Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 2

stories

I think that this might just become an unofficial routine of this series. Pick one from the site’s current roster, two from the actual ebook collection. I am nothing if not a creature of habit. In this next installment we’ve got ghosts, fish tentacles, cold war threats, and mice made of dynamite!* Read on and read well, dear reader…

warmup_full

Ø. “Warm Up” by V.E. Schwab

David is a man who, after surviving a terrible accident during a mountain climb, is mysteriously endowed with psychokinetic abilities. Naturally, his ressurection from “death” and his dangerously unfocused powers put a strain on his marriage and family life, with his wife Samantha taking his son and leaving him for their own safety. After 297 days of self-imposed isolation, David ventures into the outside world to continue living his life and possibly find answers. But there are other forces at work beyond David’s comprehension, many of which do not have his immediate safety as one of their priorities.

This was a pretty intriguing and simple story. The use of “29- days since…” as a narrative refrain connecting David’s past, present, and future actions was a interesting and effective way of hooking the reader’s attention, giving them a set of constants in which to piece around the chronology of the story. I feel like this sets the stage for a world with elements that are likely to be continued on in a novel, filled with super-humans battling it out to regain a shred of normalcy or carving out a new form of “post-normalcy.” Warm Up ended on a terrific cliffhanger and I can’t wait to read more of this universe in Victoria Schwab’s novel “Vicious”.

full_foundation

3. “Foundation” by Ann Aguire

I think I can confidently look back and point to this story’s artwork in particular as one of the moments that seriously put Tor.com’s original content on my radar.

In Ann Aguirre’s award-winning novel, Enclave , humans have taken refuge in colonies below ground. “Foundation” is the story of what drove them there, told through the eyes of a teen who would later have vast influence over the fate of many, and who gave his heart to the one person who needed him most.

The main character, Robin Schiller, grows to make a life for herself in the enclaves. After being isolated for years alongside her mother and father, Robin comes in contact with a young boy named Austin who becomes her friend and confidante.  There are more people living in the enclave, twenty-six in total, who must learn to work together in rebuilding a sense of community and shared sanity. Disease and desperation run rampant, the world is seemingly pushed beyond the point of repair, and eventually all of those left must venture out of the confines of the enclave into a world that is so much stranger, sadder, and predatorial.

A decent enough short story, I wish that more in the way of actual events happened but given the main environment is a vacuum-sealed disease shelter one can’t reasonably complain too much. Robin seems like an interesting character, I wish I got to know a different side of her from the latter half of “Foundation”. Perhaps later I might venture reading Ann Aguire’s continuation series, “Razorland.”

full_departmentofalterations

4. “The Department of Alterations” by Gennifer Albin

Karoline Swander is the wife of a high-ranking minister  in the fictional city of Arras. Arras is a obviously a profoundly patriarchal place, as women are aggressively pressured to be demure, silent, and subservient to the demands of their husbands.

 she is for some reason incapable of bearing children, and her husband resents her for compromising his social standing by “withholding” a family from him. Because of this,  Karoline has enlisted a “tailor” to perform an operation that will allow her to give birth. Things do not go entirely as expected.

Apparently this story is also a mini-prologue to a novel by the same author titled “Crewel”, and in that sense I feel that “Foundation” is superior. It would seem that one would have to have already read or been aware of the novel in order to fully understand or enjoy “Alterations”, as I felt that many vague broad strokes of world-building were implied but never fully went about “building” a world for me. I have no idea what the city of Arras is like, aside from how they treat their women.  I don’t know what a “Loom” is, I don’t know who Ambassador Cormac Patton or his army of thick-necks are, or for that matter what exactly  “The Department of Alterations” really is and how it pertains to this story.

I would have liked it if there was more in the way of this story in framing for me the severity and stakes of Karoline’s “treason”, why such an action is treasonous at all,  and perhaps other aspects that would flesh out the personality of her husband and home-life.

I wish I could say that this story was as provocative or as gorgeously macabre as the artwork, courtesy of Goni Montes. I wish I could read the story that artwork is trying to tell, because it’s not this one.  So far right now, the only incentive I might have to venture reading “Crewel” is Montes’ visuals, not Albin’s prose.

*One or more of those descriptions may have been a outright, bald-faced lie!

