Friday, May 10, 2019

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #152

Art by Matt Dixon
There’s only one translation this month from Clarkesworld (from Chinese, for those curious), but there’s also another two short stories and two novelettes that explore science fiction and its sweep and flow. From far flung planets and evil empires to much more terrestrial prejudice and fear, the stories look at how people come together. How they relate to one another and how they seek to avoid each other and how they seek to understand themselves. Not always successfully, not always neatly, but always with an eye on human connections and relationships. The stories explore change, and transformation, and love, and they do so with depth and complexity. These are not overly easy reads, but they are indeed rewarding, and worth spending some time with. To the reviews!


“Tick-Tock” by Xia Jia (translated by Emily Jin) (4628 words)

No Spoilers: In a future where dreams are an all-consuming obsession, a new product allows people the ultimate in tailored dream experiences. Only under the glitzy wrappings, the truth of this brave new industry hides a dark secret. One that the main character of this story runs headlong against...multiple times. The piece builds around a person but not in a traditional manner—the man at the center of the story is in some ways a hybrid, at odds with himself, and the story brings that to life in vivid and chilling detail. It’s a dark story, one about the harm that can be done to fund and support greed and escape. Because escape is what people are seeking through their dreams, and it’s being mercilessly exploited by business.
Keywords: Dreaming, Time, Sensory Deprivation, Nightmares
Review: This is a rather strange story that dips fully into horror by the end, with a world where people are motivated by dreams and their ability to manipulate them, so that they can spend a very long time asleep because the brain processes time different when sleeping. So people try to earn enough money to cram themselves into a sleeping space to live out their fantasies in the dream world. Only how this is accomplished becomes...well, rather terrible. Because in order to really know what a person wants, companies can literally create electronic versions of the person to slave away at creating the fantasies that the customer wants. These copies work like the customers, aware of their own existence and thinking that making this dreams is just part of their job. Except they can’t sleep. Can’t dream. Are essentially just put on pause every time a person is awake. It creates in the copies, in these slaves, a huge amount of resentment because they can’t dream, can’t experience what they’re made to participate in. And the story explores this through the many layers of the main character, the him that is an army of these slaves, and the him that is just a person ignorant that all of this is going on behind the scenes, as merely part of how the dream business operates, on this horror that people aren’t aware of. Only it seems that there are ways of making a person realize what’s going on. It isn’t pleasant, and I just love how all of it weaves into a whole, into this nightmare that the main character was almost interested in having, almost wanting, until it happened and, well, he realized just how bad nightmares can be, especially if they reflect the reality some people live with. A great read!

“Move Forward, Disappear, Transcend” by A. T. Greenblatt (2411 words)

No Spoilers: Ms. Y is from the first generation of transcenders, people whose physical bodies were able to be augmented and partly replaced by technology, but who aren’t compatible with the later advances that allowed people to upload their consciousness and transcend their bodies. Ms. Y keeps busy as she can, working on history projects and spending time with her youngest daughter, but she seems to be losing things, and the piece deals with the weight of time and the feeling of being left behind, and dealing with being able to see a future that seems for so many so bright without fully being able to experience it.
Keywords: Augmentation, Uploaded Consciousnesses, Queer MC, Family, Aging, History
Review: This is a lovely and rather heartbreaking story about aging and about technological change. About reaching the point where the future seems to go on and get better for so many people but not perhaps for some, who are left behind and unable to catch back up because of physical limitations. And it’s such a complex situation, where in some ways death itself has been conquered. People can live an incredibly long time, and even after that they can transcend fully and exist in another way that seems, essentially, immortal. But for Ms. Y, who started to transcend before the tech was there to allow for full transcendence, it’s something forever cut off from her. It’s separated her from so many of her friends and family. From spouses, from children. All she has left is her youngest daughter, and even she is getting ready to go. And it’s just a wrenching situation because Ms. Y knows that she can’t really stand in the way of that. That for all that she would like to transcend fully, for all that she doesn’t want to be left behind, she also knows that she shouldn’t prevent her daughter from living that life. There’s so much here for me about being in between moments, in between generations, having learned tech but not necessarily born to it. And finding that that distinction is one that has more than just superficial consequences. And having to see a fate for yourself that maybe you never expected, that you hoped to avoid, and having to make peace with that, and find the strength to not be bitter, to not stand in the way of other people’s happiness. And it’s sad and heartbreaking but also a beautifully rendered situation, full of compassion and hope and a quiet acceptance. A wonderful read! 

“Empress in Glass” by Cory Skerry (2318 words)

No Spoilers: Meneja is a performer, one of the most famous and powerful in the world. And her medium is her own body. Each performance is an act of modification, the piece takes a look at how it works and how she’s come to this kind of art. The piece is strange and might be a bit disturbing because of the way that it challenges the link between being and body. Meneja is someone who has lost, who has grown up near what seems like a disturbed individual, and there’s the question of how much that damage has shaped her, and how what the difference between disorder and art might be. It’s an unsettling ready, quiet and careful and beautiful and difficult.
Keywords: Body Modification, Performance, Orphans, CW- Pregnancy/Reproduction, Delusions
Review: I love how the story tackles so much rather difficult content in a very measured and aware way. Meneja’s art involves body modification, involves her changing herself according to her own tastes and her own drives. She is a performer, and there’s the question always of how much she’s doing this for the reaction she gets from her fans, in order to maintain her fame, or if she’s operating from some deeper level, in order to try and shape her body into some truth that she can’t otherwise approach. The situation is complicated by her trauma, by losing her family to a fire when she was young and then being adopted into a home where the man of the house seemed to think that she wasn’t human, that she was something else, something that might be able to survive in some dark sense the end of the world. Really, though, I see the work really looking at body autonomy and the way that bodies are policed, the way that everyone around Meneja assumes she is disturbed, the way that everyone assumes she is doing it for attention, and the story doesn’t really assure readers that “everything is okay.” Instead, the story seems to ask how willing we are to agree that Meneja should be able to shape themself. Meneja is someone who knows themself, and yet everyone around her condemns what she does, would deny her these things she wants and can’t only because she’s richer than them. It complicates the idea of bodies as ever being “normal” or “optimal.” It shows that how people relate to their own body can seem incredibly strange and yet also beautiful and also it’s their body. What do we lose by being so married to the idea that bodies are sacrosanct, divinely given and healthy only in the lack of deviation from some perceived “norm”? And it’s just a stunning story, difficult but in the best of ways, and very much worth spending some time with!

