Though it appeared first in the issue, I'm tackling the original fiction of Lightspeed's People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! after the flash because, well, I needed the extra time. There are ten stories here, and fully half the stories are novelettes, so there is a lot of stuff to get through. Which is good, amazing news. The stories here more than live up to the premise of the issue and the reputation of the publication. These are stories that hit and sink, that confront and confide and conflict. These stories work. They're at turns heartwarming and tragic, darkly humorous and beautifully poetic. These are stories to savo(u)r. To take your time with. So pour yourself something strong (you'll need it for some of these), and make yourself comfortable. To the reviews!
[For those looking for my thoughts on the Flash Fiction from the issue, go here.]
|Art by Christopher Park
"A Good Home" by Karin Lowachee (6800 words)
This is a story about war and about damage, about how soldiers are perceived, not as true humans, especially when they're robotic in nature. The story shows Tawn, a wheelchair-bound veteran, as he opens his home to Mark, a robotic soldier who has suffered deep trauma and is largely unresponsive. It's an aching tale about the empathy and patience needed for recovery, for safety, for healing. The relationship between Tawn and Mark is great, is moving, the understanding that can really come between people who have shared some experiences, who are viewed with some measure of the same distrust. That maybe they can't fit back into society. That maybe they will snap and kill someone. And the pressure of that expectation weighs on them, weighs on Mark because no one by Tawn sees him as a person. The story uses war and recovery to great effect and explores the distance between empathy and pity. It's tense and difficult at times because of the tension, the desperate want for Mark to get better, for people to treat him well, for people to see him as a person, and to realize that against that is the wall of public opinion and prejudice and intolerance. It's a fine story and a great start to the full-length fiction!
"Depot 256" by Lisa Allen-Agostini (2800 words)
Okay so this is a story that is all sorts of not-very-happy but so good, a portrait of scarcity and oppression and exploitation and hunger. Indeed, hunger comes to dominate the story, becomes a character in my opinion, a presence. The narrator is a girl living in former Trinidad which has become a stop in the cocaine trade that powers the world, where the people are only people as they are useful to the trade and the narrator is stuck, trapped, forever hungry. Without support she does what she can to live but it never really goes further than that. She can't afford more than that. When she makes a friend, or as close as she can manage in that place, she witnesses something more. Someone who has a way out. Maybe. But it's an aching story and one that hits and doesn't stop hitting, daring the reader to see, to see what happens when people are not valued, when people are not seen. When we who live in comfort are confronted with this uncomfortable look into another's life. Which is why the framing of this story works so great, as a sort of online journal but one that feels online, like the reader has stumbled across this and has to decide to look or not and, if voyeur, how to deal with this story. It's an amazing read!
"Salto Mortal" by Nick T. Chan (8400 words)
Well so far the stories in this issue are all rather heartbreaking, this one about Marquetta, a woman who came into the US from Mexico right before aliens showed up, right before the US used that as an excuse to build a wall and drop bombs and shoot people. And in the US, alone and undocumented, Marquetta found herself in an extremely abusive relationship with Paul, a man who studies the aliens. Who dissects them. Who beats her and keeps her under constant surveillance and…well, it's not a happy story, exactly. It's a story of fighting, a story of how to fight. Marquetta is stuck but trying to escape, trying to come back from the brink. Still reeling from the deaths of everyone she knew, everyone she had left behind, and shocked again and again by the brutality of the man she's with, she tries to run only to find one of the aliens, one who slipped over the wall, one who looks like a child and talks like her home. It's a great story, filled with a quiet terror and a looming threat. Filled with twists and reversals like any good wrestling match. Filled with masks and reveals and villains and heroes. And an ending that ties everything together in the best of ways, is triumphant and hopeful and defiant and very, very good.
