Thursday, March 31, 2016

Quick Sips - March 2016 Part 2

After a breakneck pace during the first two months of the year, March slows things down only marginally for, which still released five original fiction stories. The second half of the month has been dominated by clever twists on genre classics and a sense of loss and hope. In each of the stories there has been great pain, great loss, both personal and more sweeping. Wars and catastrophes and paradigm shifts. But there is something that remains, something aching and human and hopeful, something that stares into the heart and feels empathy, a bond that cannot be broken. It makes for a rather sad but beautiful set of stories that I should just review already.

Art by Yuko Shimizu


"Your Orisons May by Recorded" by Laurie Penny (5686 words)

This is an interesting story about prayer and need, told from the perspective of a member of the heavenly host, one now working at heaven’s call center doing customer service. And I love the feel of the story, the voice of the angel and their demon friend, the fascination with humanity and general fucked-upness of it all. There’s a great humor and a keen eye and an aching loneliness that is conveyed and that I’m a sucker for. And the premise is strong, compelling. The call center mentality fits with the changing vision of heaven, with the current way that religion is treated at least in the US. And I quite like the introspective nature of the story, the angel’s quest to figure themself out, constantly running up against the limitations of compassion as a business. In many ways it shows the incongruity between religion and capitalism, the way that they just don’t mesh, the way that religion in general, in being influenced by humanity, defined by it, becomes just the trappings of faith. Jesus is absent and the manager has left. All that remains is the bureaucracy, the process that doesn’t exactly help anyone. And I like how the story examines that want vs need idea, how it doesn’t really offer up any answers in the face of darkness and tragedy, how it recognizes that answers aren’t really important. Listening and understanding are. So yes, a very melancholy and almost soft story with a great depth and a vividly imagined heaven. A great read!

"That Game We Played During the War" by Carrie Vaughn (6301 words)

This story layers ideas of war and understanding, games and empathy, depression and exhaustion. The setting is delicately built at the pause and possible close to a long-term conflict between two powers, one of which is populated by people capable of reading thoughts. Calla, though, is from the other side, has spent time in a prisoner camp run in her country and as a prisoner in an enemy camp. And at both of those experiences there was also Valk, first a patient of hers and then a commander at the camp she was held. And something about their experiences drew them together so that she is visiting him now that peace seems possible, now that the borders are nearly open, to play a game of chess. I love the slow build of the story, the way that Calla is so open and honest but also wounded, raw. The conflict has taken so much from both sides and now it seems like reconciliation is possible, is within reach, because despite the fact that one side can read minds, it's a different thing to feel empathy. To see an enemy as a person. For Calla the visit and the game are ways of confronting her own depression and despair. For Volk it seems almost a way of making amends for his role in the conflict and in Calla's specific hurt. But the story does a great job of building the characters and the setting, balancing personal wounds with much larger problems, and offering a glimmer of hope, a complicated path of a possible future without war. Another excellent story!

"The Weather" by Caighlan Smith (3703 words)

Tor's had a thing for stories a bit like this one recently. I'll explain once I get into spoilers, because it's hard to talk about certain parts of this story without getting into some heavy spoilers. There's just this feeling to it, like everyone's around pretending that things are normal. The main character, Lolly, has a normal job and takes care of her grandmother and aside from things seeming maybe a bit rural it all seems…well, normal. Except that the story does an amazing job building up this unease. The way that it uses words to mean completely different things. The title is the biggest example of this, the Weather. The Storm. Like these things are natural and in many ways for the world of the story, for this possible future, it is just a force of nature, something that exists and can't really be reasoned with or fought. That can only be weathered, even if that weathering takes a toll. A huge toll. The story is slow and it's shocking and it's dark and I love it for that, for the way that it sets up this mundane world that is terrifying and bleak and tragic. The way that Lolly goes through the motions, everyone waiting and living in the time between Storms. [OKAY SPOILERS NOW] And I do like the way that Tor had been presenting stories that offer up some interesting takes on zombie stories. On survivor stories. Looking at what it means to survive and what it means to live. Because in many ways Lolly has stopped caring. The world is full of nightmares and Lolly is tired, so tired. The way that these three generations of women look after each other and fight is powerful and sad and just very well done. There's a weight here that grows, from the first moment to the last, everything sinking, being crushed under the shadow of the Storm, of what it implies. Definitely check this one out!

"Discards" by David D. Levine (10516 words)

And of course Tor saves their longest story of the month for the penultimate day, with no concern at all with overworked reviewers who had thought maybe a review was all ready to schedule. Being magnanimous I will forgive them largely because this is a rather fun story of repurposing the discarded. Recycling what people see as trash. The story focuses on Tiago, a young orphan who finds his bad luck just a bit worse when he contracts the Wild Card virus and finds himself an outcast among outcasts. Trying to avoid being pulled into the world of drugs and violence, Tiago really only manages to skirt it before being forcibly pulled in. Not as a courier or a dealer, but as a sort of superhero for the unrepresented. As a reminder that what you throw away isn’t without value. And I did quite like that recurring idea that Tiago represents the return of the discarded, that recycling spirit, that he makes trash into something useful. Or, rather, that he sees trash as not trash, as potential, and works to unlock it. And he’s young and brash and makes mistakes and the world building is well realized and the powers striking, nicely original. In many ways this story could have been called Origin Story, because it is one, and the story ends with a bit of a tease but also a realization in Tiago, a resolution to stand and fight. Kind of. The story is really largely enjoyable, falling only twice into things that I personally oftentimes have a problem with. The second of those is really just that it leaves certain key things for the later story. [SPOILERS] Like, if he’s being recruited into a reality show, it sort of makes his resolution to accept his role of recycler…well, he won’t be stopping drug wars anymore, I’m guessing. He will have been coopeted into something that is probably part of the problem. But then, I trust that it’s something that complicates any future story with the character, and I trust the writer enough to be interested to see where this twist will take Tiago. The first thing (listed last, yes I know) is just one of my personal things because the story hints that Tiago might be bi (unless I misread the story and was just really, really hoping) and then later seems to go back on that and it’s unclear. And I know it was something of a throwaway line that I’m ultimately taking issue with but I noticed it and it bothered me a little and I felt like saying it. Overall the story is still very enjoyable, the character interesting and the world full of potential. A fine read!

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