One of the things I’ve been trying to do is read more short fiction, specifically short speculative fiction. There’s such a thriving online market that every month there seems to be yet another great story that people are talking about. One of the main vectors for getting these stories out into the world is Clarkesworld and I’m always excited when a new issue shows up on my Kindle each month.
The newest issue has stories from Aliette de Bodard, A.C. Wise, and Genevieve Valentine as well as an equal complement of non-fiction pieces–as well as the announcement that starting next month, there will be two re-print stories per issue, as well. Exciting news!
Aliette de Bodard’s “The Weight of a Blessing” is quietly elegiac and is about the experience of being an unwelcome refugee in a foreign culture–in a culture which essentially destroyed your home.
To me, as an American, it read like a commentary on the Vietnam War from the perspective of one of the child refugees who fled with their parents from Vietnam on rickety boats and how alien it must have been to be expected to assimilate into a completely different kind of culture–and never being able to fully do so. The crime that Sarah has committed and for which she is being permanently deported seems to be such a minor one until nearly the end of the story when the reader realizes–through Minh Ha’s experiences (Minh Ha is Sarah’s mother) that it was striking at the heart of the society which so graciously (ahem) took the young Minh Ha in and allowed her to continue to live. As long as she kept her head down and didn’t make waves.
It’s a beautiful, haunting, and incredibly sad story. I’m very glad that I read it.
A.C. Wise’s “The Last Survivor of the Great Sexbot Revolution” is also a sad story but in a completely different way. Wise makes skillful use of second person to build a degree of intimacy with the reader that really adds to the emotional oomph of it.
The unnamed narrator has broken into the home of Alma May Anderson, the last survivor of the Great Sexbot Revolution, partially as the result of a drunken dare and partially as a result of something that isn’t quite explained in the text but is alluded to, sometimes obliquely and sometimes more directly. The narrator has a complicated relationship with someone named Sam and this person’s presence hovers over the entire story, even though they’re not actually in it. The Great Sexbot Revolution is something that happened in the past but no one is really quite sure what it was, except that it involved sexbots and then there weren’t any sexbots anymore. To me, this seemed to be a story about balance, about how opening yourself up to a connection with another person (or sexbot) was also opening yourself up to the possibility of pain and loss. There’s a lot of interesting things going on in it and I found myself highlighting lots of passages in my Kindle–I expect I’ll go back to this one several times over the next few weeks.
The last story in this issue is Genevieve Valentine’s “86, 87, 88, 89”. It’s a first person story interspersed with fragments of documents–it’s about the cleanup effort after the government of New York took down what they determined to be domestic terrorists. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes less clear what exactly happened and why. The narrator is working as an archivist amongst the rubble–they’ve been given the task of collecting and categorizing bits of paper. To what ends is unclear, but whenever something is found that has significance, slightly more ominous things begin to happen. There’s more surveillance from the state, co-workers disappear for days, they’re followed home from the bus stop. Valentine excels in creating an atmosphere of creeping dread and this one an incredibly tense story and I’m not quite sure what I think about it. The writing is excellent and parts made my hackles rise but I’m not sure “like” is quite the right words for it.
After reading all three stories, it’s interesting to see how well they work together thematically. History, violence, loss, and human connection are all major ideas and it’s fascinating to see how three very different writers deal with them.