Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 6

stories

Hello Internet! My apologies for being MIA these past couple of weeks. While on route to Mars from Noir-ville, rocketing through the icky blackness in my slipspace-podship , I accidentally ricocheted down the gravitational drainpipe of a worm-hole and found myself spat out into a multi-verse of high-fantasy and  political tumult. You know what they say about “Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men.” Weeping monarchs, child clairvoyants, and young girls in love for the most worrisome of reasons. Love in all its dimensions. Hold on to your heartstrings folks, Week 6 has finally woken up.

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70. Uncle Flower’s Homecoming Waltz by Marissa K. Lingen

In the war that never ends, dreaming the future is not an unmixed blessing.

Zally is a 12-year old girl whose dreams offer snippets of the future, centuries after her lifetime. She is not alone in this; Her grandmother is a year dreamer who works in the divination sector of the capital, so she’s acquired a sort of luxury in life attached to her position. The world of ‘Homecoming Waltz’ is one where humans have found a way to alter their brain chemistry to elucidate and consciously focus their dreams in divining the future, a sort of astral projection. Zally is ecstatic for the return of her Uncle Flower, a paternal figure to her who has been away at war for nearly two thirds of her life. At Flower’s reception, Zally moves to embrace her long-absent Uncle, seeking to impress him. But Flower’s is a changed man, addled by the shell-shock of warfare and profoundly disturbed by how the manipulation of dreams has stolen the last respite of innocence from everyone, even his beloved niece.

I really liked this story, and I had a feeling I would as soon as I read the first paragraph,

My grandmother says all stories begin with a death. My grandfather says with a birth. And Aunt Albert says they’re both wrong, and stories begin with someone not getting what they want.
But no one was born, and no one died, and I got what I wanted, and that is where this story begins.

Uncle Flower’s Homecoming Waltz is captivating story about a fictional society that has monopolized and mobilized their own dreams in the service of sustaining their nation, and the assorted costs and causalities attached to such an action. Zally wants so much to prove herself an adult in the eyes of her mentor, to have him shine praise for the sacrifice of her innocence in being trained to become a seer. But Flower does not want his niece to be swallowed by the same machine of war that he himself was just narrowly spat out of. Zally is perturbed by this, feeling that she can make no choice that is her own and no one else’s. Eventually, the crossroads of life deem that they must part once again. Flower, a man changed by war. Zally, a woman changed for their encounter, standing on the cusp of it.

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117. Beauty Belongs to the Flowers by Matthew Sanborn Smith

In Miho’s world, nanos, plastic surgery, and robot girlfriends can fix just about anything…or break it.

In a future Nagasaki, Miho is a young woman who just wants to be loved by her beloved. Her father lies in a hospitable quarantined behind an air pocket of isolating fabric, a well-respected causality of a faultily contained nano-virus. His death marks the death of her family life and the death of her meager quality of life. But Miho wants nothing more than for Ichiro to love her. If only she could be beautiful or, as one of their mutual friends so delicately put it, if she didn’t look so plain and homely maybe then Ichiro might love her. And so Miho sacrifices her body for love, and tragically we all know the end to this story.

Matthew Sanborn Smith creates a beautifully engrossing portrait of ill-infatuation set against the backdrop of a living breathing city. I’ve never been to Nagasaki, but everything in this novelette felt like a plausible prediction of what a hyper-advanced eastern metropolis would look like. Water-slicked pavement doused in the reflection of looming neon billboards, seedy shops and curios burrowed out of the walls of thin, packed-in alleyways. Consumer technology so advanced and so pervasive that wanton desire becomes simultaneously a thing of the past and an all-consuming present obsession. And unfortunately for Miho, the chase for nebulous unattainable standard of “Beauty” becomes her own undoing.

True beauty fell beyond the reach of natural evolution. A lady at the salon had explained that. Nature was full of hairs and moles and flaking skin. It operated accidentally. But humans had evolved the appreciation of beauty, built from an amalgam of living samples. Humans could bring its elements together and set them in stone. Before human invention, there had been no sleek skin, no symmetry down to the micron or grace that only a digital brain and artificial muscles could achieve.

Before technology there had been no real beauty. Miho could do it all if she had the money…

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109. A Weeping Czar Beholds The Fallen Moon by Ken Scholes

After untold ages of futurity, the world is old. Regret is endless. Deceit is ubiquitous. And for the Weeping Czar, love is new.

Lord Czar Frederico XIII has just lost the thirteenth great love his life. Mistress Jazrel of the Espira region has claimed her own life with poison, plagued by the grief that her affections and love could do nothing to cure her lover of the weeping disease that has seized his family for generations. In order to belay dissent and sustain the morale of his people, the Czar conspires with his Minsters of Interior and Intelligence to implicate “The Lunar Resurgence” for the fabricated conspiratorial murder of his beloved, a faction of ascetic moon-worshipers who have long been a minority opposition to the ruling government of Espira. During an organized raid of their local temple, the troops find a shining crescent horn of unknown origin and material that shakes the Czar to his core. Through this horn, the Czar begins a liason across the folds of space and time with a young noblewoman by the name of Amal Y’Zir, daughter of the Great Blood Wizard Raj Y’Zir. And for a time, the Czar knows a feeling called ‘Love’ once again.

I really liked this story for two reasons. One, the world is an intriguing mix of feudalism and aristocratic suspense. Watching the reluctant Czar being courted off to a room of eager female suitors, only to succumb to the grief of losing Jazrel and losing himself in drunken isolation was pretty captivating. Ken Scholes has a way with language that shapes the Czar as a captivating and compassionate character despite the inequity of his official practices. His budding impossible romance with Amal was both intriguing and heartbreaking. I can’t wait to read the Psalms of Isaak series and see what else happens in this world.

I am changing. He felt more confident; found himself doubting less in his own decisions. The fog of the sadness was lifting from him now.

And it came from the slip of a girl who believed he was a ghost.

Until her, he thought, perhaps I was.

And that concludes Week 7 of the Tor Let’s Re….wait, no. No, that’s not right. Well, God damn it.

Yes, I know. I’ve now missed two weeks worth of installments in this series. The outside world (school, home, career, etc.) takes precedence. But don’t count me down and out yet, I have a surprise for you! Week 7 and Week 8 will be posted as intended throughout this next week. Look forward to two Tor Let’s Reads this Tuesday and Thursday, with some long-belated shorter pieces interspersed between the two! You know I wouldn’t leave you, Internet.

Also, If you happen to have take a choice glance at the bottom-or-so-right of this blogspace, you may have noticed somewhere in that scrolling stream of spur-of-the-moment aphorisms that, hence forth after this week, I’ve officially extended the weekly deadline for future installments in the Tor Let’s Read to Wednesdays instead of Thursdays.  It’s proven to be almost depressingly more convenient, I have more time to read these stories and comment on them during the work week than I do on the actual weekends when all I have to do is homework and the occasional social obligation *sigh*. But yeah, rest assured that nothing’s derailing this train of speculative literature. We chug along, we chug hard.

See you tomorrow, October 29th!

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