Monday, May 13, 2013

365 Project: Stories Read as of 12/5/2013

Stories this week include E. Catherine Tobler, Maria Dahvana Headley, Alexander Jablokov, Kenneth Schneyer, and Erica Lianne Inglett.

"(R+D)/I=M" by E. Catherine Tobler, Clarkesworld, May 2013
There are Mars stories, and then there are complex narratives that will make you think twice about how well we are planning our expansion towards Mars. Tobler's story is on such that will give the reader pause, weaving colonialist and conservation narratives together. She also successfully finds the humanity (the martian-ity?) in her aliens, creating a complex non-gendered family. This is a story that is supposed to make the reader feel uncomfortable, and is successful, especially in the scene where the Martian literally sees a human from the inside out.

"The Traditional" by Maria Dahvana Headley, Lightspeed, May 2013
As I said on Twitter the moment after I finished this story "It will make you brain POP!" Headly's rich and gruesome story is word drugs - it doesn't matter whether you follow everything, just go with the flow and let the hallucination surround you. I enjoyed the structure, putting each scene in neat little packages without overly manipulating the time flow of the story, and of course I love a 2nd person narrative done right. It's great to see Weird stories such as this (and lately Tidbeck's work) getting big exposure - it gives me a push to test boundaries. My story of the week.

"A Bad Day on Boscobel" by Alexander Jablokov, The Other Half of the Sky, edited by Anthea Andreadis, April 2013
It was pure coincidence that in a week that celebrates Mother's Day, I read two shorts that included motherhood themes. In this first one, we get an incredibly well drawn character - a councillor come detective is attempting to solve a political mystery, at the same time as keeping her daughter safe, and taking care of certain people in her community network. The story at it's heart is a fun political thriller, but it also shows a social structure of family and kinship that has evolved with the technology. Very satisfying.

"Hear the Enemy, My Daughter" by Kenneth Schneyer, Strange Horizons, May 6, 2013
In the second story of the week that includes motherhood, Schneyer puts it front and center, but unfortunately in more reductive ways. While women in this SFnal world are unquestionably allowed on the battlefield, this society--as with many Mothers in Space stories--has not moved much beyond biological determinism. The mother leaves the battlefield to raise a child, and there is no question about the father returning to battle instead of the woman.

There are also reductive attitudes towards community parenting ("I don't want strangers raising my child") from family or co-workers. Even the day-creche situation is far too familiar--child care networks haven't changed in 200 years, yet we're exploring the outer reaches of space?

There's even more biological determinism when the "mother's instinct" trope is invoked: it's annoying to see (not every woman is instinctively a mother, sometimes the response grows or is learned), and even more annoying when the instinct is flipped at the end and the woman has no support going forward with her PTSD. Seriously, this is like reading a story of the now, passive aggressively scolding mothers: single mother screws up, no social services, your child will go unloved, sucks to be you, the end.

I didn't like the lack of scientific rigour in the protagnist's approach to the aliens - no one questioned her "mother's instinct" or gendering of the aliens. In fact, no one else seemed to care or take part in communicating with the aliens. Sure, this reiterates the warlike, uncaring stance of her people that the protag is trying to circumvent, and there are some throwaway lines about not wanting to invoke genocide or overlay human anthropomorphism ..but then that is what the protag ends up doing anyway. The aliens were the usual stand in for the faceless, angry "other". For all its attempt to bring motherhood to space, this felt more like it would be at home in golden age 1950s SF, not now.

"The Roach Princess" by Erica Lianne Inglett, Daughters of Icarus: New Feminist Science Ficton and Fantasy, edited by Josie Brown, Pink Narcissus Press, March 2013
For an anthology examining new feminist SFF, I wanted this story to go a little further, examine more of the intersectional feminist themes of breaking down  patriarchal structures, and the need, or lack thereof, for marriage in a post-apocalyptic world. However, we simply get a bittersweet romance about teenagers doing the best they can on limited resources, and falling back on old structures as a way to reinforce power. Though the Roach Princess of the title asserts her authority over whether she chooses to marry or not, it seems like she's merely playing a game and biding her time until her Prince is satisfactorily mature enough or pops the question in the right way. Not quite 'Death to the Disney Princess' yet.

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