Tasting Flight - December 2014
"Wake-Rider" by Vandana Singh (Lightspeed #55)
Dark and with a soul-searching quality of a rebel wrestling with the morality of her actions, Vandana Singh's "Wake-Rider" fits nicely as a black IPA. Lelia, a woman battling the immense and exploitative Euphoria Corpocracy, follows an enemy ship to a small, dead colony ship only to find there a breakthrough so important that she goes to extreme measures to ensure it reaches her compatriots. Bringing into focus the morality of fighting against a corrupt and obviously immoral force, one that infects people with a nanoplague designed to make them docile and consumerist, the story allows the weight of Lelia's actions time to settle. These are not the romantic heroics of Star Wars, where the good guys don't blink at blowing up a space station with thousands of people on board. Instead, each life is important, and even though Lelia knows she has to act to return with the vital tool she found, she also knows what it is costing her, that with every death she is casting herself deeper into a debt she cannot repay. Like a black IPA, the story is mirky and offers no easy ways out, but is also impossible to put down.
"The Magician and Laplace's Demon" by Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld #99)
|Art by Lake Hurwitz
"Fantaisie Impromptu No. 4 in C#min, Op. 66" by Carlos Hernandez (Crossed Genres #24: Destruction)
With an elegance and flow that builds to a crushing emotional punch, "Fantaisie Impromptu..." by Carlos Hernandez is a cabernet sauvignon, a nice balance between sweet and dry. The story follows Gabby, a young reporter trying to get the story on recently-deceased pianist Václav Balusek. Václav's wife, Consuela, believes her husband to be still alive, that he transferred his soul into a mechanical suit and piano. Gabby, skeptical, plays along, even donning the suit and having Václav perform through her. It's a slow rise of tension as Gabby begins to doubt, as she listens to the music that the dead man plays. The story does an excellent job in questioning what a human soul is, what a life is, especially to an artist who puts so much into their work. It also contrasts Consuela's faith with Gabby's belief in a more rational world without dismissing Consuela as stupid or ignorant. It's sweet and yet with a shy dryness that keeps things from getting saccharine. The dialogue between Gabby and Consuela is sharp, fun, and a highlight of the story. They are very different women, and yet both love the music, and that similarity connects them more than their differences could keep them apart.
"Chocolateland" by Shariann Lewitt (Fantastic Stories of the Imagination)
Some stories are harder to assign drinks to them than others, but "Chocolateland" by Shariann Lewitt is a no-brainer as chocolate wine. The story, about a scientist whose field work involves creating virtual realities to assist the recovery of stroke victims, at first seems like it might be light, sweet. But like chocolate wine, there is a lot going on here. There is the struggle of a woman dealing with her mother's scorn and disapproval, the struggle of an overweight woman who wants to indulge her love of chocolate. But there's also the struggle of her mother who fell short of the expectations placed on her, the struggle of the daughter to forgive, to get over verbal and emotional abuse. There are more layers than the title seems at first to imply, and each are rich and deep. This is a great example of a story exploring humanity as it explores science, taking a look at technology that is almost available and showing how it touches human lives, how it helps to heal the scars left by a long, ugly battle between daughter and mother.
"HostBods" by Tendai Huchu (Omenana #1)
Omenana opened up a great first issue with a number of stories I quite enjoyed reading, but none more than Tendai Huchu's "Hostbods." Taking a near-future look at a man who rents out his body to foreign minds, its head-nodding triumph and confidence make this a red ale to me, crisp and nearly sweet but with an edge to make the experience both complex and exciting. Simon, a young man forced into hostbodding to cover the medical costs of his brother, is a unique case, able to look in on the time other people spend in his body. Normally he is only seen as 4401, a nonentity, a poor man struggling to make his way. Whether allowing sick relatives to spend time with family or older men to indulge in illicit sexual interludes, people use his body for all sorts of things, but when a very wealthy man wants to permanently transfer his consciousness out of a dying body, Simon takes action. Using his own invisibility, he manages to win the day over the wealthy man who was trying to steal his body and the man's equally conniving daughter. The world building is solid and believable, and like a good red ale, the ending left a big smile on my face.
"Goatskin" by K.C. Norton (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #162)
|Art by Sam Burley
"Kenneth: A User's Manual" by Sam J. Miller (Strange Horizons 12/01/14)
Full of a nostalgic pain and a mix of humor and more somber remembrance, "Kenneth: A User's Manual" by Sam J. Miller feels like an Orange Gin Fizz, alive and out of the past but very difficult to find nowadays. A mix of powdered sugar, lemon juice, gin, and orange liqueur, it hits the mouth with a vibrant shock but taken now it's a relic out of the past. The story, about a line of robots designed to capture a man that no longer exists, a man that embodied the aspirations and dreams of a specific time and place, uses the clinical tone of a company memo but becomes something more, something not apologizing for the contradiction its product offers. Mixed with illustrations that feel almost like looking at the image of a ghost set to dance club lights, the feel is happy and sad and hits just right. Looking back on the time the story evokes, it is easy to wonder what people were thinking. Like tasting an Orange Gin Fizz, though, there's something unmistakably appealing that the story does an excellent job of capturing. And in the end, even if it remains a time capsule sent forward into a very different world, it helps to understand the time it came out of, the place it conjures out of the smoke and strobe.
"The Secret Life of Sea Monsters" by Cislyn Smith (Flash Fiction Online)
|Art by Dario Bijelac
"Seaside Sirens, 1848" by Anna Zumbro (Fantasy Scroll #4)
|Art by Kuldar Leement