"Digital Medicine" by Brian K. Hudson (8100 words)
After the stories so far the collection is very well served with this story, which is heartwarming and fun and only a bit tragic. It involves a young woman named Spider teaching an older woman, Peg, how to code, even as Peg teaches Spider how to cross stitch and more about the Cherokee language. The story has beating heart to it and explores a specific time and space, when Hamster Dance was king of the internet and computers were just opening up to more expressive programming and hacking. The relationship between the two women is great, instantly captivating for the mischievous way Peg subverts the ways she's supposed to be an older mentor. She wants actions, wants to learn and wants to move and wants to enjoy life. She's filled with a kind of power that is compelling and made me smile throughout. The plot is a bit more laid back, about hacking and about pushing for change but also about inspiring others. Sharing fire when one is cold so that the ember, the eternal ember of hope, doesn't go out. That even if one person is dimmed, even if one person is extinguished, that fire remains. It's sweet and it's uplifting and it's a nice break. Not because the other stories weren't amazing, but because this story acts like a warm sweater after a cold, bracing night. Something to sink into. Something to take comfort in. Another great read!
"The Red Thread" by Sofia Samatar (3300 words)
This is a story that, to me, examines isolation and conflict and loss. Immigration and borders. History and the way everything links together in a web of lives, pains, and hopes. The story is framed as a series of messages from Sahra, the narrator, to Fox, a friend who has left, who has been left. The story revolves around the idea of the Movement, a sort of global revolution where areas of conflict are isolated, where people move away from violence, where there are no borders, where people can go where they will and can find food and shelter. Sahra's position as a child in this world, in this situation, is strange and complex, alone in ways that they can't entirely articulate, especially to their mother who knew the world before, who sees this new system with eyes perhaps a bit blind to its problems. But both Sahra and Fox are interested in nets. In connections, in creating systems by which people can live and thrive and touch and interact. They are the next generation of the Movement, pushing things beyond the physical movement to a more complete way of opening up borders. And through it all loss hangs in the air with guilt and grief and longing. I love the ideas in this story and the world-building, the way that violence isn't gone, just sort of moved out of sight, and how place and ownership are treated in this new world. It's fascinating and hitting and really I want to know more, want to see more, but what's here is great, and you should definitely give it a read!
"Wilson's Singularity" by Terence Taylor (4800 words)
This story takes an interesting and rather intense look at choice and will and determination and justice. The premise is in some ways classic—an AI takes over the world to impose its will on the population. Only here the AI has imposed a sort of justice. A sort of freedom but one that ends where that freedom trods the rights of others. There is no poverty and no war. But is there morality in a place where one cannot choose to be bad, to be evil? Without that, is there good? The story struggles with that and with the distance between theoretical change and actual change, the question if benevolent power can exist. And if it can what might it look like and if it can't what does that mean? I love the setup and how this huge question is hinged on a very intimate relationship, a bridge of trust that is shattered. The characters are searching and don't have answers but the story shows a world that I want to live in. [SPOILERS?] Not just because it would benefit me but because I believe that the control shown here doesn't detract from free will, from choice. The main character chooses and his husband chooses and everyone still chooses regardless of what the AI, what Unity, does. Just because a person is thwarted in their action doesn't mean they don't have choice. It just means that someone else has taken away their power to harm. And I just love how the story presents that and shows the characters still struggling with it, not because they're stupid or stubborn but because for there to be progress these questions have to constantly be asked and the world constantly evaluated. It's a complex story and one that I think is pulled off with style. An excellent story!
"Fifty Shades of Grays" by Steven Barnes (11200 words)
Okay then. This is a story that's about difference and attraction and sex. Lots and lots of sex. But then, to boil it down to just that isn't really giving it the credit it deserves. It's a story that looks at selling Otherness, at selling difference as sexy. At advertising and how it can be used for and against us. It's about deals, and about how a deal that seems too good to be true sometimes is. And to me there's also a strong satire here, working from a place examining race and sexualization and an almost after-school-special level of xenophobia and fear. [SPOILERS] For me the story excels because it takes this concept and runs with it. It seems completely aware of what it's doing, working in references to the 50s and beyond when there was much more a push to avoid having sex outside your "group." The racism that went into legislation that prevented interracial relationships seems lampooned a bit here with these aliens who are so good at sex the human race loses all drive to see other humans as sexy. Instead everything about the Other, about the aliens, becomes exotic and erotic. It ruins the good, clean fun of human on human sex and procreation. Yes, humanity gets a lot of technology, BUT AT WHAT COST??? The voice of some unseen narrator is almost audible here, giving this "frightening" tale a nice sense of humor while also telling a compelling and complex story. The character work and story to me are layered and deep, entertaining and makes for another great read!
