Thursday, June 15, 2017

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #129

Okay, so it’s a very full month of content from Clarkesworld, with five original stories, all but one of them a novelette. And seeing as how many of the stories have something of a slower pace, this is an issue that might take people a while to get through (it certainly took me some time). he good news is that even if some of the stories are a bit slower and more ponderous, they are still very much worth spending some time with. The focus of the issue for me seems to be the aftermath of great harm and what responsibility the individual has in the face of collective cruelty, corruption, and violence. Each of the stories take a run at this core idea in different ways, from looks at the end of the world to more intimate apocalypses, but they are all emotionally resonant and interesting. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Matt Dixon


“Fool’s Cap” by Andy Dudak (7912 words)

This is an interesting story about morality and causality, about a woman named Beadith who is on a mission to find and punish a tyrant responsible for the destruction of hundreds of billions of people who had uploaded themselves into space-time. Beadith has tracked this man, Kiniod, across space to a small island on an isolated world that is covered with a strange moss that can integrate with a person’s mind and show them visions of what might have been. And not only that—each vision copies the mind of the person into the moss, creating a new version of them that exists outside of the original. It’s a very strange premise but one that plays out pretty traditionally, challenging the morality of revenge and the nature of humanity. Or, in this instance, the nature of Beadith. Because part of what I like about the story is how it shows that most people have it in them to be genocidal, that there are situations that it might happen, when they might pull that trigger. And that in many ways violence and revenge only strengthen that, so that those who have gotten themselves to the point where they will kill for their own revenge are close to those who would commit genocide in the first place, all of these urges stemming from the way that we transform people into things, into Other. And we see here that for all that Beadith wants to find justice, what she really wants is some way to reverse the pain she feels, to excise it and put it into someone else. Which is just as much an act of violence, and in trying to accomplish this she does some truly awful things. And I don’t think the story is saying that people who do wrong should be forgiven, but I do think that it complicates the straight-forward idea of revenge or punishment, because it pushes the wronged person to see the other person as worthy of empathy, even if they never extended the same to their victims. It’s a complex and at times confusing story that weaves back in on itself, but it’s also got a gripping scope and great feel. A fine read!

“My Dear, Like the Sky and Stars and Sun” by Julia K. Patt (7718 words)

This story imagines a world dominated by corporations—not much of a stretch, really—and populated at least in part by a small network of people looking to push the boundaries of technology and biology in resistance to injustice of the system they live in. Elspeth is a mod’r, something between a surgeon and a tattoo artist, using her gifts to help who she can, to protect who she can. So when a young woman comes to her asking for mods, Elspeth agrees, even if something feels a bit off about it. When some very valuable tech goes missing from one of the big corps, though, and the young woman turns out to be the heir of said corp, things get...complicated. I love the way the story centers the story on Elspeth and Mari, though, their growing friendship and trust. They are from very different situations but they are both after the same things. And I love that Elspeth, for being not even thirty yet, has this age to her. She’s lived in this counter-culture for a long time and it has lost some of the romantic sheen to it. In its place is the reality of resistance and the work that she does, which is part science, part black market, and part being a role model and person that people can go to. The world of the story is one of violence and corruption, where (like our own world) to be a woman is to be at risk. Even when you’re brilliant—in fact, it’s almost more dangerous to be brilliant in that situation, because it makes you valuable to the corps, and that means trouble. It did for Mari’s mother and it does for both Elspeth and Mari, who must navigate the situation as best they can and hope to strike back and expose Mari’s father for the criminal that he is. It’s a story that establishes a very fun cyberpunk feel and the tech described is beautiful and interesting. Mostly, though, for me at least, it’s a story about found families, about Elspeth working to make the world safer than it was for her and maybe succeeding, being able to help younger people find safety and security in a world where that can seem impossible. And it’s a great read!

