|Art by Rovina Cai|
Well it turns out it's a rather light month from Tor's short fiction, with only a single novelette on offer for November. Luckily for readers, it's a very good one, exploring a magical linguistic academia with shitty advisers, entrenched sexism, and a whole lot of bullshit put up to hamper innovative research in favor of traditional lines of inquiry. The main characters are queer and bring to their studies an entirely new way of approaching the work, in part because it's work that's never cared about including people like them in an official sense. And it shows them hitting the limits of what's expected of them and then blowing past those barriers. So yeah, to the review!
“The Word of Flesh and Soul” by Ruthanna Emrys (9332 words)
No Spoilers: Polymede is a graduate student studying a language left behind by a race that predates humanity, whose frozen cities and snatches of chiseled writing are all that remain of a civilization that had the power perhaps to shape reality with their words. At the very least, the study of the language can often have effects on human bodies, and Polymede has already been marked some by her illicit work on a theory that she and her girlfriend, Rish, have about an aspect of perhaps the first story discovered from this ancient people. Too bad Rish’s autism and the conservative nature of academia make it nearly impossible for Polymede and Rish to publish their findings and theories. Unless, perhaps, they were too forge a few documents, break into a few locked offices, and refuse to be intimidated by chauvinist professors or the threat of expulsion. It’s a piece that focuses on the importance of study and the love of scholarship, and the strength of will it can take to stand up to convention and put forward new findings in a field that dedicates to not varying from the past.
Keywords: Language, Academia, Publication, Queer MC, Transformation
Review: I love what this story does with language and the academic landscape, how it scrutinizes how people look at history and dead languages, challenging the belief that the best approach to these fields is through a strict adherence to tradition, dogma, and past studies. Especially studies that have come up through times and societies that have been touched by colonialism, that have been shaped by misogyny and racism and ableism and a whole slew of other accepted and institutional biases. Because for people coming up in the field, dealing with the body of research being skewed in that fashion and being asked or demanded to ignore those issues and venerate the opinions of men who wouldn’t even see these new students as worthy of education. And it’s a piece that gets at that by showing these women working to get their research before a publication review. Just that, something that should be so simple, and yet because of the nature of the field it might as well be a secret society, one that demands they strip themselves bare in order to even be considered. It’s a piece that shows their love not for the structure of education surrounding the language, but for the language itself, but how those structures almost break them. Almost drive them away when they have so much to offer. And it’s only through their determination and their great skill that they are able to remain, still furious at their treatment. How far they’ll be able to bend the institutions to change is unknown, but it’s thrilling to watch them make the first steps in that direction. Thrilling and wrenching, because of what they have to endure, and what more they will have to if they are to remain. But they have each other and they have their love of language, which might just be enough. A wonderful read!