A little late because I had a holiday on the 31st, and we all deserve rest. In May I read a fantastic novella, and several short stories of a mournful, and sometimes bitterly triumphant, nature.
These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed – Just an all-around fantastic story. The narrative switches between two protagonists, Eva, a middle-aged woman attempting to survive in a walled “siege city” as extra-dimensional beings kill humans and kidnap children, and Emerson, an anthropologist studying the siege city fifty years after the Invasion ended. Emerson finds a diary Eva kept of her survival in the city, detailing the small things that keep her going such as the finding of strawberries and her love for a fellow survivor, as well as situations like being chased by the Invaders after trying to secure the local museum, and discovering that the living statues that erupted from the Invasion are stealing children. Emerson meanwhile, reads through the diary while struggling to deal with the lingering malaise in the siege city, as well as hostile colleagues. Its a great thrill that Mohamed makes both Eva’s fight for survival and Emerson’s conflict with another quantitative-minded scientist who is dismissive of the qualitative methods Emerson uses in data collection equally as gripping. I enjoyed the appearances of tough elderly women, who survived world wars and who survive alien invasion just the same, staunch and resolute and a bit frightening in what they must do to survive. They reminded me of some of the elderly women I’ve been lucky enough to know. The scenes where Eva muses on what the aliens must be doing in Chernobyl, and the scene when she realizes the International Space Station is still orbiting overhead are both extremely chilling, to the point I had to go back and re-read those paragraphs after getting several pages further into the book, just to reassure myself that I had read what I had read. I’d really recommend you give These Lifeless Things a read.
Of Fields, Half-Sown by Kurt Hunt at Martian – A generational ship finally docks. This is such an effective gut-punch of a story, filled with dire detail and haunting turns-of-phrase.
The PILGRIM’s Guide to Mars by Monique Cuillerier at Diabolical Plots – A robot does pilgrimage across Mars to the rovers and landers that came before, cleaning and reflecting as she goes. I love the cyclical nature of this story, of robots built and sent to Mars to look after the robots previously built and sent to places humanity could not go. The work of pilgrimage and of cleaning is described in delicate detail. A tender mournfulness infuses this whole story, as well as a respect for the robots humans build, the humans who build them, and the work those robots do before they inevitably shut down.
I Shall Bathe in the Mating Pond by Emma Culla at Kaleidotrope – I am going to type a sentence as if its a universal experience and everyone knows what I’m talking about. You know those wild “seeking roommates” posts that you sometimes get on lgbtq/queer facebook housing pages that read like: “you can only be in the house from the hours of 10 pm to 3 am. *half a dozen other hostile and unliveable requirements* No earth signs, we don’t want to deal with that sort of negative energy”? The setting in this story is like if those people were allowed to run society and plunged the world into an astrology-based dystopia. Its unsettling and great.
Krabbe, a servant at the House of Aquarius, assists with the birth of a royal baby who is to be sent to the House of Sagittarius. The birth was delayed in order to avoid the baby being born under the domain of the sign of Scorpio, a House destroyed by the others. Palace intrigue slowly draws a net around Krabbe as the Houses vie for power. The details of Krabbe’s life and of the way the Houses are organized all build upon each other until the story reaches the end, and Krabbe makes her choice about her position in the House structure. A fantastic story circling towards a dire end.