Robert Reed’s Purple proves to be the strongest story in a better than average March issue of Asimov’s.
The novelette, with echoes of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 and Tom Disch’s The Puppies of Terra, tells the story of a blind amputee, Tito, whose been whisked away by a strange alien that takes care of his every need. Tito, though, is not alone. His captivity is shared with other humans and aliens, all of whom seem to have been saved after suffering some sort of life threatening injury.
Tito doesn’t question his situation until he meets Adola – who he falls in love with – and she teaches him to think for himself. An abusive relationship with another “inmate” also acts as a catalyst for Tito to take matters into his own hands.
Throughout the story Reed provides us with flashbacks of the events that led to Tito being taken in the first place. I’m not going to say much about these scenes, other than the fact that they are genuinely harrowing. (I should note that the magazine does the right thing in warning readers that they might find some scenes disturbing).
Reed’s exploration of abuse, while confronting, is also insightful. The dynamic between Tito and his savior / captor has a religious subtext, questioning whether an all powerful being that seems to be acting out of love might actually be getting It’s kicks from watching people be abused before it will intervene. While love can lead to abuse, Reed also concludes that it’s the one thing that can set us free from this abuse.
While the story does have some disturbing moments, the thematic crunchiness, coupled together with the beautifully clean and simple writing, makes it a piece worth checking out.
Coming very close to eclipsing the Reed story for crunchiness and writerly quality is Nancy Fulda’s Movement. Hannah suffers from temporal autism – a descriptor she dislikes because she feels her condition has very little to do with autism – where she experiences time different from everyone around her. As a result, she struggles communicating, often taking weeks to answer a question as she carefully considers her response. On the surface it looks like she’s slow or has trouble understanding, but really she’s overwhelmed by the very passage of the time, by the way things change and evolve.
Her parents, unsurprisingly, struggle to cope with a daughter who they can barely engage with. At the start of the story they’re exploring the option of using a radical new treatment to solve Hannah’s problem.
What’s brilliant is that Fulda tells the story through Hannah’s eyes, and what we get are the meticulous and careful thoughts of an intelligent and self aware teenager. She wishes she could have normal conversations with her mother about school and a new pair of dancing shoes, but Hannah has also begun to appreciate her own unique relationship with time.
Like the Reed novelette, the writing here is clean and simple and at times breathtakingly gorgeous. And the stories pitch perfect ending did have me nearly shedding a tear.
While not as compelling as the two stories above, An Owomoyela’s God in The Sky is a well written and thoughtful piece about how society interacts with the strange and unexplained. A light appears in the sky, leading the vast majority to believe that this might be a sign from God. Katri is a scientist who refuses to get drawn into the religious hysteria. The light may be unexplainable, but she’s convinced that science is the answer to understanding the phenomena.
It’s not easy to write a good story about religion, faith and science without resorting to a strawman argument. (I’m thinking here of Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock which definitely stacked the decks in favour of one side of the debate). But while Owomoyela’s viewpoint character is a scientist she’s careful not to have a scene where Kat either (a) realises that there maybe more things in heaven and earth than science can explain or (b) where science does explain the light and she spends the last half of the story “I told you so-ing” all her mates who thought it was a divine emanation.
Rather, God in The Sky is a character piece, detailing the unravelling of Kat’s life as everyone close to her decides to leave, looking for their own path to the truth. The only one to stay behind is Kat’s Egyptian born grandfather who, while an avowed agnostic, is finding himself drawn to the teachings of Islam. It’s this well depicted relationship that makes this story less about the light and whether it’s a proof of science or faith, and more about the need to find stability when everything else seems to be falling apart.