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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Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 4

stories

It’s amazing how long a coin flip can last if you measure it from the right angle; Landing face up, revealing the labor of three purveyors of only the finest distillation of weird. Noir will have to wait its turn; Another brand of bizarre for another day. Only the strongest among the strange will survive in Week 4 of the Tor Let’s Read series.

When it comes to weird we’re holding a full house; Two transfinite ambassadors  resembling Jim Henson puppets , rebellion and sedition, sharp swords disguised as playing cards, two jacks and a not-ape. It’s turtles all the way down from here my friends…

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100. Jack and the Aktuals, Or, Physical Applications of Transfinite Set Theory by Rudy Rucker

A wild and wooly dramatization of certain principles of higher mathematics, with added talking animals, sentient pencils, and orders-of-infinity nested within one another like Russian dolls.No description can ever encompass the mind-bending experience of reading a Rudy Rucker story.

Holy shit.

Buckle up, because we’re going in deep on this one.

Jack Bohn is a retired mathematics professor chasing after his greatest intellectual revelation yet. While sitting with his wife Ulla in their living room one late winter afternoon, Jack explains his goal of writing a comprehensive paper that explains the transfinite nature of the layers of reality. He’s wrestling with the “Generalized Continuum Problem”, a paradox of discovering the truth of either Georg Cantor’s belief that transfinite numbers are well-behaved, Jack’s theory that they are wholly erratic, or some ineffable and unknown third (or fourth, or fifth, or etc…) alternative. “Dear Infinity, please help me”, Jack offers up a mathematician’s prayer for an epiphany.

His prayers are “answered” by him coughing up a smooth, crystalline USB drive shaped like an infinity sign. when inserted, the drive instigates a crash sequence wherein a infinitely regressive series of smaller and smaller task windows begin to pop up. His laptop becomes a “Turing Calculator”; calculating every possible outcome for every past paper he has ever written to culminate into his greatest achievement, titled “Physical Applications of Transfinite Set Theory”.

Then a talking pencil with backwards knees named “Stanley” and a frog in a petticoat named “Anton” (short for Antagonistic) materialize through a hoola-hoop and invite the couple to come to “Alefville” with them.

According to Rudy’s bio page on Macmillan’s site, he’s the “great-great-great grandson of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.” After reading “Jack and the Aktuals”, I’m couldn’t be more convinced that that’s the case. I honestly can’t be certain as to whether this was all just a shared hallucination, one man’s psychotic break ( As if Anthony Burgess wrote a hair-brained combination of A Beautiful Mind, Faust, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), or if all this craziness is reality. Probably some Gordian knot of all three or more of those explanations.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine had just recently recommended Rucker’s most well-known work, “The Ware Tetralogy”, to me saying that it was without a doubt one of the strangest things he had ever read.  After reading “Jack and Aktuals”, I couldn’t be more excited to delve into it now. Aside from my initial bewilderment with symbolic mathematical proofs that far exceeded my sub-high school ken of modest mathematics, I was legitimately compelled to journey further into this fun house labyrinth of oddities all the way to its whimsically self-aware conclusion that evokes comparisons to a particularly good Twilight Zone episode.

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110. Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair by Ken Scholes

When an ex-clown tries to go into the insurance business, he gets into monkey business instead.

Merton D. Kamal is a down-on-his-luck circus clown who, after being cajoled into an interview with a former fling at an insurance company by his mother, is tasked with escorting a monkey to New Mexico. Things go about as well as can be expected.

To start, this story is an absolute breeze to read. That’s no surprise seeing how it sits comfortably at an approximate 18 pages in length. This has to be one among the shortest of the Tor Short Stories I’ve since read.

There’s not a lot to say in the way of plot synopsis that wouldn’t inadvertently render the effort in reading the actual story futile by comparison (though you should!), what I can say is that Ken has created a succinct and strange hybrid of a story that manages to provoke laughs just after making you scratch your head in abrupt confusion. For anyone that reads this blog, I know that my synopses can be rather comparison heavy. Know that it’s not done without a measure of self-awareness; Think of it as an happy accidental after-effect of a long compulsory education in binary oppositional thinking.

In any case, “Making My Entrance” felt like a mash-up of Katherine Dunn’s GEEK LOVE and Burrough’s NAKED LUNCH. I mean that entirely as a compliment, but take it as you will. It’s so short, and Scholes’ writing is just so ridiculous and funny enough to justify the length, how could I not recommend it?

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99. The Jack of Coins by Christopher Rowe

A strange, amnesiac man is befriended by a rebellious group of teenagers living in a repressive city.

Trespass. Corruption. Sedition.

All of these charges are lobbied against the mysterious  amnesiac “Jack”, an ageless man decked out in an elaborate nutcracker-esque uniform, festooned with golden buttons and wearing a face that’s both sharp and smooth.

Jack roles into a town beset by an authoritarian police force that has clenched the voice of the people in order to still any murmurs of protest or dissent, and a disillusioned generation of youth are left to scamper out in the dead of night hopelessly clashing with another, vying for some imaginary sense of power and identity. But all that’s going to change when Jack roles into town, this stranger with clumsy words and bizarre habits.

This story is probably the tamest of the three this week, and even more easy to digest than “Making My Entrance.” Jack of Coins introduces some interesting elements that I don’t think entirely culminate into an all-together satisfying conclusion. I caught myself wondering aloud, “Wait, what’s the conflict in this story again? An indifferent populace controlled by an oppressive police state? and now they care, because of this weird stranger who talks in riddled sentences and happens to have a good throwing arm?”

I’ll admit, the cover art image provided by Red Nose Studio was the main draw of why I chose this story. I wanted to look for something otherworldly, and the story flirts with that insinuation at multiple points but never resembles anything conclusive.  In a scene where a benevolent character throws Jack a pack of playing cards with which to defend himself, I imagined that the story was finally going to pick up. And it does, sort of,  only to conclude prematurely with no resolution as to who Jack was, why he was the way he was, and what his presence means to this world in particular.

It’s worth a read, never hold your reading suggestions to my opinion alone. As bizarre and crazy this world might have been, I was disappointed that the end result turned out as tame as it did. The Strange is not so strong with this one.

Phew! After successfully climbing out of that wormhole of nonsense, we can go to the wall and tally another week from the Tor Let’s Read series off. Time to shuffle the deck again and pick another three stories at random (well, more or less).

See you next Sunday, October 6th!