Review: “Fift & Shria” by Benjamin Rosenbaum

3 of 5 stars.

This fascinating and peculiar tale deftly manages to not define itself along human terms of experience. That’s no small matter. On the individual level, all of the characters are multi-bodied aliens with mental feeds to link the bodies’ experiences. Socially and culturally, two genders exist [bails and staids] but they don’t align to male and female. Additionally, family units do not resemble the typical human situation. For example, Fift is an only-child staid living with three parents, 2 bails and a staid. The story is odd-enough that I had to add new tags to help classify it.

On a fieldtrip to the planet, kids play out the social prejudices in cruel, bullying ways. Shria, a bail, is teased and mocked by a gang of 3 staids because Shria’s family tried to skirt the social code by having another child without neighborly permission. The family was eventually stripped of the younger sibling after a few weeks of deliberation. Fift opts to befriend Shria and help defend against the bullying while barely able to understand the nuances of the social code of adult society.

Off-world alien stories can help to convey without prejudice issues of race and gender, among other things. The difficult part is truly separating from the reader’s Earth-experience. This tale pulls off that hard trick for what boils down to a story about bullying while also proposing that there are a tremendous number of ways to live, and definitions of family. While not necessarily standing in for a queer model of family and the socially sensitive issue of who has the right to raise children, the analogy cannot be ignored either.

“Fift & Shria” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Solaris Rising 3.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

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