Monday, April 16, 2018

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #139

It’s a phenomenal April of fiction at Clarkesworld Magazine, with four short stories and a translated novelette to bite into. And these are evocative, emotional stories that look at connections and cooperation. That look at people helping people in many different ways. To comfort one another. To protect one another. But also to push one another to do better. To reach a fuller potential. To push toward a better future where we aren’t defined by hate and loss and sorrow. The stories are at times tinged by grief and tragedy, but they shine with a lovely strength, and a flowing sweep of language and ideas. It’s just a fantastically strong issue, and I’ll get to those reviews!

Art by Arthur Haas

“Carouseling” by Rich Larson (5250 words)

No Spoilers: Ostap is an artist/animator and Alyce is a physicist working on cutting edge research half a world away. The two still manage to spend a lot of time together and close some of the distance separating them thanks to linkwear—clothing that allows the two of them to feel each other and interact through a wireless connection. What starts out as a way to deal with their long distance relationship, though, becomes something much more when something catastrophic happens. The story is almost brutal in its ability to build up the rapport between the characters and making them fun, compassionate people. Their love oozes from the screen, and it’s a tenderness that the story mercilessly uses in order make me a slowly bubbling puddle of tears. Wrenching and tragic, it’s still beautiful and moving.
Keywords: Science!, Communication, Accidents, Loss, Dancing
Review: Fuck does this story know how to go right for my feels. Seriously, it’s a relentless story for how tender and upbeat and sweet it manages to be. The central relationship between Ostap and Alyce is the core around which the rest of the story circles, what gives it strength and resilience. With rather brilliant efficiency the story sets it up just so that it can tear it apart in a heartwarming and heartbreaking experience that puts Ostap in a desperate race to save the woman that he loves. And fuck, if there’s one thing that kind of bugged me about the story it was just how perfectly it set everything up. The characters are charming, their love affirming and beautiful. It’s something as a reader that I want to root for because seeing a well adjusted and happy couple like this is just so rare, and so it’s almost disappointing that it’s all setup to drive home the emotional impact of the tragedy. It is effective, though, and rather breathtakingly so. Seeing Ostap cry over striking his robot cleaner and having that final scene—it all just works, and while I really, really wanted there to be a happy ending to this, I also kinda knew after that first scene that that’s not what I was getting. Definitely make sure you’re emotionally ready for this one before settling in, but also definitely make sure you check it out. A fantastic read!

“Without Exile” by Eleanna Castroianni (6326 words)

No Spoilers: Nell is a lawyer who works with refugees seeking asylum among the Turm, a people whom Nell was adopted into as a child. Of her original people, her original planet, she has faint memories, though she often works with people from there trying to gain access into the empire she’s now a part of. Along with her robotic assistant, Luciole, Nell meets a parent and child who are fleeing from conflict and catastrophe, trying to find treatment for the child, who has an illness that can’t be treated where Nell works. It’s a piece about the price of caring, and about the responsibility of it. Of the loss that Nell has suffered by being adopted out of her culture, and what she sets out to do about it. It’s a piece full of sorrow and mourning, a beautifully complex story about diaspora and distance.
Keywords: Diaspora, Immigration, Conflict, Identity, Law, Refugees
Review: The framing of this story is so interesting, with Nell addressing Luciole directly, asking rhetorical questions. Like this is a letter she wants Luciole to find. Which has some interesting implications but mostly I love how it gives the story this almost pleading tone and style. Nell is a woman searching for meaning and direction. She didn’t really chose to work in a place where she would be trying to help refugees from her own home world, but she’s there and she does her best, in part because it does become an exchange where she tries to teach others how to be more Turm while they teach her more about the home that she never really knew that well. For me, it’s about reaching for what’s been lost, and what cannot be regained. Not just because of time and distance, but because the home that Nell once knew doesn’t even eixst anymore because of disasters and war. It’s literally gone, and with it any hope of really returning to where she is from. But she can still have a relationship with her past, can still seek to connect with her heritage and her cultures. And the story brings her to a place where she can still work in this place that demands so much from her, that has such a high emotional cost, and still try to do good. Because I love how the story acknowledges that Nell isn’t the right person for this, because it kills her, because she can’t have a distance from it. And also how she’s the only one who should do it, because she’ll make sure to do it right. In that the story feels about costs and about care, and about the ways that impersonal systems encourage injustice, and how it takes people invested in people to push for something better. A fantastic read!

“Violets on the Tongue” by Nin Harris (6054 words)

