Today’s reviews are of Suvi Kauppila’s “Wither and Blossom” and Nin Harris’s “Prosthetic Daughter”.
“Wither and Blossom” by Suvi Kauppila (Samovar, March 2017)
Translated from Finnish by the author, “Wither and Blossom” is an immersive and lyrical exploration of the bond between two sisters. The narrator is now an old woman and she’s at her family home, reminiscing about the sister she lost so many years ago.
It’s clear from the narrator’s description of her sister that her sister was neurodivergent, probably autistic, and this was a cause of worry and concern for their parents—who seem to be have done the best they could, but who are also kind of horrible in thoughtless ways.
The narrator and her sister share a made up sibling language composed of words and gestures and a rich fantasy life revolving “Other Place”—they would sit under a rosebush and in this secret country, her sister was a queen and everyone was able to understand her and they had adventures: “In the Other Place no one was ever lost.”
Unfortunately, the narrator’s sister becomes lost—and their parents get her a consolation puppy which is just—I can’t even, honestly. As the narrator grows up and then grows old, she never stops missing her sister. She writes down their stories and publishes them so that other people can enjoy them as well.
Interleaved between these reminiscences is the narrator slowly moving through her yard and to the rose bush—and at the end of story, she finds the re-opened portal to the Other Place—and from there, her sister.
The descriptions in this story are so evocative—you get the sense that this is a real place, there is that much solidity and specificity to them. The bond between the sisters is quite moving and even though the ending was a bit predictable, it was still quite satisfying to read a story that is less about external conflict and more about the emotional relationship between two people and the keen sense of loss when one of them is no longer around. There’s a gentleness to this story that I found quite calming.
“Prosthetic Daughter” by Nin Harris (Clarkesworld, February 2017)
This is a story about identity theft—literally. The protagonist—who has many names and roles in her life—lives in a society where extreme cybernetic augmentation is the norm and not the exception. She enters the Bunian Empire military academy after an Admiral in the Fleet realizes that she’s a strategic genius and helps her get a prosthesis for her spine.
While at the Academy, she meets Yun-Li, a fellow cadet. Yun-Li initially comes across as a mean girl, but it rapidly becomes apparent she’s more nefarious than that—she idly muses about stealing not only the main character’s memories, but also the memories her family has.
This story has an interesting structure; composed of what appears to be random vignettes from throughout the main character’s life. The structure reflects their fragmented life as a time-hopping fixer for the Bunian Empire in the years after her identity has been stolen.
I was really fascinated by the time-hopping in the story and the essential immortality it gave to the main character—enough time to figure out their home planet, enough time to exact their intimate revenge on Yun-Li. What Yun-Li didn’t realize was that the main character had an extra memory node: in her spine. And when the main character discovers what will happen to her memories and her family’s memories, she and the Admiral devise a counter-hack—one that will steal Yun-Li’s identity from her and give her the memories from the spinal prosthetic—giving the main character’s family a prosthetic daughter, as it were.
The other thing that impressed me about this story was the main character’s unwavering sense of self through-out. It’s clear that even if she can’t remember her history, she is still fundamentally herself. As she says, “We make our own identities” and in our lifetimes we may have many identities, but only one self—as Zhen-Juan does.