A little late on this one. This is what the Sunday/Monday afternoon grace deadline is for! It just so happened that coincidentally, each of these short stories was in a way a promotion for a upcoming long-form continuation. Though the success of execution varies from story to story in that regard, overall the majority of these stories were quite enjoyable. Roll on to the next batch!

See you next Sunday, September 22nd!

Advertisements

First Read: Oryx and Crake Chapter 4-6 (Crake-Roses)

The sections of Oryx and Crake comprising of the middle of Chapter 4 and onward into chapter 6  are chock-full of vivid sensory details, ghastly descriptions, startlingly elucid revelations, and chilling insights  into the darkest appetites of the human condition. All experienced through the perspective of  an otherwise dispassionate, disinterested adolescent Jimmy.

The reader is finally introduced to the infamous Crake (then known as Glenn), a classmate and  boyhood friend of Jimmy’s from the HelthWyzer enclave ,who appeared only a couple of months before his mother’s escape. A prodigal polymath, Crake exudes a mental sharpness, a cold detached wit divorced from human sentiment, and a keen intelligence whose appeal has a lasting influence on Jimmy’s behavior and self-image. “He generated awe – not an overwhelming amount of it, but enough. He exuded potential, but potential for what? Nobody knew, and so people were wary of him. All of this in his dark laconic clothing.” ( Pg.173, End of Crake)

Crake’s semi-misanthropic musings become more distressing and eerily on-point as his and Jimmy’s friendship develops.

In the chapter Brainfrizz, we learn more about the darker inscrutable routines of sensory desensitization the boys pursue and submit to, and how might the example of their callous spectating submission be indicative of the culture and world they live in. Twice a week, Jimmy and Crake meet up at Crake’s home to play video games revolving around crude caricatures of past atrocities and despots, (Kwiktime Osama, Barbarian Stomp, Bloods and Roses, EXTINCTATHON, etc.), combined with nihilistic depictions of how the legacy of the arts & sciences will ultimately be  negated by the cycle of Pyrrhic annihilation and societal malaise that perpetuates throughout history,

“That was the trouble with Blood and Roses: it was easier to remember the Blood stuff. The other trouble was that the Blood player usually won, but winning meant you inheirited a wasteland. This was the point of the game, said Crake, when Jimmy complained. Jimmy said that if that was the point, it was pretty pointless.” (Pg. 178, Brainfrizz)

We also finally learn the origin Crake’s name, a codename used between himself and Jimmy while playing the ecological disaster game EXTINCTATHON, a online trivia game centered around recently extinct animals such as the Rhino, Manatee, and the Komodo Dragon. Eventually the two become tired of these games, choosing instead to numb their senses by smoking pot stolen from Crake’s stepfather “Uncle Pete”, and by watching horrendous atrocities accessible through a pirated connection into the seediest bowels of the Internet.

Animal snuff films, live-broadcasted open-heart surgeries, ritual be-headings in Asia, public access executions of participating death-row inmates and televised assisted suicides of voluntary contestants; not to mention gratuitous amounts of horrifyingly hardcore BDSM porn. These depraved indulgences take on a ghastly form of poeticism through Jimmy’s desensitized descriptions. “But the body had its own cultural forms. It had it’s own art. Executions were its tragedies, pornography was its romance.” (Pg. 184, Brainfrizz)

While frequenting one of their usual porn destinations “Tart of the Day”, a site devoted to sexual masochism centered around the consumption of confections, Jimmy and Crake are finally introduced to the young woman whom they will one day come to know as Oryx.

“This was how the two of them first saw Oryx. She was only about eight, or she looked eight. They could never find out for certain how old she’d been then. Her name wasn’t Oryx, she didn’t have a name. She was just another little girl on a porno site.” (Pg. 193, HottTotts)

Oryx’s blithe on-screen demeanor and fierce appearance shake Jimmy tremendously out of his adolescent stupor of insensitivity, prompting him to feel ashamed for what he has done for the first time. “Jimmy felt burned by this look – eaten into, as if by acid. She’d been so contemptuous of him”  (Pg. 276, HottTotts). He and Crake become transfixed by this mysterious young girl, a girl they would not meet until she was already a young woman many years later, unashamed and equally indifferent to the things done by her and to her.

