Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #687 & #689

July brings two original stories to Escape Pod, both featuring families and very vividly drawn distant worlds. Of course, these worlds couldn't be more different from each other. On one, exploitation is the name of the game, everyone essentially being born into debt and striving to buy their way out and reach for a better life for them and their families. On the other, a majority-neuroatypical population has built a world that functions for them, where people have what they need and are protected from abuse. At first glance, from a neurotypical point of view, it seems almost dystopian. But digging deeper reveals the true nature of this world, and makes me really want to move there. It's a great pairing of stories that offer very different feels, and before I give too much more away, I'll get right to my reviews!


“Four of Seven” by Samantha Mills (5397 words)

No Spoilers: Camelia came when her sister, Delilah, called needing help getting to a hospital. The only hospital that she’s covered by, which is to say the hardest one to get to, because the mining company that provides her healthcare is just a peach. The story unfolds on the road there, in an increasingly desperate string of events that show just how broken this setting is, rife with exploitation and worker abuses and people just hoping to live, hoping to provide for their families. It’s a complicated reality for Camelia, who has clawed her way into a slightly higher class but remains always in danger of tumbling downward, and who was able to save none of her family from falling victim to the grinding wheel of the mine and the crush of poverty. She’s determined not to lose her last remaining of six sisters, but her determination might not be enough... Difficult and draining but also resilient and heartwarming, the piece shows how sometimes harsh conditions temper stronger bonds.
Keywords: Mining, Protests, Family, Illness, Corporations, Hospitals
Review: People who follow my review probably know that I have a complicated relationship to stories that stress family, but while I do bristle a bit seeing a sentiment that brushes close to “all you have is family,” I also think this story does a very good job of showing a very messy family relationship with Camelia—a woman who in many ways feels like an outsider, adrift even in a large and tightly-knit family. The story doesn’t seem to me to be about how family will be the only people there, but rather about how this family was there for each other as they could be, even if it wasn’t perfect, even if now Camelia is left with grief and with guilt, with anger and worry and all of that with the backdrop of corruption and corporate exploitation. The setting is grim, the moon they live on dominated by businesses who have essentially orchestrated to put a great many people into debt so that they must work themselves to death for the profits of others. So that humans can spread to the stars, yes, but mostly so that companies can expand their operations to ever expanding reaches, trying to claim as much wealth for the privileged few while everyone else has to sell themselves for a hope that maybe their family will be able to climb to a better place. Here, though, most of the family has fallen in the same hole that claimed their parents, and it’s really only Camelia still alive and doing better but only in some ways because she broke away from her family and tried something without them. It’s a wrenching, difficult piece, but I love the relationship between Camelia and her sister, and the remains of the relationship between her and everyone else she has lost. It’s sad and it lingers on injustice but through that it’s also about compassion and hope, showing Camelia not running from the difficulties of this situation, of her family. It’s a beautiful and ultimately heartwarming read, and you should definitely go check it out!

“Spectrum of Acceptance” by Nyla Bright (5500 words)

No Spoilers: Acceptance is a planet that operates on rather strict rules, but those that are flexible enough to be personal to each person. The planet is populated mostly by neuroatypical citizens, most of them from Earth originally, who have come to Acceptance to find freedom and self determination. Ada, the narrator of the piece, is the neurotypical child of two neuroatypical parents, and finds the world frustrating because of her own desires for touch and eye contact and having people to talk to. When some immigrants from Earth arrive, fellow neurotypicals who hope to open more official diplomatic relations with Acceptance, it seems like things might change for Ada. The story is careful and compassionate, avoiding casting the dominant neuroatypical population as tyrants while building up a complex picture of freedom and belonging.
Keywords: Immigration, Neurotypicals, Rules, Touch, Space
Review: In many ways this story does a wonderful job of not falling into the common tropes that might be expected with the setup it has. After all, it opens with a neurotypical person feeling a bit persecuted, a bit put-upon, for having to grow up and live in a place that is majority neuroatypical. Ada wants touch, and eye contact, and conversation, and she’s somewhat frustrated that the world she lives in doesn’t center those things as normal. So when another neurotypical person comes to the planet, at least I could see the story moving into a narrative structure where she pushes back against “the injustice” of the “dystopian” state she lives in. Which is a pervasive kind of story that believes in reverse discrimination as being “the real threat” to freedom. Which is just utter horse shit. So it’s refreshing and great that instead of falling down that path the story sharply recognizes it and tears it apart, showing just how toxic it is for neurotypical people to demand that they be centered, that their “Normalcy” is somehow universal even in places where they are the minority. And it builds up this different idea of what freedom is, and what laws can do, where they are flexible enough to respect everyone, and emphasize that wants are not needs, that desires are not more important than autonomy. It’s a wonderful and careful look at how societies can avoid abuses and violations by making sure that each person is encouraged to be honest and to be up front about their needs, so that no one has to suffer in silence to maintain a corrupt system that privileges the neurotypical. And it doesn’t pull away from confronting some very hard things with Ada and her life, her hopes, and her desires. Definitely check this one out, and gives it some serious time and attention. A great read!


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