It's been another busy week with unpacking and I've fallen behind again with my reading, but here are the four stories I've read this week.
"The Sounds of Old Earth" by Matthew Kressel, Lightspeed, January 2013
Mawkish, and stuffed full of old, easy tropes, this story was an easy read and entirely predictable. The tropes - like a refrigerated wife, nuclear family, intergenerational angst, and apple pie memories - made for a cardboard cut out Privileged White Dude character that I could find no redeeming qualities in. Oh yes, he was a "nice guy" because of the kids he tried to help and how he tried to save the earth with his job, but his inability to cope with change was irritating rather than endearing. The appropriate of Eastern culture and using it as a scapegoat for the "downfall" was also problematic.
Typical SF that can imagine wondrous technological advances - and some of them were really cool - but sociologically it was stuck in the 1950s.
"Je Me Souviens" by Su J. Sokol, The Future Fire, Issue 24, 2012
A well balanced superhero story that leaves you guessing even at the end. Are these powers a fantasy coping mechanism by the protagonist who has lived some terrible realities, or are they real? There are plausible reasonings for each use of the powers with just enough "maybe" to make it a very satisfying end. A brilliant build, beautiful family and friendship dynamics, with many heartbreaking moments. There's a lot to like here.
Having read both the Kressel and Sokol on the same day by coincidence, the differences in characterization couldn't be more stark. "Sounds" relies on the Privileged White Dude trope to easily (and lazily) identify the character. His refusal to leave a broken system is petulant, and in the end the emotional pay off comes from the young pandering to him. All very reminiscent of Golden Age sci fi where the world revolves around the dude, instead of the dude interacting with the world.
Sokol's male character is far better fleshed out, and engages with his world with much nuance. He is queer, a PoC, an immigrant, an activist, possibly with magical powers he's had to hide. Unlike Kressel's protag, he's had a life that hasn't gone apple pie smooth, and has every right to be upset about, but he has loving people willing to help with his PTSD. He has a reason to fight for his adopted world despite its problems, and he doesn't think this world owes him anything.
"Superiority" by Arthur C. Clarke 1951
I should visit the classics more often. A simple affair from the master, very much a Boys Own adventure, but a masterclass in taut language and engaging a story in a few thousand spare words.
"Boat in Shadows, Crossing" by Tori Truslow, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 24, 2013
Lush, delicious, delovely! Gorgeous prose and exploration of gender roles, with myth and story stacked within a story, all in a beautiful setting. I was absolutely delighted by the festival of "Crossing Over" and the god of a hundred genders - just my kind of thing!
The river city, the lovechild of Venice and New Orleans, was just as much a character as the people. Moving houses and water streets that rearranged themselves at whim, and boats with personalities all of their own were an utter delight. Intimate details of sight, smell and sound built a really rich tale. Just when you thought the purpleness had gone a bit too far, Truslow would pull it back, let you breathe, then dive on in with more fantastical prose.
The story takes a bit to get started but sticking with it means a big reward of rich, thick language, an absolute joy. Some really chewy magical stuff here.