Already one can tell that there is a very strange contest of will and power tugging back and forth between Oryx, Crake, and Jimmy; with the casual and quick revelation that , under as-of-yet unknown circumstances,  Jimmy and Oryx might one day come to love one another. “Oh stolen secret picnics. Oh sweet delight. Oh clear memory, oh pure pain. Oh endless night.” (Pg. 287, Birdcall)

“Even in Snowman’s boyhood there were luminous green rabbits.”

Jumping back to the present, we see Snowman embarking on a pilgrimage to accept tributes of food in exchange for stories with the Children. This time we learn more about the Children of Oryx, a race of female counterparts to the male dominant Children of Crake. These children are Chlorophyll-skinned, Jelly fish luminescent beings with pale personalities and perfect complexions, devoid of physical flaw or fault.

This quality stirs up a complicated mixture of feelings in Snowman, who values and professes being sexually attracted to these supposed breaks from what is typically considered physical beauty, “It was the thumbprints of human imperfection that used to move him, the flaws in the design: the lopsided smile, the wart next to the navel, the bruise […] But these new women are neither lopsided or sad: they’re placid, like animated statues. they leave him chilled.” (Pg. 231, Fish)

Snowman has, by way of not only revising his own memories but actively rewriting the history of his relationship with Oryx and Crake, molded himself as being the sole prophet, historian, and living medium between the Children of Oryx and Crake and their namesakes, earning himself a special kind of reverence and authority that helps him to survive in this post-apocalyptic world.

Having woven an elaborate lore of half-truths and exaggerations about the origin of the world and of the children, Snowman has pulled bits and pieces out of the lives of himself and his late(?) friends in order to acquiesce some small measure of authority and influence. The children, who apparently had been “saved” by Snowman, supposedly have never talked to or met with their namesake forebears and so they hang on every word that Snowman tells them and accepts it as Dogma.

But with every subsequent lie, Snowman must be cautious in not contradicting himself lest the children become wise to his deception. “At first he’d improvised, but now they’re demanding dogma: he would deviate from orthodoxy at his peril. He might not lose his life – these people aren’t violent or given to bloodthirsty acts of retribution, or not so far – but he’d lose his audience.” (Pg. 246, Fish)

After the children have left him, Snowman proceeds to raid a nearby apartment building of anything resembling liquor in order to numb himself from the truth behind his deceptions. Defeated in his search, he finally decides to drink the last third of Scotch he had chosen to save up until then.

Perching himself in the canopy of a tall tree far from the ravenous Wolvogs (Wolf/Dog hybrids) circling him for an easy meal, Snowman drinks his scotch and drifts into a hallucination of Oryx perched alongside him in the tree, wrapped in darkness and tantalizingly within his reach,

“Oryx,” he says. “I know you’re there.” He repeats the name. It’s not even her real name, which he’d never known anyway; it’s only a word. It’s a mantra.” (Pg. 252,  End of Bottle)

“You know I love you. You’re the only one.” She isn’t the first woman he’s ever said that to. He shouldn’t have used it up so much earlier in his life, he should’t have treated it like a tool, a wedge, a key to open women. By the time he got around to meaning it, the words had sounded fraudulent to him and he’d been ashamed to pronounce them. (Pg. 255, Oryx)

Questions after reading:

  • We know when Jimmy and Crake first learn of Oryx, but how do they actually first meet?
  • What is the meaning behind Oryx’s name?
  • Why does Snowman hold so much resentment for Crake? Could it have something to do with Oryx?
  • Is Crake human; a eugenic experiment or just a fledgling sociopath?
  • How did Snowman “save” the Children of Oryx and Crake? Is it tied with the apocalyptic event that made this world?

Oryx and Crake; Fan Cover Art by Angelica Alzona

(Next Installment: Oryx and Crake Chapter 6-8 (Pixieland Jazz-Asperger’s U.)

First Read: Oryx and Crake Chapter 1-4 (Mango-Hammer)

“He undoes the plastic bag: there’s only one mango left. Funny, he remembered more.”

