Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Quick Sips - Tor dot com August 2020

Art by Mary Haasdyk
August brings two short stories and one novelette to Tor dot com. The works are by no means easy, dealing with issues of historical erasure and genocide, sexual assault and toxic gender roles, and capitalist exploitation and ecological devastation. There’s a mix of deep space science fiction, more terrestrial or near-terrestrial climate science fiction, and a touch of contemporary fantasy thrown in for good measure. And characters have to face their own roles in the problems they face, the abuses and injustices that are going on around them. That they are often victims of, even as they become co-opted into continuing the harm. It’s a solid bunch of works, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“Exile’s End” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (13385 words)

No Spoilers: Rue works at a museum, the only one on the planet housing an exhibit of Atoka artifacts. The Atoka, who were murdered or forcibly assimilated into the colonizing Sorona culture, which has now built their own sort of mythology around the Atoka and their art, grown more elaborate in the eight hundred years since the Atoka effectively ceased to exist. The arrival of a young man, though, Traversed Bridge, threatens to topple not just that fact, but the entire way that Sorana has remembered the Atoka. Because he claims to be a member of a people, the direct descendants of the Atoka, now living on a distant world after having found violence and expulsion from everywhere else they have tried to settle. The claim carries an additional facet, too--a desire to reclaim the Atoka artifacts, some of which have become hugely important to Sarona. And even more important to Rue personally. The piece follows the repatriation trial for the artifacts, and carries much larger implications than just the fate of a painting and a few other old works of art.
Keywords: Art, Museums, Colonization, CW- Genocide, Trials
Review: So the story for me does a couple of things, the biggest sort of looking at the limits of tolerance. The whole thing carries such a weight because of the colonization it works around, a very familiar kind of injustice that exists in the background and speaks through the ways that the controversy of the repatriation of the artifacts exists at all. There’s this focus on Rue as the viewpoint character, a member of the colonizer culture but far removed from the actual genocide. Guilty, perhaps, and supposedly fair, but still treating an intellectual right of art over the very real right of people to control themselves, their bodies, their narratives. Despite her seemingly tolerant nature, when it comes down to it she values her own narratives more than actual human lives. For her, art is something sacred, something magical, something with more value than people. Because she kinda thinks she’d be willing to die for art, she sweeps aside the fact that the art she values was stolen, that the owners were the victims of genocide, that they have their own beliefs about possessions, about art, about permanence. She’s still caught in this lie that she knows better, that the Atoka, that the Manhu, need to be protected from themselves, that she knows better than they do what’s in their best interests. The story sees through that, though, revealing her prejudice, not letting her off the hook. Not really having her change, either. She remains true to her beliefs, even as they stand so firmly in the way of justice, in this case. And she remains true to a history that might have been invented whole cloth to assuage the guilt of those who committed terrible crimes. Who profited by those crimes. Who have never had to account for that. Only at the end, maybe, does she see that art, that history, aren’t just what she imagines them to be. Though even then I suspect she still finds what the Manhu have done as tragic. Foolish. Not freeing, not powerful. And that comes out of her culture, her history, the history of genocide and oppression and colonization, the history that will always drag her as long as she insists on carrying it with her. The piece is not an easy read, dealing as it does with issues that in our world are still ongoing, raw, violent. But it’s careful and complex, and challenging in what I think are some good ways. It’s certainly worth spending some time with, and it’s a fine read!

“Flight” by Claire Wrenwood (3463 words)

