Stories read this week include Suzanne Church, Marie Croke, Carmen Maria Machado, J.S. Bangs, Genevieve Valentine, and Kelly Rose Pflug-Back.
"Synch Me, Kiss Me, Drop" by Suzanne Church, Clarkesworld, May 2012
A Big Idea cyberpunk story - the drug of choice in the future is nano delivered music. Not much of a story - the protag is fighting the clock to check in with his parole after a big night out - but is absolutely rich with detail. Lots of excellent sensory information about modern clubbing, so much so you can almost taste and smell it, including the stomach dropping, heart lifting, adrenalin shoving drop.
"Shades of Amber" by Marie Croke, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 17, 2012
I really dig stories that have alien ways of communicating - it helps us challenge the assumptions of human body language and facial expression, which are often an impediment for disabled, blind, or autistic people to negotiate in literature (NK Jemisin's character Oree Shoth in "The Broken Kingdoms" is a good example of this). In this story, Croke's fantasy people communicate by way of changing skin colour, and had the extra layer - the protagonist had a limited range of colour - adding the theme of disability and normative beauty to the mix.
The story was very good, but unfortunately fell back on easily identifiable human communication modes. For example, there was nodding and shaking of heads for affirmative and negative responses. The oddest of these normative modes I found was the people's use of clothes. One would have thought if the skin has evolved as the communication tool, as much of it should be as exposed as possible. There was no discussion of genitals, and gender was the assumed binary. There is also a very human style power and gender hierarchy. I know it's easy to fall back on what we know to build a mythology, but there's a lot of theory behind how we have evolved as human beings because of the way we evolved our communications. Croke's aliens could have been true incredibly unusual aliens if this line of thinking had been incorporated. As it is, they are simply pretty.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the story and the twist at the end. With a bit more thought behind the evolution of these people it could have been outstanding.
"Real Women Have Bodies" by Carmen Maria Machado, Five Chapters.com
My favourite story of the week by leaps and bounds. It's one of those stories that as an author I wish I'd written first. Invoking themes of the invisible woman and the harshness of arbitrary beauty norms, intertwined with the most modern theme of job scarcity for women, Machado hits the growing desperation of the story bang on. A very satisfying end because there is no easy solution to the problem.
"The Suffragette's Election" by J.S. Bangs, Crossed Genres Magazine, February 2013
Another fun cyberpunk romp, which wins again by virtue of its Big Idea - democracy within the hands of the people has been corrupted by disinterest and the overwhelming complexity of governance. I very much enjoyed the fast pace and the tech-savvy woman protagonist, but I did wonder how a government-less society still had police and Men In Black, and corrupt ones at that. Would have liked a bit more back story there.
"Abyssus Abyssum Invocat" by Genevieve Valentine, Lightspeed, February 2013
A dreamy, haunting story that if read out loud would have a poetic cadence. A retelling of the mermaid fable, addressing its themes of violence, rejection and death but in three distinct ways. The use of the word and imagery of "cleave" is very evocative of female genital mutilation, standing out quite stark and bloody against the dreamy landscape of a seemingly 1950s-style suffocation of female sexuality. Absolutely brilliant in its subtlety.
"The Clover Still Grows Wild in Wawanosh" by Kelly Rose Pflug-Back, Strange Horizons, February 18, 2013
An evocative moment-in-time story, creating a desperate post-apocalyptic inertia. Very clever dropping in of details about the world without getting in your face, and all told sparingly.
Ximena by D.L. Young, Electric Spec, November 2013
I'm not including this story because I read it. Quite the opposite - I read the first few lines and had to click away in annoyance. I don't mind erotic pieces, but the last thing we need is another exoticized Asian sexbot story. I'd prefer a better examination of sex work that didn't include sexist and racist tropes, and discusses agency. Avoid. I expect better of Electric Spec.