Tasting Flight - January 2015
"Mine-Wife" by Karin Tidbeck, translated by Silvester Mazzarella (Words Without Borders)
The first word that I would use to describe Karin Tidbeck's "Mine-Wife" is deep. It is a deep story, delving both into the Earth and into the past to uncover some very unsettling facts about myths and legends crossing over into the real world. And that depth makes this story a doppelbock to me, a dark beer that brings to mind the tastes of cold earth and long stillness. Told as a series of correspondences between colleagues, the story revolves around the disappearance of a town full of people during a time of hardship long ago. Slowly a picture is drawn of people making deals with creatures that live below ground, creatures that will make deals to help humans in need, but creatures that also are very dangerous when crossed because they pay back any insult many times over. Which is proven when a group of researches find the remains of the missing villagers who had betrayed these creatures and tried to make themselves safe by building a mechanical protector. Instead of saving them, though, it only led to an escalation, as the creatures built their own weapons, weapons that are being kept in wait in case the creatures are even betrayed again. The sense of dread, or danger, is palpable, the threat that lurks beneath the surface waiting to be unleashed. It's a creepy story that sits heavy and brings a contemplative silence with it, a doppelbock to be enjoyed on a cold winter night by the fire.
"Time is a Twisting Snake" by Richard Bowes (Farrago's Wainscot #13)
With a main character slowly seduced into a morally questionable arrangement to retain his youth, "Time is a Twisting Snake" by Richard Bowes to me is like a Zinfandel. Sweet and light at the surface, it's also quite difficult to get exactly right. Just as a story essentially about the old stealing the bodies of the young is a rather tricky premise to do in a way that is original and sharp. The main character could easily be seen as a monster, as afraid of dying and age and irrelevance. Certainly those are aspects of why he decides to go through with the procedure, because he is a social media fixture and because he doesn't want to let go. He wants to stay in the Big Arena, and yet his time is run down. But it's not just that. He also knows that what he is doing is wrong. He knows that his decision, made for the best of reasons, has implications he can only see after the fact. He is conflicted, complex, and that's why I like this story so much, because there is no easy answer, just the sense that something is wrong, and that something is going to turn around and snap. So, like a Zinfandel done right, this story has layers where you might not expect them, and a taste that leaves you wanting more.
"The Half Dark Promise" by Malon Edwards (Shimmer #23)
|Art by Sandro Castelli
"Headwater LLC" by Sequoia Nagamatsu (Lightspeed #56)
|Art by Zelda Devon
"The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History" by Sam J. Miller (Uncanny #2)
|Art by Julie Dillon
"Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld #100)
About a well-meaning AI who discovers that it's harder than they thought to help humans, Naomi Kritzer's "Cat Picture Please" is a smooth lager, easy to drink and yet with some subtlety for those willing to look for it. Through the story, an AI obsessed with cat pictures decides that it should try to help people and does so one human at a time. And yet the AI finds that helping someone is very complicated, full of unexpected turns and doesn't really lead to the best outcomes. At the verge of giving up, the AI experiences a moment of success and decides that it might still be worth it to try. And I like stories that decide that it's worth it to try. That might be a theme for this month. Stand up and try. And the AI definitely has the least skin in the game. There's nothing really in it for the AI, except cat pictures, except that they want to do the right thing, and that means trying to help people. It really is a charming story, mostly light but with some nice flavor, and very refreshing after some much darker stories this month. Like a lager, it's just the thing after a stressful day, and best had among friends, with a din of noise and laughter.
"Cliona's Coat" by Leslianne Wilder (Flash Fiction Online)
Sweet but with a feeling of age and regret, this story in a Sherry Sangaree, a mixture of sherry with powdered sugar, soda water, and ice, and with a shot of port floating on the top. About a selkie who has lost her skin, who has lived on the shore through war and through peace and who drinks by herself every night, the story is full of tired moments. For someone who has lost so much, and seen so much, life has become something of a routine, and a sad one. But life is not without its moments of joy, of distraction, of pleasure. Though a bit out of place, she still finds comfort when she can, and the story ends with a bit of a triumph, a promise that everything isn't wasted, that they're still hope even when the world seems drawn and colorless.
"Re-Homing" by Debbie Urbanski (Terraform)
Mixing something childish and exciting with some biting commentary on how people view children, this story is a Kool-Aid, equal parts amaretto, Southern Comfort, and cranberry juice. They story itself features a couple hoping to take in a second-hand child in a world where adoption works much as it does for pets. Children are re-homed without much thought for them, instead focusing on the wants of the parents. It works as a cutting reminder of how people view children, as property and not people, as extensions of their own hopes and not as individuals with every right to turn out the way they want to. It really does a good job of circling the idea that parenting is not supposed to be easy or convenient, that it's supposed to be about what's best for the child and that is not always what a parent wants for the child. Good work, and delightful to read, sweet and with a kick.
"A Million Oysters for Chiyoko" by Caroline M. Yoachim (Daily Science Fiction)
A story about loss and preservation as a diver discovers what happened to her daughter, lost during a dive to gather oysters, this is a Sea Breeze, equal parts vodka, cranberry juice, and grapefruit juice. The story, like the drink, isn't exactly bitter, but isn't exactly sweet, and seems almost salty without there being any salt in it. It follows an older woman diving for sea life, who comes across a small pocket of unspoiled sea free of pollution and corruption, but not free of death. The power of the mother's decision to leave her daughter behind, to leave the oasis untouched, is powerful and poignant. There is loss, definitely, but also an easing of a burden, of knowing what happened and where the remain are. And knowing that there is one place that remains that is still untouched by the damage done to the rest of the ocean. And choosing not to exploit it. The story is powerful and layered and goes down smoothly.
POSTED BY: Charles, avid reader, reviewer, and sometimes writer of speculative fiction. Contributor to Nerds of a Feather since 2014. Find him on Twitter as @ClowderofTwo