Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Quick Sips - Tor dot com December 2019

Art by Audrey Benjaminsen
I'm actually surprised that Tor had two stories out in December, as in at least some years past they've taken the month largely off. Not that I'm complaining. The two stories here are interesting and find people coming up against some strange and perhaps-unexplainable things. One woman is facing a broken mirror that has effected all of time, that has rewritten reality itself. Another finds herself working for a government she knows better than to trust in a strange place that will push her to her physical and mental limits. Both deal with alternate realities, with dimensions, and both are haunting and cold, well suited for the winter. To the reviews!


“The Time Invariance of Snow” by E. Lily Yu (3075 words)

No Spoilers: This story begins with an explanation of the Devil’s mirror, which has shattered through time and space and become something through which a great many people see the universe. That distorts things, that makes some see only the good in themselves and others see only the bad. It bolsters corruption and abuse, simultaneously encouraging those who harm others by giving them an inflated sense of importance and pushing others to shrink from the grea things they can do because they are convinced they are worthless. What follows after is a kind of fairy tale or myth, of a woman who is aware of these shards of the Devil’s mirror and who remembers that they have not always been present. It’s a strange and slightly haunting piece about distortion and oppression, and it rings to me as tired but defiant and determined.
Keywords: The Devil, Mirrors, Fairy Tales, Dimensions, Relationships, CW- Rape
Review: In some ways the piece works as a large extended metaphor. The Devil’s mirror is a kind of modern misogyny that in asserting itself also asserts itself infinitely back in time and into the future, by insisting on gender roles that are immutable, timeless, and universal, despite the fact that different cultures and times have had wildly different structures and social norms. But the Devil’s mirror stands for a certain way of seeing the world. Capitalist, colonial, and using the ends to not only justify the means, but write them as law. It’s something glaringly obvious for anyone who can see it, but because all it takes from those this benefits is to deny that it’s the case, there often feels like there’s nothing that can be done about it. Because this very system also insists on its own immutable dominance and rightness, it’s not something that can just be logically argued. As the story shows, this is something that has to be battled, and has to be battled in different ways, although first and most it must be battled with the truth. That the visions seen through the distorting lens of the mirror are not, in fact, indicative of objective reality, but rather show a very skewed picture of people’s selves and motivations. And the main character of the piece, G., goes about trying to banish these shards, to undo the damage that has been done and return a vision of the universe that isn’t tainted with this corruption. She works through community and through cooperation, and she works by not succumbing to the temptation to give into the power of the mirror, to use it for profit and personal betterment. She maintains her drive to doing something good, to exposing the lies of the mirror, and I love how the piece imagines that it’s possible. That Devil, for all he will say he’s invincible and forever, is a liar first and most, and can be defeated by those determined enough to do it. It’s a compelling read, strange but impacting, and definitely worth checking out!

“Dislocation Space” by Garth Nix (11568 words)

No Spoilers: Aleksandra is a former WWII sniper, turned assassin for Stalin, turned prisoner. She’s been rotting in a Siberian prison camp for four years, almost literally on ice in case the government should have use of her particular talents again. And it turns out they do, in the form of a mysterious mission where she’ll have to put her small stature and contortionist training to use to navigate an extremely tight squeeze to reach...something. The details are kept as need-to-know, and most of what she needs to know is that if she refuses, her family will be killed. It’s a slow and tense read, the pacing matching in some ways the crawl she has to make, full of twists and turns and a few dead ends, reaching for something unknown but certainly better than the bleak situation Aleksandra’s found herself in this time.
Keywords: Portals, Military, Prisons, Contortions, Alternate Dimensions, Assassins
Review: This is a neat story following a woman who is essentially a super soldier, a genius when it comes to killing, who is held in check mostly because she’s been told that her family will be hurt if she disobeys or tries to turn on her masters. So she mostly plays by the rules, even when these new orders come down that don’t really make any sense. She’s taken out to Tunguska to the blast site there and but through a sort of obstacle course. One that will require her to crawl through an incredibly narrow opening toward...something. And that’s really the thing, that no one is sure what exactly is waiting within or beyond. Just that probably there is something. But the corridor has some tricks, and some secret, as do the men who have collected Aleksandra. And really it’s a story that operates mostly as a mystery. What is the tunnel? What is the military hiding from Aleksandra? It turns out quite a bit, and there’s a solid emotional punch as she learns that her whole reason for obeying, for not turning on the government that abandoned her, has been lost to her for a long time. And there is the wild hope the tunnel represents, the “there’s nothing left to lose so might as well try for the impossible” spiteful reach for this alien world. A true escape from the system that will not rest until she is dead. And it’s a fun twist at the end, one filled with relief and an almost magical joy. One that’s a bit difficult to quantify except to say that for Aleksandra it represents something she’s never known, something she’s never even thought to hope for, and it’s suddenly handed to her. Which makes for an entertaining and satisfying read!


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