(It’s been nearly two months since I’ve updated this blog with a new article. That bothers me, as I have an extensive backlog of topic drafts that I’ve been meaning to revise and upload but whose priority has otherwise been overtaken by my commitments to school. So, instead of waiting for the storm of assignments and papers to blow over, I’ve decided to try and bridge the gap between the two. I’m currently reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood in my Contemporary World Lit. class. As I have not yet read it before and have heard such good things about it, I’ve decided to post my response assignments here, so as to extend my in-class conversations and reading observations into a digital space. Alright, feet first; Here we go.)

There’s a lot to cover in the first four(ish) chapters of this novel. The main character of O&C is the mysterious “Snowman”, a man who by all appearances seems to be the last normal human being living in a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by untold ecological disasters and runaway genetic technology. The Snowman is a pitiful character; a man plagued by bug bites, blisters, hunger, pent up sexual frustration, all the while trying to function and survive with a mind frayed at the corners by insanity.

Despite this, Snowman is surprisingly adept and  tenacious in maintaining his survival. Building temporary hammocks, insulated sleeping quarters to protect from acidic rain water and lightning, all conveniently within safe distance of the feral eugenic monstrosities that freely stalk and roam across the now abandoned post-human world.

Then there’s the mysterious but benign “Children of Crake”, green-eyed creatures who appear human in all but name who seek out and interact with the Snowman as though he were the last living relic of a now extinct race, the abominable boogey-man of the post-apocalyptic world.

Snowman, because of his fragile and fractured state of mind, must constantly reassess and sometimes revise his own memories in order to understand the world around him and how exactly things got to the way they are now, “He can’t recall ever having read such a thing  but that means nothing. there are a lot of blank spaces in his stub of a brain, where memory used to be.” (Pg. 36, End of Mango) These revisements come in the form of verbatim quotes from innocuous textbooks and irrelevant information that seems to have congealed into the inside of his memory, along with recollections of his early childhood and life which make up the majority of the story.

“Don’t fall in,” said his father. “They’ll eat you up in a minute.”
“No they won’t,” said Jimmy. Because I’m their friend, he thought.

Snowman’s real name is Jimmy, a boy who was born sometime after the turn of the century to eugenic engineers living in a corporate-sponsored think tank/enclave. The world outside, the so-called pleeblands, is teetering on the cusp of the apocalypse that the Snowman is now witnessing.

The world behind Jimmy’s life is rampant with corporate espionage, genetic warfare, organ farming, eugenic manipulation, capitalistically-obscured cannibalism, and general misery. But life within the corporate compounds is safe, people living lives of relative ease and comfort save for the special misery that they often afflict upon themselves.

Jimmy is caught in the middle of the marital strife of his father, a cheeky-grinned geneticist who has long since traded in his ethical scruples to fit into a life of conscious-less comfort and his Mother, a woman torn by her steadily deteriorating mental and emotional state who frequently lashes out at Jimmy only to attempt consoling him afterwards. The reader witnesses not only the abuse of his parent’s neglect, but Jimmy’s subsequent attempts at manipulating that neglect to his benefit. Cruelty comes in all kinds of forms.

Eventually his father is scouted for a position with another company (NooSkins, a eugenic skin-graft manufacturer)  and Jimmy’s family is relocated to a different enclave. The tension between his father and mother reaches its breaking point and she escapes the security of the CorpSe officers to defect to somewhere in the pleeblands, abandoning her son but not without stealing Jimmy’s genetically engineered pet rankunk (racoon skunk hybrid) in order to release it into the wild.

Jimmy’s father eventually recovers, shacks up with his doe-eyed number-crunching assistant Ramona, and Jimmy is left with only the occasional succinct, deliberately mis-named post cards from his fugitive mother to keep him company in the presence of his lingering guilt and grief that his very existence may have been the cause of all this turmoil.

Questions after reading:

  • What has happened to Oryx? Who or what are Oryx and Crake?
  • Has Crake asserted some kind of authority in this post-apocalyptic world? Given that genetic manipulation takes such a huge role in this book, are the “Children of Crake” his genetic descendants, or are they just the product of his own genetic tampering?
  • Who causes this apocalypse? Crake, or Snowman? Someone else?

Oryx and Crake; Fan Cover Art by Angelica Alzona

(Next Installment: Oryx and Crake Chapter 4-6 (Crake-Roses)