“Insaan Hain, Farishte Nahin” by Arula Ratnakar (11379 words)

No Spoilers: Meena is a scientist working on a space program that would in essence send a copy of her consciousness out in a small ship toward the Andromeda system. As exciting as that is, though, creating a copy of a human mind has created some controversy, and not everyone is happy with what she’s doing. She has the support of her wife, Malika, and her son Karthik, and a whole lot of reasons to push forward. Things don’t go exactly to plan, though, and the story is split between Meena’s—the one on Earth, and the one shooting through space, surrounded by stars. It’s a powerful story about family and memory, and loss and love and hope. About unfairness and anger and identity, and the weight of memories.
Keywords: Space, Uploaded Consciousnesses, Queer MC, Family, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth
Review: I do appreciate the way that this story is a bit jumbled, mostly unfolding in order but with some things out of order. Because there’s this critical moment of the story that is absolutely shattering, when Meena is attacked. And it’s this moment that comes to define a lot about both the Meena on Earth and the one in space. It’s something that does shatter things, mess them up, throw them off their trajectories. It takes all the careful planning that Meena has done and it throws it out. And it fosters this anger and frustration in the Meena in space even as it has a much different effect on the Meena on Earth. And the piece does a great job of exploring how this situation works, how it is that Meena can be two places at once, how both are real and legitimate even as they’re different as well. Because in some ways it takes this big shattering event to show Meena how she has missed something in her push for space. Not that what she’s doing is wrong, but that she should have consulted with herself before doing this. That she treats her own consent as the consent of this other self, and while that might seem just obvious, the fact that there was no effort made to actually treat this other Meena as a person sort of informs everything that happens after that. And it’s just a beautiful and fun story, with the relationship between Meena and her family amazing and affirming and heartwarming and they are the sweetest! Seriously, I could just read about the domestic life of this family and all of its tenderness and care. And it works into this idea of consent because Meena makes this call for her other self without thinking of what she’s asking herself to give up. Because she’s going to stay on Earth and so feels like she can live two lives. Only the her out there is cut off from her family, from her wife and children. And it’s this traumatic moment that Meena has to face and overcome. And how she does that is wonderful and healing and just read this story, okay? Your heart will glow with warmth and it’s just a fabulous read!

“The Sun from Both Sides” by R.S.A. Garcia (16497 words)

No Spoilers: Eva and Didecus are a married couple living out a peaceful and simple life on a remote planet, just enjoying the quiet routine of their days. But each carries with them a history laced with blood and loss, a history of fighting for what they thought was right and running up against the limitations of their abilities. And so they are retired, hoping to avoid violence or drama. Too bad the universe seems to have other plans for them, and sends a series of unfortunate incidents to drag them out of their peace and back into the world they left behind. It’s an exciting story, full of drama and intrigue and dark pasts coming home to roost. It’s got a wonderful cast in the two main characters and Eva’s “sister.” It’s fun and it’s vividly imagined, complex and charming. It’s nearly a novella, too, and manages to keep a running momentum going throughout, full of interesting ideas, a visual flare for the dramatic, and a heartwarming ending.
Keywords: Space, Games, Queer MC, Ships, Marriage, Trees
Review: I really do like how this story builds itself up, dropping readers into what seems at first a fairy tale and then shattering expectations by making it full of spaceships, intergalactic plots, and a whole lot of secrets that the main characters have been hiding from, that seem to find them all at once. It opens with a break from the quiet life that the two have been enjoying, and from there drops pretty immediately into sci fi action that for all its occasional violence, is actually about consent and the value of life. Eva and Didecus are both former soldiers, and that part of their lives has shaped them into the people they are. For Didecus, because he participated in such a corrupt and broken system, and did so much wrong in the service to the power that ended up betraying him anyway, he’s become a pacifist. He lives in dread of the return of his past even as it’s something like a waiting blade that means that he can never fully relax. That neither of them can fully relax. Eva, though, doesn’t have the same baggage about her time as a soldier, because the group she fought for valued consent. Because she hasn’t done as many terrible things. It leaves her a little lighter, a little freer to act when things happen that start to get out of control. It takes all of them working together, though, to really get at the root of the problem. A problem that has rotted the heart of an empire, that has dragged Didecus back to a home he never really wanted to see again, even if he always suspected he would. It’s a dark story, one that doesn’t really pull its punches. Those trying to pull Didecus to their plot are ruthless, and require him to be no less compassionate to make up for it. He meets their greed and their cunning with the earnest and open love that he’s learned, that might have spared so much pain if only the powers that be had not punished him for it. Had they not insisted on their own power over everything else. It’s a look at how people helping people can defy survival of the fittest, or at least twist it, subvert it by showing that it only works as long as people are isolated. When they come together, there is often no greater power than compassion, than empathy, than love. Which is a wonderful message that the story manages to capture with a sweeping space opera feel and great core romance and regard. Just a lovely and amazing read!


No comments:

Post a Comment