Friday, April 3, 2020

Quick Sips - Tor dot com March 2020

Art by Xia Gordon
March brings a pair of novelettes to Tor dot com, one of them from the ongoing Wild Cards setting. Both stories deal with violence, though, and with choices. With situations where the only way out, the only way to safety, might be through some people (in a rather bloody manner). They feature characters who are just coming into their power, who don't quite understand everything about themselves. But who aren't afraid to take action. The stories are often creepy, but ultimately freeing, with people finding a place to be and a power that lets them push back against the forces that were keeping them prisoner. To the reviews!


“The Night Sun” by Zin E. Rocklyn (9190 words)

No Spoilers: Avery is in an abusive marriage, giving it one last chance before filing her divorce papers. The last chance is a weekend at a cabin she’s never been to but has apparently been in her family for some time. Along the way, though, they hit a deer, and begins a rather bizarre series of events that find Avery awakening to something she never knew or suspected. The piece is grim and often violent and shows abuse without flinching, in all its complicated ugliness. Avery hurts, feels at turns alone and betrayed, angry and ashamed and helpless. But the destructive cycle she’s been in is about to break, a new sun rising, and in the middle of the night.
Keywords: CW- Abuse, CW- Car Crashes, Cabins, Family, Werewolves
Review: This story isn’t afraid to dip into some deeply uncomfortable and horrific content, and in a way that is both speculative but grounded in the very real ways that people suffer from abuse. And I love that the piece is full of horror and uses speculative elements, uses transformations, magic, and werewolves, and yet the horror elements aren’t really about that. The horror, at least for me, is front and center with this abusive relationship, with the man Avery married and the way he treats her, the way that is informed by racism (him being white, her black). How it’s informed by family and the ways the Avery’s sister and mother thought she was just making her own decisions despite seeing who her husband was. And it creates this cage that she doesn’t feel she can break out of, one that leaves her isolated and gaslit and without really anyone to give her a lifeline out. Except, it seems, that this weekend has a secret purpose, one that will reconnect Avery with a power that she’s never known. One born in blood and magic. And that part of the story builds slow and well, and I love how it, too, is something that in many ways Avery should avoid. There are red flags all over the place, and yet they are the same kinds of red flags that are in her marriage. The ones she’s been prepared to ignore. And so she ignores, and walks right into something out of a horror movie. Only she’s not to be the victim here. For me, the story focuses instead on how she’s able to reclaim her power in large part by reconnecting with her family and her root, which reach back through some horrific periods of their own, but which offer a road map of survival and a rather powerful solution to her current dilemma. The piece is strange, sensuous, and often violent. It’s honest and its bloody when it needs to be, and despite the discomfort it provokes, or perhaps because of it, the story is haunting and powerful. It features a woman who could easily end up dead finding instead a new life, and it makes for a wonderful read!

“The Visitor: Kill or Cure” by Mark Lawrence (10283 words)

No Spoilers: Ruby is an Ace with a few glaring drawbacks, a survivor of a deadly disease which has left her with powers but also some deep trauma and a debt to some terrible people. Which is how she comes to be in charge of a mission to kidnap a young girl and hold her ransom for her father’s good behavior. It’s a plan that goes wrong, though, when another Ace with her own tragic back story gets involved, and shit hits the fan as conflicting interests find one power they didn’t predict, and that they cannot control. It’s a new venture in the Wild Cards setting, and it sets up some thrilling action next to some resounding emotional moments. There are a few elements I hesitated about, but overall I thought it was fun and fast and worth checking out.
Keywords: Possession, Invitations, Kidnapping, Bargains, Fire, Superpowers
Review: The story flows well, moving from point to point and really building up not just Ruby but Angela as well. The Dragon and the Visitor. Both are rather tragic cases, suffering from rare diseases, living in constant pain. But where Ruby makes a deal to lessen her pain, and in that corrupting herself, Angela is able to take that pain and make it her strength, remaining “innocent” despite it all. And I think the story does a decent job of that, though it’s not exactly a trope I’m super comfortable with. For me, at least, it seems to puts power and a bit of moral goodness in being constantly in pain, and shows Ruby as in some ways as failing because she takes an offer to lessen her pain, as if that is a weakness (moral or physical). It also downplays the emotional pain that Ruby deals with from the trauma of watching her partner die in front of her, and as a result of her powers. Still, the piece is tightly paced and mostly fun. It unfolds in a series of unexpected blips. The Visitor is a fascinating character and I do like how she moves and how she seems at odds with the enormity of her powers. In many ways it’s lucky that she’s a child, and holds a rather simple idea of good and bad, and wants to be good. She’s powerful, and rather frighteningly so, put it’s paired with a genuine desire not to hurt people. The action is intense and complex, Ruby and Angela both having their battles and their baggage. Their situations are rather wrenching, trapped by a corrupt system that doesn’t care for them as people, that doesn’t care for people at all. That care for money and power, and that feels invincible because of their anonymity and pervasiveness. And I do like that the ending shows that there are limits to that kind of corruption. That there are ways to take down giants, and that power comes in community, cooperation, and perseverance. A fine read!


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