Friday, October 16, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #65

More than anything, this issue of Lightspeed prompts me to examine my definition of strange. Because these stories are all a bit...well, some of them get very abstract. Surreal. From the science fiction to the fantasy, this month is about outlines and sketches, about things that jar and upset and beg to be examined deeply. Four stories, as normal, and all of them with a nice heaping helping of strange. Of Weird. And all the better for it. So time to review!

Art by Blaithiel


"Solder and Seam" by Maria Dahvana Headley (4310 words)

This is a very strange story, a story of survivors, of revolutions, of building a great white whale in the middle of a wheat field on ground that used to be a town, then used to be a lake, then used to be an ocean. It's about a group of people, aliens, whose planet was attacked by humans. About how they fought, about how they lost, about how some of them came to Earth, and how one of them built a whale. The whale, which is a strong central image and idea, the white whale that represents the unattainable, the quest full of violence and death and other people dying. I also liked the idea that the aliens tattoo the names of the people they've lost on their skin. The prose is immediately arresting, but it's a slow-burn story, one that takes a while to set everything up, to reveal what's really going on. Layer by layer the setting is revealed, a look at a future where humanity has gone out into the stars and yet learned very little from their own history of colonization and conquest. For all that this is a rather bleak look at the future, at where humanity will go, it's also a story about a person wounded by war, wounded by colonization and revolution and despair finally catching their white whale, finally reaching something they never thought they'd find, which is hope, which is life. There is a sense, at the end, of new horizons, of new worlds, of new purpose even for old warriors, old revolutionaries. A well-crafted and moving story!

"The Children of Dagon" by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2700 words)

This is a story about change, climate change and evolutionary change and societal change. The story introduces a new species, a new people, made from splicing humans with other animals, creating a people who can survive the rise in ocean waters. Who thrive because of it. New inheritors of the Earth. Only people didn't really want this to happen, didn't want to have to compete or even cooperate with the new species. The product of a "mad scientist," the new life was hunted, attacked. But true to predictions, climate change progressed, leading to rising waters, and the new people were much better suited to live in the new, flooded world. Animosity remains, and the story does a nice job setting up a "reap what you sow" sort of scenario, the new species definitely anti-humanity because humanity was so anti-them, reconciliation a dream. And I tend to forgive stories like this the very negative message because it's so obviously a warning, a mirror by which to see what comes out of the actions that we are currently engaged in. A sort of prophecy that if things continue as they do, this is something we might expect. With otter-people, but still. And it does a fine job of making the otter-people…well, human. Giving them the same hurts, the same prejudices. To show that there was a chance to do something better, to learn, to try, but there are not a thousand tries. That the truth is that if we glorify power and push that value onto others, we have to be prepared to not be the most powerful, and have to live with what happens from there. That all it does is create victims, pains, things that won't wash away no matter how high the waters rise. Indeed!

"Tragic Business" by Emil Ostrovski (2780 words)

This is something of a strange tale, and I realize that I probably say that a lot, but it's sort of my go-to when I'm not entirely sure what to think of a story. Also if it is strange. Here is a story, written light and funny, of Evan, a person who lives and dies, lives and dies, over and over again, all in search of someone they think is their one and only. The story is cute, funny, Evan moving from apple to human to goldfish and on, experience love or at least longing in each iteration, refusing to give up on his idea of happiness, that if just was allowed to be with someone that things would be better. Or at least that he'd have experienced it and could move on. But trapped by his desire, he refuses to break the cycle. It's an interesting take on reincarnation and one played for laughs, each death and rebirth a lesson in tragedy, though normally pretty ridiculous tragedy, the Great Voice trying to prompt Evan toward a spiritual awakening. And yet there's something in the story beyond that idea that one can only gain enlightenment by breaking bonds, by sloughing off material desires. Indeed, the ending seems to twist things nicely, positing a sort of morality in that yearning. In that striving and even if it doesn't work out, in the continuing despite it all. To stay with the material world, which might not be the only existence there is but is nonetheless what's important here and now, and what the story seems to argue is the ultimate importance. That life is a tragic business, no matter how you cut it, but it's still worth living to the fullest. At least, that's how I read it.

"The Karen Joy Fowler Book Clud" by Nike Sulway (6740 words)

In this story, rhinoceroses are the characters, moving through a world where they are the last of their kind. The last generation, or the second to last. The story focuses on Clara, an older woman facing an uncertain future, an unhappy past. She has a daughter that she doesn't really understand, who doesn't want to breed, who doesn't want to keep trying that way, though she still takes in children. And there is Belle, as well, Clara's friend, unhappy in her own marriage, who offers Clara a glimpse at something she hadn't known about herself. There's an awful lot going on in this story, which moves slow, deliberately and yet with a sort of looseness that is interesting, like the gait of a rhinoceros, powerful but not necessarily direct. In many ways it read to me as a sort of acknowledgement of many things. That Clara is learning about herself even as her species is nearing the end. That despite the end, life is still something to live, to experience. Not to give up on. That love is never too late. And that sometimes an end isn't exactly an ending, isn't something to mourn entirely. Of course, there's a lot more than that, with parallels between rhinoceroses and people, the generational shift of people who might not want children, who see no point in reproducing, who are focused on other things instead. About age and breaking expectations, about parents and children, friends and lovers. I feel like I'm probably missing so much when I read this. The prose is elegant, beguiling at times with its surrealism, the way the characters are rhinoceroses and people, the way everything drifts apart or comes together. A very interesting and layered story and another to devote some brainpower to pouring over.

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