Thursday, July 6, 2017

Quick Sips - Tor dot com June 2017

It's just a bit of a short month for Tor dot com in June, with three original stories offering a nice variety of science fiction and fantasy and horror. The stories examine the damage left behind by abuse of different sorts, whether corporate, societal, or achingly personal. The stories look at loss—of freedom, of life, of security, and show how transformation is possible, how resistance is possible. In all of these stories I see characters who don't know quite what comes next, but who find that they might have access to a power that they didn't have before. That suddenly they are able to change something, even if it's only their own feathers. But it's a great mix of stories and I'll get to reviewing!

Art by Jon Foster


“Bourbon, Sugar, Grace” by Jessica Reisman (8463 words)

This is a rather fun and adventurous story that has a nice about of grit to it. Not just with blood and bone, but with a run-down feeling to the science fiction vision of the planet Sloe, a mining planet that was supposed to long-since have been abandoned but is still chugging along because of the corporation’s desire for...something. It means that the planet, which can only sustain life when people implant breathing apparatuses and live in certain areas of the planet, is not exactly hospitable. And Fox, a scavenger who lives along the outskirts of the society of miners and former-miners on the planet’s surface, is one of the more colorful of the planet’s inhabitants. The story opens as she’s on a job that quickly goes south, but not before she finds the thing she was sent to retrieve, a strange object that looks like a rock but that has some very powerful properties. And the story just moves with a nice scrap-punk feel, where the characters all live under this haze of oppression, in conditions that they are not meant to survive in, and yet there they are. For Fox it means a life of scavenge and dealing with not really fitting in well because she doesn’t handle authority. But she does have a network of friends and family and I do appreciate how the story includes her parents in the story, establishes them and then doesn’t just kill them off for emotional impact. Instead the story kicks along thanks to a rather interesting plot and Fox’s rather charming voice. Her situation is incredibly relatable, which is almost sad, because she’s living in this place that has been so damaged by corporations and now the jobs are gone but everyone is still stuck and there’s this very real sense that the workers and everyone on the planet are just being used for leverage, in order to achieve some other goal that those living on the planet know nothing about. And Fox has to figure out what to do when there’s no way to operate in good faith, when it’s obvious that her and hers are expendable. Where the story goes with that is fast and fun and leaves things nicely opened while still giving enough closure to be satisfying. So yeah, definitely give this one a read!

“eyes I dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine (2612 words)

This is a nicely creepy story that takes direct aim at the women in refrigerators trope by...letting them out. By having them all begin to arrive, their presence undeniable and further violence against them...not a good idea. It’s a premise that I’m surprised I haven’t seen more and that is expertly navigated here, the dead girls arriving in a world that doesn’t know what to do with them. That wants to know what they are doing, what it means, but is left with only silence, only their presence. And I like that, like that here are these women who have been killed for other people’s stories finally having the power to take up space. They cannot be shuffled away and have the power to throw tanks and derail trains. They are not going to be denied and so they are forcing people to be conscious of them. Which is a revolutionary thing, especially with how women are taught and conditioned to be hyper-aware of other people, and especially men. Just go looking for women who have decided to stop moving to avoid men walking into them. Their stories are all pretty similar and awful. The moment women stop moving aside, being always aware of the men around them, men run into them. And the story is showing just how uncomfortable it can be to have that flipped. These women are not necessarily seeking to tear down the government. First and foremost, they are enjoying the fact that people need to move for them. That they can’t really be killed any more and that gives them something they didn’t have. And that perhaps it will also give everyone else either the confidence to not cave to the societal expectations to move, to be always hyper-aware or else deserving of victimization, or it will give those who have been catered to reason to have to be in the same boat. Reason to have to think about what they do and where. Because they are no longer the ones at the top. It’s an interesting story and I love a lot of the tonal and thematic echoes from the author’s previous “Dispatches from a Hole in the World” Both have a report-like style and feel and both are very concerned with names and naming, power and magic and tragedy. So yeah, this is an excellent read that you should definitely check out!

“The White-Throated Transmigrant” by E. Lily Yu (3555 words)

This is a strange and rather melancholy story about damage and birds and death. It stars Winona, a woman who has worked as a geologist for an oil company but is currently unemployed and hoping to find a place to be in a small town. On her way home from a job interview she hits a bird and that event leads her to a bird museum where she ends up getting involved in the skinning and stuffing of birds under the tutelage of Penny, the local expert. The story really shows how isolated Winona is, how her desire to find safety and security has only led her into some very dangerous situations. And, more than that, it shows that it really doesn’t always matter what she does in order to be safe. She can make all of the “right” decisions, and yet she is still at risk because people hate her, because she’s not white and not male and so has to always be aware, and even when she is always aware, there are things that can just come out of nowhere and strike her. Her fate becomes linked to the birds, their plight in some ways belonging to her as well, and while she tries and strives to get out, to get to some place better, she’s not allowed to escape. She’s both pushed away and not given any place to go to. What remains is to struggle in an environment that is dangerous, in one where she cannot expect compassion or assistance, where she is blamed because other people want to hurt her. It’s a wrenching and difficult story and one that feels soft like feathers stretched over cotton. Things happen slowly, and the trauma of what has happened to Winona is never exactly healed. But the story does retain some amount of hope, not really that the world will change to welcome Winona, but that she might have other options open to her, and that there might be a spring waiting for her somewhere, a warmth and a freedom, if not really a safety. A great read!


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