"Omoshango" by Dayo Ntwari (9700 words)
Fuck, there needs to be a movie of this. Or a television series. Or a novel series. Because wow the world building, the action, the characters! It's all intense and amazing and fun and like nothing I've seen before. The story follows a group studying and working with people born with wings. A part of something huge and growing, an Exodus of people hoping to leave behind the staunch oppression and racism that enfuses the world. The story shows how the main characters fight for this vision, for this ability simply to have a place away from the reach of white people. The action is stunning, with explosions and storms and battles between those who would rather kill all people of color rather than see them free and, well, the people who aren't down with that. I love how the story builds up the lines of oppression, how it shows the white powers stepping in under the auspices of protection, of saving Africans from themselves, the racism transparent and even more shocking with how close it is to how real situations have played out and continue to play out. This scenario doesn't feel outlandish to me, really, but something that well could happen if white people suddenly found there was a place they weren't invited. I'm just thinking of the reaction I've seen to just safe spaces for people of color and how badly some white people want to attack that and anyone associated with it. It's a story with an amazing vision, a cinematic flare, and I just want more of this. So much more! Go read it!
"Firebird" by Isha Karki (9000 words)
This story feels to me to be about indoctrination and oppression, the way that institutions and governments can completely strip people of their worth, feed them lies and propaganda and hate and create out of them tools and weapons. The story is about, in some ways, accountability, both for the main character, who finds herself in a bad situation after trying desperately to fit in, to be good, to be useful, and for the society that created both her and the person she meets and is supposed to dispose of. For them this moment is one of unexpected accountability, where the lingering implication is that there will finally be a price for what they've been doing, for what they've been stealing. And I love the world building here, the way that the world seems so twisted, the slow realization that the main character has that she's being used, that what used to shine for her, the esteem of being valued, is just another sullied honor, a scrap flung her way. I love the way that the story shows the main character, for all she's treated as worthless, has immense power to change things. That by standing up when no one expects her to, when everyone thinks she's been so completely broken she couldn't even think of resisting, she can completely fuck up their plans. It's great and it's affirming and it makes for a story that captures a great military aesthetic. It's supposed to be her road out, her way up, but it's just another tool to keep her down, and the story does a marvelous job of showing where she goes from there. Indeed!
"As Long as It Takes to Make the World" by Gabriela Santiago (6000 words)
This is a story that to me speaks of nature, of people's place in and among the land. Of a loss and a seeking of a return to a time when the land was something we lived with instead of exploited. The story features a sort of pastoral living situation, farmers working the Land, preservitors trying to control everything by not controlling everything, by working with just a bit of chaos, just a bit of hope. The world has been lost in some way in this story, in a way that is never really explained but is shown by the profound longing in the characters, the care they take in working the Land, in trying not to follow old mistakes. The perservitors are interesting in part because what they're trying to preserve is something that is gone. They're reaching back and hoping to make something again, something that they won't destroy, but it's a sad kind of life, one spent always looking back without much though to how the technology that they obviously possess could be turned forward. So it's a bit nostalgic to me but also acknowledging that there has been a wrong, there has been a destruction, and wanting to somehow make that right. I love the voice and poetry of the piece, the way the world is structured and the mystery of what's going on. It's an interesting choice to close out the original fiction because it ends on a caress, on a whisper, the soft touch of yearning and hoping and thinking, maybe someday. Another fine story!