|Art by Mary Haasdyk|
October opened strong at Tor, and closed out with two short stories and a quite long novelette that mix science fiction and fantasy in interesting ways. There's a new Wild Cards story that picks up from an earlier one released on the site, so fans will definitely want to check that out, as it's fun and (dare I say) rollicking. The other two stories are a bit more somber, though, dealing with human fragility and resilience. Finding people coping with some huge issues of survival and ethics. Questioning how to make personal decisions and live responsibly when there are larger societal demands, and blurring the line between what's good for the whole and what's good for the individual. These are some dense and careful pieces while still managing to capture some wonder and beauty. So let's get to the reviews!
“Water: A History” by KJ Kabza (3452 words)
No Spoilers: Marie is the last person on Isla who has memories of Earth. Everyone else never knew the planet that seems almost a dream, so full of water, so eager to accommodate human life. Isla is dry, survives by mining water ice, and everyone lives inside because of the dangers of being outside. Only Marie doesn’t want to stop from going outside without an exosuit on, to feel the wind and experience the planet in all its shades and blasting heat. She’s lost her partner, but she’s not dead yet, and she meets and befriends a much younger woman who reminds her of what she’s lost while also giving her reason to hope for a future, even if she won’t be around to see it. It’s a story anchored by a kind of longing, a balance between a deep exhaustion but not being ready to be done. And it’s a lovely exploration of humanity sent into space, finding a galaxy they can survive but not exactly easily.
Keywords: Colonization, Space, Water, Radiation, CW- Cancer, CW- Suicide(?), Friendship, Queer MC
Review: I love how the piece layers its longing. Marie is a person who has lost a bit. Not just her partner, who died a while ago. But Earth, as well. Even if it was her decision. Even if in many ways she has come to see Isla as home. She’s still lost what she had there, the ease, the water, the feeling of freedom. On Isla there’s such a focus on survival, but without something worth living for, survival really doesn’t mean too much. For Marie, she lives for the time she can spend outside, for the time she can spend remembering. And then she meets Lian, and it’s like meeting a younger version of herself. Someone who understands the drive to go outside despite the dangers, who simultaneously wants to do all she can for Isla but is caught looking back towards Earth. Towards a place she never knew but that still sort of sings through her. It’s a wrenching read, full of a quiet kind of sorrow, a slow draining decline punctuated by moments of beauty and the deep resolve that people get when moving out to the stars. It all seems a bit doomed, the venture of Isla operating under the time limit of when water might run out. Until then, though, the planet has its own kind of charm, its own personality, and ultimately I feel the story finds hope in it, that humans, in going out among the star, both change the planets they colonize and are changed by them, the process always a loaded one. That it’s fragile, and often harsh, and in some ways it shifts how we define ourselves in broad strokes, because so much of what we are has been based on the Earth. But that doesn’t act as an ultimate limitation on humanity, and we remain true to ourselves even when we lose the direct link to Earth, because the indirect ones remain, the inheritance that humanity takes with wherever they might settle. A wonderful read!
“Naked, Stoned, and Stabbed” by Bradley Denton (16868 words)
No Spoilers: Freddie is an Ace with the power to turn other kinds of energy into sound. The more power directed at him, the louder the resulting scream. It’s not exactly a power that’s the easiest to use, and it certainly comes with its own costs and drawbacks, but it helps him in his work as a roadie for The Who. It doesn’t help him at all work up the courage to talk to the half sister he’s never met face to face before, though, the famous Amazing Bubbles. This piece actually picks up a bit after the story of the Amazing Bubbles adopting Morpho Girl, which I’m pretty sure I reviewed here a while back. It does certainly help to know a little about the characters going in, especially how some of their powers work, and it’s nice to see this cast expand a bit. The story has a feeling of family, though not a conventional one, and I like how it approaches care and unity over division and fear.
Keywords: Wild Cards, Superpowers, Family, Sound, Music, Drugs
Review: For me the story does a nice job of exploring schisms. Freddie is afraid of meeting his sister because of the ways that family has hurt him. He simultaneously wants to protect himself and insulate his sister from any pain she might feel at learning about him. And he doesn’t really want to be rejected. Which is a strong possibility, given that the world is full of people very keen on hating people for being different. The main plot and action of the piece centers a fire and a drug that makes nats target jokers and aces. That really amplifies their fear and their hatred. Meanwhile, Freddie is trying to do a different kind of amplification, seeking to concentrate on what draws people together. In one moment, everyone was unified by their love of the music, and then the next they’re trying to kill each other. Freddie sees this clearly, sees the tragedy that is the chaos and the violence, and just wants to stop it, to stop people from doing something they’ll regret. He’s been a victim of abuse, and he’s hurt people close to him because violence hadn’t been deescalated. So it makes a lot of sense that he feels compelled to act, even to his own harm, to try and set things to right. And he’s fiercely protective of his family—not just his sister and niece, but of the people he works with, who took him in, and his wider family of Wholigans, who are brought together because they share something they love. And in that it’s a rather heartwarming and satisfying story, for me. Not one that wholly stands on its own, and the villains here are literally walking stereotypes, but i’s possible that will get complicated later. For now, it’s a great read!
“As the Last I May Know” by S.L. Huang (5393 words)
No Spoilers: Nyma is a young girl who has grown up in the Order, an organization devoted to remembering the horrors that happened in their nation hundreds of years ago when WMDs were used by their enemies to entirely wipe out their capital city. Now, so long later, war is raging and the new president wants to explore using that same technology on their enemies. Only the laws were written at the time that in order to do that, the president would have to personally murder a child from his own land in order to get the codes for the weapons. And through chance and choice, Nyma is selected as the child. It’s a complex read, looking not really at the right or wrong of war or violence, but the power that comes with weapons that can erase whole cities. It’s a careful piece and one that doesn’t offer easy answers or comforts, but instead makes the reader sit with all the implications.
Keywords: War, Sacrifice, Bargains, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Poetry
Review: I really like how this story deconstructs war and the decision to use WMDs. And it approaches from such a loaded place, in a country that has been devastated by them in the past, who know intimately the horror of it. And who in part remember what that’s like, though the memory is now dim. Dim enough that it’s become an option, though the new president doesn’t seem to know that it will mean literally cutting open a child. And wow, just wow, the place that it puts Nyma in, where she’s too young really to consent but also understands so much more acutely what her role is, and what it means to the country, and what it means to her. The frustration that she feels that the people around her just want to use her for their own ends is palpable, because everyone is essentially trying to save her, when she’s not really in need of saving in that way. And everyone talks about how they don’t want to do this, but that they have a duty, when really whatever their explanations or justifications, it’s not Nyma that they should be complaining to. They’ll see her dead, after all, cut short, and no amount of (kind of) choosing to do so makes that suck any less. It’s her living under threat of death, without really anything to offer in response. How is her country going to win the war without the WMDs? She doesn’t know. She’s just a child. But she’s there to act as a barrier, because those weapons are so powerful that they should never be used. Because this country was so hurt by them that they put this safeguard on their weapons hoping that they’d never be used. And Nyma herself agrees with that, agrees because she has felt through the poetry of the time of that historic moment what it must have been like. She understands, and she waits. Because she doesn’t shrink from the fact that wiping out cities should be hard. Shouldn’t be a flick of a switch. There should be some sort of visceral and immediate price, or else people can believe that it’s clean. But no one can believe it’s clean if there’s so much blood. And it’s an unsettling and provocative and fascinating story that really asks if there isn’t a line that should not be crossed, even if the stakes are high, even if lives are already being lost. Again, it doesn’t offer many answers, but it asks some powerful questions. A fantastic story!