that those mistakes can become assets, that his life can be seen either as a failure or as a success, and only looking back can that be chosen. It's an interesting story, and obviously one that sort of falls apart in the face of certain things, certain lacks of agency, but for many people I think there is something here that is lifting and fun, the idea that there is something to not worrying too much about the future and letting yourself take shape around who you are, finding meaning in life in retrospect. And I love the Grandma's house, the way that nothing is what it seems, the way the story is structured to seem like the main character is flailing except, when looked back on, he was really positioning himself for what he really wanted. Obviously this mostly works only because it's a story, constructed with an eye for such things, but it's an interesting philosophical point and a rather fun, smile-inducing tale. So yeah, the translations from Clarkesworld continue to be very interesting reads!

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