Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Quick Sips - Tor dot com September 2018

September is a bit of a...light(?) month from Tor dot com, with only two novelettes released. But given the weight and power of the works, I don't think light is exactly the word for it. Instead, these are stories that look at myth, that look at harm, and family, and abuse. Featuring characters who are not defined by the traumas they've endured, the broken world they have to live through, but have certainly been touched by them. Who, despite everything, are still trying to find a way to make the situation better, to make a better life for themselves and their families. These are difficult stories about inheritance and about hope, and they pack quite the punch. So let's get to the reviews!

Art by Keith Negley

“Triquetra” by Kirstyn McDermott (11837 words)

No Spoilers: This story takes a lot of the elements of the Snow White fairy tale and makes things...well, appropriately grim. The focuses in particular on the main character, who is addressed by title more than name (Mama, Fairest, Your Grace, Your Highness, child, etc), and her stepmother (the witch of the story), and her daughter (similarly nameless). She lives under the rule of a husband who has quickly made a mess of his lands, let himself go, and run up a great many debts. Much worse, he’s a man who took his bride (the main character) when she was around seven, the same age as their daughter. Through her conversations with her stepmother, that fact in particular is the center of a growing dread and need to act. The piece is tense and dark and full of cycles of abuse. Full of women manipulated and hurt into these complicated plots by which the men around them escape justice and all the punishment falls on the shoulders (or feet) of women.
Keywords: CW- Rape, CW- Child Abuse, Ravens, Fairy Tales, Mirrors, Family
Review: I love how the story reworks the original story with a focus on the narrator and stepmother (while adding a daughter). This generational scope really hammer home the momentum of injustice, and how it takes all three of them acting together to wield enough force so that they can slip free from being ground in the wheel of violence and captivity. The narrator has had a while to really see what her life has been. What her marriage has been. Though she participated earnestly enough when she was younger, she sees now that her involvement in any of it was a wrong done to her. That she was a child, in no ways ready to enter into this world of magic, murder, and men. She was taken when she didn’t even have the ability to consent and so in order to survive she’s adopted some of the mentalities that allowed her to be hurt. It’s something that the stepmother understands because she, too, participated in them, and passed them on, and was ultimately destroyed by them. Or almost destroyed, which turns out to be an important distinction. Because had she died like in most versions of the story, the cycle keeps right on going. But alive, she is able to help the narrator, and help her granddaughter to escape the fate that could have been theirs. Of rape and abuse and death. And it’s a freeing, uplifting moment when that happens, when the stepmother is able to see her errors and work to fix them, and the narrator can as well, and they can both together alter the path that their lives are going, to lead to somewhere much better for the next generation. So yeah, it’s a great read and very much worth spending some time with, for all that it’s a bit difficult and unsettling. Go check it out!

“Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” by Daryl Gregory (11871 words)

No Spoilers: This is an absolutely lovely story about LT, a boy growing up in Tennessee when a meteor swarm lights up the skies, bringing with it a huge payload of alien seeds that proceed to sprout and flower, causing all sorts of problems in the mean time. The piece is told through the years, following LT when he’s young and his parents split and as he goes into science, lands himself a husband, and builds himself a family. All the while orbiting these mysterious plants, trying to unlock their secrets, and hoping the world survives the process. It’s a slow story, one with a solid grasp of pacing and movement, showing that small change over long periods of time can have profound impacts, both personally and on a planetary level as well. And for me the piece is an exploration of beauty, and life, and is just a bit heartbreaking but absolutely joyous and warm and fantastic.
Keywords: Queer MC, Aliens, Plants, Beauty, Family CW- Cancer
Review: For me, so much of what this story does is about time and beauty. The use of time is rather obvious in the framing, moving at first slowly and then with increasing speed through the years, mirroring the way that the alien plants invade but also the ways that human respond. There’s a lot here that for me speaks of onset and reaction, of the way that plants creep almost too slowly to detect and yet can be observed. The way that their movement is stronger in some ways for being slow. And it mirrors then a lot of social movement, history moving forward with tiny spindles, able to push at times only slowly before a tipping point that explodes out and ushers in something new and profound. I don’t think it’s a mistake that the queer themes in the story are tied to the invasion of Earth by alien plants. Plants that are rejected by humans, that cause great strife, but which ultimately seem to be worked into the fabric of human life. That act not as a harm but something to enhance life. To add to the collective beauty of the universe. And the way that queer rights and justice have moved has been slow, marred by fear and hatred and violence, but has made more strides, and (I hope) will continue to make progress now, adding to the beauty of the world through people being able to be themselves and be accepted and make families that fit who they are. And I just love the way the story weaves all of this together through the story of LT, his ups and his downs, his triumphs and his griefs. It’s a story that for me is difficult to read because it’s so full of life and beauty, and it doesn’t cut away. It shows the loss, and the progress, and the way that animal speed is different than plant or planet or social speed, and a single person can see a lot, but might never see everything they want to fully. Might never reach the future they can imagine. Except for how they live on, in what they touch, in being part of this social organism that will grow and thrive well after the individual is gone. And yeah, just read this one, okay? It’s amazing!


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