Monday, October 30, 2017

Quick Sips - Tor dot com October 2017

It's another rather light month from Tor dot com, with one short story and one novella, though the two pieces deliver powerful messages of art and fear and the way that a toxic culture can lead to people falling victim to demons internal and external. Both look at characters being pushed to participate in systems that are...not exactly healthy. One is a model influenced by financial reasons and a pursuit of "the art" who nearly helps to usher in a true nightmare. The other focuses on a young man pressured by his own insecurities, fears, and weaknesses toward self-destruction and endless anger. Both stories show a sort of abuse that is insidious and deep, and how characters can begin to push back against it. To the reviews!

Art by Goñi Montes

“Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone (7936 words)

This is a strange and twisted story that invites the reader to look at the world beneath the world, the monsters waiting to be given form and flesh, to be ushered into the waking reality by our imagination, vision, pain, and obsession. The piece centers Deliah, an actress/writer who’s hoping to hit it big but in the mean time needs to pay rent, and has been expanding her client base for being an artist’s model. It’s how she meets Crispin, a very intense and intensely brooding young man who wants to paint her but who has a few strange requests, one of them being that she cannot see the work in progress. It’s something that sets off some alarm bells but it’s also intriguing for Deliah, who agrees and in so doing steps through a doorway of sorts into the clouded halls of Crispin’s imagination. The story deals with art in some interesting ways, and plays with some Lovecraftian aesthetics and conception of horror. For me, the story begins to be about how grief and pain can shape how a person sees and interacts with the world. Crispin, wounded and introspective, deals with cruelty in the wake of great loss and in some ways sees through the world into a world beneath, full of malevolent forces that are hungry to destroy. Monsters, for lack of a better word, living in the heart of each person, waiting to be let through, to be let out. It’s an incredibly pessimistic view of the world but it’s also not one that can be fully dispelled just by blinking and rubbing your eyes. At least, I don’t see the story saying that all Crispin has to do is look at the world different, or think himself happy somehow. It’s not even really about not looking at the ugliness and horror that surrounds us, that could at any moment consume us. Crispin seems to be a vessel because he is alone, because he refuses connections and empathy. He gets lost in his own hurts, and ends up amplifying those around him, creating a sort of loop, a vortex that threatens to summon a terrifying force. And what Deliah realizes, and what she ends up offering, is a way forward and through his pain in order to create something that can be beautiful and uplifting. For me at least, the story becomes about finding hope and striving for healing instead of giving into the rot of seeing only the warped and horrific in people. And in any event, it’s a tense and moody story that builds well and pays off in interesting ways. A great read!

“The Future of Hunger in the Age of Programmable Matter” by Sam J Miller (6313 words)

This story speaks to me of longing and guilt, self-loathing and shame and desire. It features Otto, a man who’s overcome addiction only to fall into an abusive relationship with Trevor, a more well-to-do New Yorker who sees Otto as something like a stray he’s recued, one that reflects well on him even as Trevor gaslights him and cheats on him. It’s...not exactly the happiest of stories, focusing as it does on Otto’s desires, his yearning for something, his deep awareness of how his desires make him vulnerable and the misapprehension he has that they make him weak, dirty, and undeserving of a healthy relationship. This takes place while around him and the people in his life humanity is slipping into a new status quo, where smart polymers with nanotechnology have made life a bit more convenient, even as the technology quickly turns out to have some...serious implications. I love how the story frames the way that people poison themselves and their worlds, the way that toxic thoughts and inaction make for landscapes full of pain and neglect. Humanity, by not standing up and taking steps to make a better, safer situation for itself, by trusting that inherently exploitative and consumption-driven companies with the keys to the kingdom, mirror how Otto lets Trevor dominate his own life, assuming that because he’s made mistakes in the past he’s not qualified to run his own life. The story seems to me to be about balancing desire and health, looking for ways to acknowledge that yes, we are full of wants, make of wants, while also realizing that without facing those wants and seeking to take control of them, other people will, and they will not have our best interests at heart. It’s a story that shows Otto moving toward a place where he can take hold of his own desires, where he can own them instead of being controlled by them. Plus there are giant kaiju that destroy New York. So it’s got a lot going on. It’s a moving piece about longing and desire and shame and abuse, and it’s very much worth checking out. Go read it!


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