No Spoilers: The over-soul, a being that seems to encompass the entirety of the planet Sesen, has been broken. Broken in part to make way for a humanity fleeing from Earth through one-way portals to their new, strange home. Racked with guilt from their part in the harm done to the planet, humanity seeks to reconcile themselves with a place that is so connected, so different—so alien. And Eshe, a woman of many Earth cultures, finds herself trying reach out to this world, to approach it as anything but a colonizer. Through her work, and the work of her lovers Gyasi and Lashav, she seeks a way not exactly to colonize the planet but to join with it. To give as well as take. To survive, and to belong. Which means doing something that might just change the planet forever after. But that might also put it on a course to heal, and if not to mend the shattered parts of itself, to put them together into something new and wondrous.
Keywords: Disaster, Migration, Colonization, Shape Shifting, Queer MC, Honey
Review: There’s so much to love about this story, not least of which that it features a queer poly triad at the heart of a new kind of creation story. At the heart of a new kind of mythology. One that seeks to avoid the pitfalls and harms of colonization while allowing humanity to find a new home. In so doing, it binds humanity into the heart of Sesen, making them a part of it, making their story one story. And I love how it works and how it looks, this cooperative and consensual act of love and building. To me at least, the three characters are all looking for the same thing, some way to exist without defining themselves solely based on what they’ve lost and what they’ve taken. They are all victims, really, and have all lost planets. They are left either to accept this or to join together to take back the power and story of Sesen. For humanity it means letting Sesen colonize them, take their stories and twist them and shape them. In exchange, humanity becomes a sort of native to the planet, in spirit if not in fact. As Gyasi intimates, it’s like their old selves have died, and in this new creation they are born again of Sesen. It’s a hopeful and wonderfully vivid story that captures the hope to continue without forgetting the cost. It’s about joining, comfort, and it’s one hell of a read. Definitely check this one out!

“Logistics” by A.J. Fitzwater (5158 words)

No Spoilers: Enfys is an enby who has survived the end of the world (after a fashion) thanks to an immunity to the phage, a disease that has wiped out most of humanity. Still, things aren’t that bad. If only they could find some tampons. And so the story goes, told conversationally (and perhaps a bit confessionally), following Enfys as they travel around trying to stay connected to a humanity that is spread out, wounded, and at a tipping point. Just as Enfys represents a lot of my favorite parts of humanity, however, there are similarly shitty elements still kicking, and the story shows how Enfys deals with living and surviving in a time of such chaos. Their voice is charming and wry, flippant but also dealing with the trauma of everything that’s happened. Which makes for a fun and surprisingly poignant look at humanity at its best and worst (read: humanity in a crisis).
Keywords: Epidemic, Live Casting, Tampons, Surgery, Travel, Nonbinary MC
Review: This story has such a flow to it, probably thanks in part to the wonderful voice of Enfys. They come alive, this vibrant voice in the middle of a terrible situation, living on sarcasm and a quest to do something about the lack of tampons. And I think what I love most about this story is that it gives them this power. That they are not a scientist, not someone who is going to be inventing new energies or something like that. But that they have this thing they can work toward, this good, and they go toward it with energy and with passion. There is something to be said about their ability to just keep going. To be optimistic in the face of catastrophe. To have faith in people and to be mostly correct in that. Because while there are some evil fucks out there, and they have to deal with the threat those people pose, they also know that humanity as a whole is not fallen. Is not beyond hope. And that it’s much more important to foster the good where possible. To support it. To reach out and try to bring some comfort and dignity to others. It’s a wonderful story that really creates a post-apocalypse setting that doesn’t really fall into the old tropes or cliches. That defies them and subverts them. That shows that humanity in a crisis is often at its best, with people helping people, putting all of themselves into being decent and good to one another. Which makes this such a healing, hopeful story. One that doesn’t erase that humanity might stumble, but that we can also stand and, what’s more, help others to stand. A wonderful read!

“The Wings of Earth” by Jiang Bo, translated by Andy Dudak (15383 words)

No Spoilers: Xiaoyu is an astronaut working with Max (a kinda obnoxious American) in space when an alien vessel appears before them. As the various governments of Earth react, Xiaoyu and Max and drawn into a situation that they aren’t exactly prepared for. That they can’t exactly be prepared for. And yet they go, and try, because that’s what they’re good at. The story is framed as this huge moment for humanity, and in that it doesn’t disappoint. It’s perhaps a little dude heavy in its characters, but the scope and the severity of the piece is sufficiently epic and visual, like watching a movie about first contact. There’s a good deal of attention paid to what’s going on planet-side, as well, while all this is happening—how governments sometimes guess wrong when it comes to what’s important, and how they also sometimes guess right. It’s an interesting and beautifully unfolding story that presents a great breath of the unknown and places humanity within a larger galaxy, a larger moment, to great effect.
Keywords: First Contact, Aliens, Science!, Exploration, Bureaucracy
Review: Part of what I love about this story is how it shows both how governments blunder into things and how they (and everyday people) are rather rubbish at knowing what’s going to be important. When aliens show up on the doorstep, the Chinese government spends a lot of time kicking itself that it didn’t put a lot of money into spaceships, into deep space exploration. And yet at the same time, we find out later that it’s because of that, because humanity put its resources into building solar collecting “wings” that the aliens showed up in the first place. Without the wings there would be no contact, and so being upset about the Americans having more advanced ships is sort of a moot point. In that I feel the story does a great job of showing how important cooperation is when dealing with space, how people need to get over a bit of their nationalist tendencies, because really what’s happening is that those fall away somewhat in the face of this huge galaxy out there. It’s Earth—it’s humanity that is really the more important identity, and it’s something that the main characters of the story show by their cooperation and their care. And I love how the story unfolds with Xiaoyu being called into space, because in some ways it seems like a call to pick up where we’ve left off with regards to space travel. It’s a call to leap into space and really see what we can do. Because alien life might show up at any point, and we should be ready for it. Which means learning how to get over our issues and enter a time when Earth is Earth and not torn apart by exploitation and hate. It’s a neat story with a great cinematic feel and makes for a wonderful read and fine way to close out the issue!


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