This week's stories explore memory and remembrance, and are thus excellent to read at the end of the calendar year. The act of remembering gives our lives meaning. So does forgetting. And when the days are shortest, we have more time in the dark to recall, let go of, or re-imagine memories, histories and lives.
Image Credit: Greg Ruth
Where the Trains Turn by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen | Tor.com
I don't like to think about the past, because it mixes my head up and makes my bowels loose and gives me a severe migraine to boot. But I cannot stop remembering my son. That's why I still often sneak with a spade to the graveyard of my memories and dig up pieces of my life with my son Rupert. Of his peculiarly fatal relationship to trains, of his brilliant days of success and happiness that made me so proud, and of everything else.
For the sake of my son I write down these thoughts, seek him from dream images, from memories, from everywhere. Perhaps I'm afraid I'll forget him; but could I forget?
I hunt my memories, examine them, turn and twist them, and try to understand what happened and why; for Rupert's sake I consider the eternal logical circle of cause and effect and my own part in it, trying to get some sense out of it, as painful and against my nature as such an effort always has been to me.
People who lack imagination or horrible people! That was my reigning thought through most of this story. The narrator is one such person, and I sat incredulous at her actions throughout. Only when you get to the end do the events of the middle take on real depth and the story opens up like a flower and it's brilliance becomes apparent. At novella length it's a bit too long and there are times in the middle it rambles. The payoff is worth it.
Kenneth: A User's Manual by Sam J. Miller | Strange Horizons
Congratulations on your purchase of Kenneth Barrow, summer 1981's most desirable creature, six-foot-nothing in combat boots and a sweat-damp T-shirt, immaculately scruffed, conquistador of dance floors both domestic and foreign (meaning north of 42nd Street). Our genuine Kenneth is reconstructed from his prime, using details extracted from the minds of over sixty aging queens who beheld his beauty at its zenith, in that great glorious Twilight of our age, who between them encompass every aspect of his perfection.
Virtual Kenneth is not a toy. None of our other virtual boys have seen such a high volume of user complaints, or use-related suicide. This proscribed document, as well as the source code and imagery schematics We are presently releasing, present a grave risk for both reader and writer. And yet—We feel We must. Following these simple instructions will ensure that you get the most from your boy, with minimal risk of strained muscles, sore knees, ravaged sphincters, broken hearts.
Image credit: Sam J Miller
It's hard to figure out what to excerpt here because this isn't a strictly linear story. It's hypertext, and so you should definitely follow all the links you see on the page to get the full story.
You often hear the adage that good science fiction is about the present, even when it's set in the future. And this story is an excellent example of that. The setting is clearly the future, near or far, it's hard to tell, but the sorrow and longing and anger and memory trap illuminated so well in the words belongs firmly in the present. In this narrow band of time.
It shares resonance points with that amazing Rahul Kanakia story from a few months ago in which he briefly explored a different relationship between the men who survived the Plague Years and those who didn't. If anyone is interested in discussing these two stories in tandem in the comments I am down for that.
Crocodile Ark by Oluwole Talabi | Omenana
Before my mother died, she used to tell me old Yoruba folktales while we huddled around the lower platform heating vents or waited in line for rations. As with all good African stories, they were always garnished with proverbs. That's the unique thing about our stories, isn't it? The proverbs. Well, that and the tortoises. But there is more. Even though as everyone who as ever read Achebe knows, proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten, sometimes it's the palm oil that stains your clothes that stays with you long after the hunger had passed. My point is, many of those proverbs stuck with me long after I forgot the stories she told me. Some even stuck with me long after she died. But one of them will probably stay with me forever. It goes; Ọ̀nì ní ojú máa ńti òun láti gé nǹkan jẹ, tóun bá sì ti gée jẹ, ojú máa ńti òun láti fi sílẹ̀.Ọ̀nì ní ojú máa ńti òun láti gé nǹkan jẹ, tóun bá sì ti gée jẹ, ojú máa ńti òun láti fi sílẹ. What that all means, once you manage to translate it, is something like this; "The crocodile always says it is shy to bite, but once it has bitten, it is shy to let go."
And that was exactly what happened to me. Not that I'm saying I'm a literal or metaphorical crocodile or any sort of crocodile really. It's just a proverb. Actually, maybe I am a crocodile and maybe, just maybe crocodile nature is human nature too.
This story is from the first issue of Omenana, a new spec fic magazine that highlights fiction by authors from Africa and the African diaspora. It's definitely a zine to keep an eye on.
The SFnal idea of flying off into space to escape a calamity on Earth has great appeal, but the concept usually has some holes. A big one being that it doesn't seem feasible for billions or even millions to fly away given the number of ships that would take. This story tackles that angle and explores revolution and uprising from an intriguing point of view. It feels like a story that could be expanded into a novella-length epic, but is satisfying in this bite size, too.
What are your thoughts on this week's stories?