Clarkesworld Year Four, part six
Posted October 19, 2013on:
Folks, this is it. With this post I’ve let you know about all the original fiction Clarkesworld published during their fourth year. They just celebrated seven years, by the way. Pretty awesome, right?
This “go through their entire year” project was fun. You interested in me doing something like this again? I only did one year out of seven, but I feel like a bit of a completest anyway.
These final stories involve memory theft, magic candies, murderous whirlwinds, a vengeful astronaut, and a tragic military science fiction story. Let’s dive in!
Between Two Dragons, by Yoon Ha Lee – The nation of Cho has tried to stay neutral. On one side is the war like Yamat rattles it’s sabers, and makes plans to invade Feng-Huang, located on the far side of Cho. Avoiding violence from one side all but forces them to betray the other neighbor. And the famous Admiral Yen Shemar will remember none of it. Knowing the fate that awaits him after the war, he opts to face it on his own terms, and pays a visit to a woman who can erase his memories and in the process change his personality. This was the part of the story that struck me the hardest. The person being “re-written” doesn’t remember the procedure, doesn’t understand why their mother or child or sister looks at them funny afterwards because they no longer love their favorite foods, or claim to have never seen the film or read the book or poet that they used to always quote from. Your loved one becomes a stranger. At work recently, I overhear two people comparing their closed head injury recoveries. What they both agreed on was that the injury changed their personality. they could remember who they were before, but their personality changed afterwards. Is being “rewritten” a little like that, except you can’t remember who you were before? It was uncanny, to overhear that conversation shortly after reading this story. Between Two Dragons is a military science fiction story, but it doesn’t read like you’d expect a military scifi story to read. It reads like a list of fears, of regrets. It’s not told in chronological order either, as if the characters are writing down fleeting memories before they can be forcefully taken.
The Language of the Whirlwind, by Lavie Tidhar – This post apolcalyptic story takes place about year after The Tel Aviv Dossier, written by Tidhar and Yir Naniv. In that novella, first the deadly whirlwinds came from the sea, and then a huge mountain grew in the center of Tel Aviv. In the year that has passed, new cults and religions have been born, the markets sell rat meat and trinkets, and society has found it’s own way to survive the mass destruction. The narrator of the story is know only as Priest, which is fitting, as he is writing the gospel of The Fireman, who survived his journey up the mountain, and now resides with whatever lives up there. The Priest preaches that The Fireman will return to them, bringing salvation. A mute little boy is constantly following the Priest around the city. The child constantly blows on a plastic whistle, eerily announcing his presence, and sometimes reminding the Priest of who he was before the time of the whirlwinds. Everyone prays to and for The Fireman, but there might be a small bringer of salvation right in front of them. I enjoyed this story, the imagery and descriptions are beautifully done, but I don’t think I understood what Tidhar was getting at.
Futures in the Memories Market, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman – The longer Itzal works as a bodyguard for Geeta, the more he feels sorry for her. Geeta makes her living by experiencing things. Taken from planet to planet and city to city, Geeta takes in all the sights, the sounds, the smells, everything that happens around her. When she returns to the ship, the memories are pulled out of her mind, edited, processed, marketed and sold so anyone with an Emp Receptor can vicariously experience what she experienced. But Geeta has no memory of her adventures. Even when she visits a place for the second or third time, she has no memory of ever being there before. She’s practically a slave to her employer. Yes, they take care of her, and she wants for nothing, but they are stealing her memories, as Itzal puts it, they are killing her every night. Could Itzal, her friends and bodyguard, help her recover some of her memories? And he does want to help her, but he can’t risk changing her either. Even though Geeta is a real person, this story felt a little like one of those AI stories where the AI starts asking questions about freedom and death, and the programmer chooses not to tell the truth.
Paper Cradle, by Stephen Gaskell – Koryo has been around origami his entire life. When he was a boy, before his mother passed away from cancer, she would fill the house with origami animals. Koryo’s father always told him that his mother loved origami because it helped her become. “become what?” asked the boy. And his father would simply say the shapes were already in the paper. As an adult, Koryo is an astronaut. On the International Space Station, he’s helping to trial a weapon. Reminiscing about his last conversations with his father, Koryo already understands that greater and deadlier weapons aren’t the answer. He sabotages the weapon, turns a multi billion dollar piece of equipment into a chunk of crumpled tin foil, and completes the dying wish of a Japanese girl who died seventy years ago. You’ll want some tissues at your side when you read this one.
A Sweet Calling, by Tony Pi – Tengren Ao is a sweet maker. At the festival in Chengdu, he spins caramel sugar animals in the signs of the zodiac, and he secretly imbues them with magic and looks through their eyes. Secretly, of course, as sorcery is generally against the law. Innocently, Ao helps a young friend get the attention of the pretty young woman at the soup booth across the way. Before they know what’s happened, a fire monkey has sprung out from under the soup kettle and gleefully and chaotically sets fire to everything in sight, including the wooden teahouse owned by the young woman’s family. As a witness, Ao is dragged into the investigation. He is suspected of having something to do with creating the fire monkey. Of course he was making caramel monkeys, it is the year of the Monkey! To save Chengdu, to save himself, Ao better figure out what happened. The only way to stop the fire monkey is through sorcery, but if Ao exposes his talents, he’ll surely be arrested as the original perpetrator. As the story progresses, there are flashbacks to when Ao was a boy, when his father taught him the candy magic. These were some of my favorite parts, hearing his father tell him to always do honor to the spirits of the zodiac. To use their shapes, something must be given in return. I don’t know that i have anything in my Western worldview to superimpose that on, but I really liked that. The story has an explosive yet introspective ending. Tony Pi is someone I’d happily read more fiction from.