Clarkesworld Year Four, part five
Posted October 15, 2013on:
read parts one, two, three or four, if you’d like.
This is the next to last in a series covering all the original fiction Clarkesworld Magazine published in their fourth year. You can read all of these on their website, and to that purpose the title of each story is linked to a digital version. Many also have audio available. The entire collection is available as a print volume, here (scroll way down).
The stories I’m doing quick reviews of today include a Shirley Jackson award winning (oh, a Hugo nominated, BSFA short listed, and Locus award finalist) and positively killer story from Peter Watts which is a homage to a science fiction horror classic and at the same time a pop culture reference and includes what is possibly the best ever final line of a short story. If you’re older than me, you’ll get all the references instantly, and younger folks might just have the shit scared out of them, which is fine too. Also we’ve got a few very dreamy short stories that were very satisfying to read, but I felt their deeper meanings alluded me. Ah well.
The Things, by Peter Watts. Damn do I love Peter Watts, just damn. The Things has a lot of surprises, and to tell you what it’s about, I have to spoil the smallest one.
Remember John Carpenter’s The Thing (which was actually based on Who Goes There by John Campbell, but that’s another story)? Well, Watts’ The Things is that story from the monster’s point of view. The thing the scientists found in the ice, the thing they thawed out, the thing they feared and tried to understand. But The Thing doesn’t understand the humans either. It doesn’t understand that they can’t communication with it, or very well with each other either. The Thing doesn’t want to hurt or kill or maim, it wants to understand and to learn. It learns everyone’s name, that MacCready is the leader of the expedition (I laughed out loud when it’s mentioned that MacCready always finds another gun, and is the obvious hero of the human side of the story. Of course Kurt Russell is the unkillable hero, of course!). The thing takes over the minds and bodies of different members of the expedition, and is surprised that the bodies still walk and talk on their own, go about their business even though it has possessed them. Yet the thing still can’t communicate with these pathetic, lonesome humans, it still can’t gain communion with them. The thing learns how to beat the blood test, learned how to hide, learns that the human destroy what they don’t understand. I got an absolute sick thrill out of reading this, out of getting the alien’s point of view. It’s definition of harmless might not be ours, but who are we to judge? And if the thing can’t communicate with us the easy way, it’s just going to have to do it the hard way.
January, by Becca de la Rosa – A very strange story that worked for me, but might not work for everyone. Reading it, I felt like I was walking through a deeply textured dream. Fionn is looking for a woman named January, but at first he can’t remember anything about her. Fionn’s wife (who is a ghost that lives in the oven) is sure than January isn’t a real person, but she tells Fionn to go look for her anyways. Fionn follows clues that January has left behind, and finds her little sister first, and then the two of them do eventually find January. She’s not what anyone expects (more a portal than a person), and then the story very, very abruptly ends.
I’m not sure what I was reading, or what it meant, but I did enjoy the surreal and dreamlike journey. There is so much vivid sensory perception in this story, I feel like I could tell you the shape, texture, and smell of the oven, if it’s warm or cool under my hand; how the leaves smell and the sound they make when crunched under Fionn’s feet. I can’t tell you what or who January is, but I can tell you that it was worth the journey to meet her, and that I wish we hadn’t been too late at the end.
All The Kings Monsters by Megan Arkenberg – Miriam has been imprisoned for her husband’s crimes. Well, he was imprisoned too, and when they killed him, they came for her. All Miriam has of her husband Uri is a drawing of a monster. Uri always told Miriam that the King’s monsters all had names, that these monsters and their names were the needed weapons to take down the King. Mirian thinks he’s crazy. But in prison, she names her fellow prisoners, refers to them as monsters. Grief, Hunger, Anger, Pride, Miriam shares her prison with these monsters. So long in her prison, what is she becoming? Consumed with a desperate fear of the King’s torturer, the woman who killed Uri, what does the future hold for Miriam? Another dreamlike tale, but instead of gently, the end hits you like a blacksmith’s hammer. I get the feeling there was something very important happening in this story, and that I missed it, that it went over me like water off a duck.
Of Melei, Of Ulthar, by Gord Sellar – Melei is a seamstress in a city ruled by foreigners. She has the gall to stare the soldiers in the eye, because Melei dreams of something better. Such a bland life, but when she dreams, she can do anything, be anything. In her dreams, she flies over the landscape, witnesses a godless, magicless world. She finds a fabled ruined city, sees the survivors scrabble, she learns a new name for herself. One day soon, she will have to make a choice. Affirm her name, Melei, and live in the real world forever, never again to visit the exquisite dreamworld that seems more real every night, or speak aloud her dream name, and leave Ulthar behind.
Similar to January, this entire story has a dreamlike quality to it. The times when Melei is awake actually feel much more ethereal, more dreamlike than the passages when she’s dreaming. Her dreamworld is far more defined, and I liked that little trick. Similar to All The Kings Monsters, I felt like something very important was happening, but I was never looking in the right spot at the right time to find it. According to the comments on Clarkesworld, this story has a lot of connection to stories written by H.P. Lovecraft. So at least now I know where to look.