No Spoilers: Told falling backwards in time, Maggie begins the story as a mother leaving a party with her son, full of anger and shame and trauma. As the story tumbles back, a lot more gets explored, most of it surrounding one of Maggie’s most prominent features--her wings. The piece is grim and difficult, uncomfortable and unsettling, falling back toward the origin of those wings, a memory that Maggie carries all the time, that informs so much about her. And that reveals the ways that the world becomes a trap for people, a hungry mouth, a cycle of violence that gets passed on, that even Maggie becomes a part of out of pain and anger and the unyielding weight of silence. It’s not an easy read by any means, but the interesting framing and style as well as the deft and wrenching character work make the effort well worth it.
Keywords: Wings, CW- Assault/Rape(?), Family, Rituals, Cycles
Review: This is by no means an easy read, as it deals with heavy issues of societal pressures and complicity (even encouragement) of sexual and physical assault, especially against women, especially in a way that’s meant to internalize misogyny to create cycles of abuse where women who were abused in turn raise abusive boys and men. And the piece shows how this builds, the ways that Maggie is unsafe, targeted, constantly blamed for the abuse that she faces. Because she’s a woman. Because she’s pretty. Because a man wanted something. And for all that she wants to lean into that, to embrace something that will give her power, it’s a power that seems to slip away as quickly as she goes to wield it. That is fine in theory, but really offers something of an illusion. An ornamentation that doesn’t bring power or strength. That doesn’t give her the ability to run away, to escape from a bad situation, or to defend herself. She’s kept in a place where she can be hurt, and worse, that she has to agree that’s the only way it can be. That it’s inevitable that she’ll raise a man just like those who hurt her. That there’s nothing she can do. When that’s not true. When she does have power, but has been convinced over and over again that she doesn’t. And it’s not much. Not enough, certainly, to guarantee her survival. But it’s something, and by the beginning of the story she might finally be getting ready to break the chain. Which might, in turn, seem cruel. I at least feel the story does a good job of capturing the ways people might read the first section and think she’s being a bad mother. When really it’s what needs to happen. Because boys need to know limits, need to be as aware as everyone else about their movements and how they’re making other people feel. The rest of the story hammers that home, showing that the consequence of just letting society’s “wisdoms” and status quos fail parents and children all the time, and make possible and reinforce the feeling that abuse and rape are inevitable. It’s a sharp piece, interestingly told and very much worth spending some time with!

“For Every Jack” by R. K. Duncan (2809 words)

No Spoilers: Connor and Ines and headed down to terrestrial Earth as a sort of a history project--one to preserve the bodies of Jacks, people who were physically augmented to make them into essentially construction machines in the hopes of combating rising water lever and increasing ecological chaos. Not that it ended up doing much, as strategies shifted to a massive Exit. But now that nano-technology is busy mining materials from Earth to for the people who have Exited Earth to use. Including all those Jacks, if Connor and Ines can’t get to them first. But Connor has a hidden agenda as well, a secret he wants to make stays buried. A secret other, more powerful people, are hoping will be swallowed by history, never to be discovered.. There’s plenty of action for this brief piece, and a lot of world building to fit in as well, around a pivotal moment for Connor, a decision he has to make.
Keywords: Climate Change, Corporations, History, Preservation, Conspiracies, Body Augmentation
Review: This piece moves fast, and it’s a short piece for Tor’s usual releases. That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of world building, though, as this imagines a future where climate change ended up making the planet largely uninhabitable. Not that people didn’t try some desperate things to hang on during the period of time referred to as the Last Gasp. Where these Jacks were made and then put to work building sea walls and the like. And, Connor knows and Ines finds out through their work on the ground, when things started going south, the Jacks were murdered by their corporations to prevent them from being turned into weapons (or, well, that’s the line they gave). It’s a truth that a lot of people want lost, because the story that they all died trying to save humanity is more uplifting...and doesn’t involve the corporations having to face the consequences of their actions. Connor begins the story just sort of along for the ride, hoping merely to do the work they’re there to do. His grandfather was a Jack, and his family was able to join the Exit only because of the corporate buyout for their silence on what really happened to him. Now he’s going to Earth to honor the past, but also to cover it up. It contrasts Ines’ idealism nicely, and I like how her passion sort of shames him into doing the right thing. How, regardless of how he starts the story, he ends it seeing that he doesn’t owe the corporations anything, that it’s his grandfather he should be loyal to, and the history that has been lost. It’s a quick piece, and I wish there was a bit more time to really grapple with what happens. As is, the shifts are abrupt, and while that fits the pacing of the story, I felt it lessened the overall impact of the decisions. It’s still a lot of fun, and still worth checking out, though. A fine read!


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