“Neptune’s Trident” by Nina Allan (14011 words)

This is a rather strange and slow story about the world after the end of the world, after the deathblow but before the last breath has passed between chapped lips. At least, to me it’s the story of Caitlin, a woman living with her partner Steph in the aftermath of just about every disaster you can think of. The world has been kicked and doesn’t seem to be getting back up, and Caitlin survives by scavenging what washes up on shore and holding out some hope that maybe her brother will return from the sea. It goes beyond that, though. There’s also something of an invasion going on, a sickness that brings the afflicted a vision and awareness of something other going on while also weakening them and making them targets in a scared population of survivors. Steph is one such infected survivor, and Caitlin does her best to keep her safe, but it’s not easy. Nothing in the story is easy. And really that’s the thing about the story that I appreciate the most, the weariness that it captures in this world after the world. That these survivors have lost everything and are unsure what to do. Some hold onto faith but in truth what they hold onto is a passion that can only now be ignited with death and inflicting righteous pain on others. For Caitlin living at this time is like living with a terminal illness, a mix of resolve to keep going but also a growing question as to why. In some ways it’s easy as long as she has Steph to help, but without that the question remains, and the story does a great job of exploring that, of asking these very difficult, sinking questions, all the while revealing a world that is slowly being overwritten. I will say, this is not an overly happen story. It has its moments of joy but those feel more like relief than anything, the whole concept of joy having changed in the face of what has happened. And what remains is something that Caitlin struggles with, that the reader then has to struggle with, to an ending that is rather vague and haunting, a glimpse at something vast and intimate at the same time. It’s a long read, and in some ways reads even longer, but I think it’s one worth spending a bit of time with. Indeed!

“The Ways Out” by Sam J. Miller (5889 words)

I really need to stop being surprised by the way that Miller’s stories break me. Every fucking time. Because yes, this is a story about betrayal and about powers and about hope and about loss. It’s framing is that of an agent reporting on surveillance done on a young girl named Ryx, who may or may not be at the heart of some future movement that would be dangerous for the government. But for most of the story she just seems like a normal kid trying to deal with her life, with the reality of her situation. She meets Hector, and the two of them recognize that they are both variants, people with powers, people able to Do Things and so labeled threats by the government. The narrator of the piece follows them, seeks to listen to them, to learn what they might be up to, but there’s more going on here than there seems at first. Because it turns out that variants are working for the government as well, and as the story progresses the nature and role of the narrator change and and fuck the story just does an amazing job of building up this situation, this world. The plot is there but it’s not exactly what drives the story, because the focus is on this watching, this surveilling of Ryx. It’s watching something blossom, watching a movement form. I love the little twists to the story, the way the narrator can’t always maintain the distance required to give his reports. And it’s just absolutely devastating when the story really gets going and all the walls come crashing down and the nature of Ryx and her powers are revealed and you just really need to go and read this story. Miller conspiracy theorists will wonder how this one fits into the larger world that he’s building (or worlds, perhaps?), but here again we see this connective tissue of people being able to use powers, of groups being able to do more than individuals, of emotions and justice being tied to power, and how it all relates is just great. And in the end it’s a story about hope and the power of trying to do what is right over fear and over security, and the trembling righteousness that Ryx embodies. It’s great. Go read it. Now!

“An Account of the Sky Whales” by A Que, translated by Andy Dudak (11563 words)

Space whales. There have actually been a few stories recently that have tackled the idea of floating whales but none I don’t think with quite this level of wonder. The story floats on loss and hope and the chance for healing, on human exploitation but also human integrity and kindness and effort. The main character of the piece has overcome a fear of flying to travel to a distant world where their ex-girlfriend has died, in the hopes of bringing her remains back to Earth. The ex-girlfriend, Frond, was a scientist studying the cloud whales, beings whose blood carries a short-cut to flight, making them highly poached. The main character arrives hoping for nothing more than to return home with the remains, but as it’s illegal to transport human remains off worlds they are stuck getting a ride on a poaching vessel, and things quickly go pear shaped as a very special cloud whale makes an appearance. The story is full of action and adventure and the main character being pushed further and further outside their comfort zone, only to find that it’s not as frightening as they thought. The imagery is often breathtaking and the concept layered and rather fun for all that it centers the illegal killing of an intelligent species to the brink of exinction. It looks, though, at the power of names and naming and how people engage in this all the time, how the main character defines the world around them and in doing so exerts some power of it. It’s interesting and I love the way the cloud whales are depicted, no longer going to sit back and take shit from humans. It’s a bit of a weird tale, and in some ways it asks readers to just accept an awful lot of strangeness in the plot just sort of working out, but there’s a loose fun to it that is infectious, that is irresistible to me. So yes, definitely give this one a read! A great story!


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