Lightspeed Magazine – Jan 2011
Clarkesworld – Jan 2011
Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Issue #60
Clarkesworld hits it right out of the park from the get go, publishing two fantastic stories and both with an Asian theme.
Yoon Ha Lee’s Ghostweight inventively mixes together Japanese ghost stories and origami with space opera. Lisse is one of the last survivors of Rhaion who, together with a ghost that’s been permanently grafted to her soul, steals a mercenary’s war kite with the intention of taking revenge on the Imperium that ordered the destruction of her world.
The writing is luscious and dense, overflowing – nearly to excess – with imagery and symbolism. This is not a story you rush through in a hurry, or read on your iPhone while waiting in line at the supermarket. Ghostweight is a tale that requests you take your time with it, that you immerse yourself in this strange and exotic far future inspired by Japanese culture, art and myth.
That said, I don’t want you to think that Ghostweight is a dull story or a meditation on life, the universe and everything. Yoon Ha Lee takes full advantage of the space opera setting with the story featuring ship to ship battles and awesome fire power and floating corpses. However, rather than glorify these moments of action, she ties them in to the core question of the piece – whether there’s a difference between revenge and war, and whether either is worth the effort.
In Ken Liu’s Tying Knots Tom, an American geneticist/scientist discovers a remote tribal village in the Burmese Mountains who use the art of knot-making to record their history and their stories.
The point of view of the piece is split between Soe-bo, whose talent in reading and making knots may have far-reaching scientific implications, and Tom who is keen to take advantage of Soe-bo’s talents without entirely thinking through the consequences.
Tying Knots is basically a fish out of water story as Soe-bo is brought to America to see whether his knot making talent can be applied to medical science. While Soe-bo’s experience of the modern world did remind me a little of Crocodile Dundee (I’m really sorry Ken), his struggle to understand or communicate only heightened the feeling that Soe-bo and his culture were being abused by Tom and his corporate colleagues.
However, rather than be preachy or didactic, I never got the feeling that Tom was being presented as a straw man or as an example of evil cultural imperialism. He does what he thinks is right in his attempt to further medical science. But like Soe-bo, he also struggles to adequately communicate what he’s asking for and what he’s offering in return. It’s a subtle and clever piece of writing, one that – unlike its protagonists – perfectly communicates its message.
Neither Lightspeed nor Beneath Ceaseless Skies published stories that were as inventive or thematically interesting as the two published in Clarkesworld.
That’s not to rubbish either magazine. In the case of Lightspeed I personally thought that Corey Mariani’s piece Postings From An Amorous Tomorrow was a strong story, positing this idea of a society that forces its children – through social networking sites – to be happy. While the story has some disturbing imagery, the ending didn’t work for me at all.
Black Fire by Tanith Lee was a fun read, if a little on the nose. The story is presented as an eye witness account from a number of men and women who saw a burning in the sky and, in the case of the woman, were confronted with a strange, but gorgeous man who they desperately wanted to shag. While the set-up is interesting, Lee seems to lose faith in the puzzle aspect of the story toward the end by making it very obvious as to whom the mystery man is.
Both stories in Beneath Ceaseless Skies were competent and well written but they just didn’t work for me. Marie Brennan’s Two Pretenders felt like a sketch of a much longer piece while Over a Narrow Sea by Camille Alexa was a little bit too obvious and predictable.