What happens when 109 women come together to create the penultimate collection of expansive science fiction written by women? Lightspeed’s special issue: Women Destroy Science Fiction.
It’s a clever name, as the verb can pivot, from the traditional “obliterate” to the more slang-like “conquer”. This collection does both of those things and everything in between. A massive, highly entertaining, and provocative anthology. It would do the book absolutely no justice to only rave about it for a couple hundred words, so I’ve decided to review each story separately.
I should mention the anthology is a beast. From start to finish, Kindle clocked it at 15 hours and 12 minutes. A monster. But, oh so needed, and wanted. It does mean this review is going to be pretty long. Stay for the bits that please you.
Each to Each by Seanan McGuire
We are sailors and servicewomen, yes; we will always be those things, all the way down to our mutant and malleable bones. But moments like this, when it is us and the open sea, remind us every day that we are more than what we were, and less that what we are to become, voiceless daughters of Poseidon, singing in the space behind our souls.
If you had asked me before reading Each to Each if mermaids were something that I might find in science fiction, I would have said no. While I’m not well-read in the genre, McGuire’s story is the first I’ve seen that treats the ocean as another ‘frontier’ of the future, a simple, yet startlingly believable alternative to deep space travel.
The writing was gorgeous. Little jewels of phrase littered every page, and as an opener, this story works to solidify the theme of this anthology. Overall a wonderful story.
A Word Shaped Like Bones by Kris Millering
Maureen floats, wrapped around the skull. After a time, she is followed around the chamber by round drops of glittering water, eddying in her wake.
I didn’t want this story to end! So beautiful, so tragic, and so raw in its delivery to the reader. A perfect story, start to finish.
It’s Gravity meets Van Gogh, and Millering’s training as a linguist shows in her word choices. A trim, clever style of writing that makes the eye dance across the page. Definitely a must-read.
Cuts Both Ways by Heather Clitheroe
He wanted the storm, the merging with the howl and the fury, to become a part of it. Flipped and spun and thrown through, one speck in a blizzard, pure and beautiful, nerves on fire with tension and pain, and the pleasure. It was intoxicating.
An intensely intelligent and intimate story, Cuts Both Ways looks at a future filled with casters, those mechanically augmented to pick up on the electromagnetic brain waves of the human population. The main protagonist, Spencer, is the vehicle in which we are forced to consider the drawbacks of those things we often say we want in passing. “Wouldn’t it be great to never forget anything?” –actually, no, as Spencer shows us, with his heart-breaking narrative. A definite must-read.
Walking Awake by N. K. Jemisin
Likely through no real fault of its own, but rather its similarity to another story I read this month in Clarkesworld #92 (Seeker and the All-Seeing Eye), this story didn’t really do it for me. Especially since I really loved Seeker and the All-Seeing Eye, this story got a bit of a harsh rating.
I felt that the dream sequences and final resolution were a little watery and left too many questions, but I won’t voice them here as I have a policy of no spoilers. In any case, it was well-written, just not very unique amongst what I’ve already read this month.
The Case of the Passionless Bees by Rhonda Eikamp
A silence I knew well descended on the room. It was a moment, presaging a conclusion reached, in which Holmes’s constant sigh of cogs and coils, the ever-present thrum which emanates from an amalgamated and of which most of us are hardly aware, abruptly ceased. No more steam under the collar of Gearlock Holmes. Every one of his moving parts at rest, a static state before the leap of cognition. I knew that if I touched him now he would feel cold.
I went into this story a little dubious, because despite the great number of Sherlock Holmes retellings in recent years, I have yet to see one that does not only the original character justice, but also adds something unique to the universe. Eikamp does this splendidly here. All the favorites of the Holmes cannon, with some fresh new insights that make it highly worth the read––not just another steampunk!
In the Image of Man by Gabriella Stalker
A Eucharistic minister steps up to the microphone and her voice fills the room. “St. Flavius parish welcomes you to the celebration. Please take this time to silence all communication devices. Today’s Mass is sponsored in part by Coca-Cola and EA Games. Please join us in singing ‘How Great is Our God’, page sixty-two in your hymnal.”
Sister Bernadette is wheeling her cart up from the back. From the menu attached to it, Wendell sees that he has just enough. When the old nun finally makes it up to his pew, Wendel grabs a chocolate chip bagel and a Dr. Pepper. He hands the nun his finance card and she slides it through, charging him six dollars and forty cents for his breakfast.
In this parable about the dangers of materialism and wayward capitalism, Wendell, a teenager with a serious spending problem, tries to find meaning in his life. While in the end, the story failed to invoke in me sympathy or connection to any of the characters, the sheer originality of setting makes it a good read.
The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick by Charlie Jane Anders
Mary’s friends kept calling, wanting to hang out, but she couldn’t face anyone. She wanted to avoid the places she and Roger had gone together––which was every place she liked to go. She couldn’t face eating a fancy meal because right now food tasted like dirt, and she could just barely manage to look presentable for work. Her friends all said that she had to get right back on the horse. Mary had never seen a horse, but she imagined that being ejected from one would lead to bruises and maybe some sprains or fractures, plus an angry horse that had already won the first round. That’s assuming the horse didn’t just trample you once it had already thrown you underfoot.
This was an amazing story that took me through all of the emotional gamuts––from the laughs brought on by passages like the quote above to absolute dread and depression. Anders’s story centers around a woman named Mary, who has just gone through a terrible breakup. Her friend, Stacia, suggests that Mary retrieve some specific memories from her boyfriend to make future relationships more ‘efficient’, and all hell ensues in the aftermath. A really interesting premise on memory, and the consequences of tampering with it.
Dim Sun by Maria Dahvana Headley
He’d take someone’s sins, and then he’d walk them to another part of the world, where he’d spit them out in a hole in the dirt, cover them over, and grow magic plants. There was a period of time when the ground, post-radiation, was really fertile. It grew whole vines of sins, twisting ropes of bright green Infidelity, yellow-leafed Embezzlement, perennially flowing Neighbor’s Wife.
Though the surreal language of this story made me stumble through the first few pages, soon I was deeply engrossed in Headley’s tale of future cuisine and the man who rates them. I really loved Rodney as a main character, and the language kept me guessing and engaged all the way through. I loved the ending, and Harriet. Probably one of my favorite female characters in the anthology so far.
The Lonely Sea in the Sky by Amal El-Mohtar
A high-concept science fiction, The Lonely Sea has all the ingredients of an interesting story, but it just didn’t pull it together for me, in the end. It’s a sort of Contact meets Case of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, but lack of real character development and the narrative style kept me too distant from the players of the story to care.
A Burglary, Addressed by a Young Lady by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall
This was a story with a pretty clever premise, but I kept feeling like the science fiction elements (hair ribbons with a sound-dampening field) were there just to make it science fiction; they served no real point in the story, and ultimately just felt distracting to an otherwise charming story about two young women entering their Victorian-esque debuts by robbing a marquis.
Canth by K. C. Norton
The Canth moves slowly, somewhere beneath us––an amalgam of rib cages and jutting dorsal columns, parts of parts moving together to create a thing so intricate she is almost alive. Her six crablike legs tear channels in the coral as she passes, and her low belly scrapes the seabed.
A great story to close up the original fiction portion of this anthology. Canth uses stunning language and an easy narrative style to guide the reader through a deep-sea, pirate-filled fiction. The characters are diverse and entertaining, and while there were a few moments where I was expecting more of a bang, the story overall carried me right through.