Review: “Lowland Sea” by Suzy McKee Charnas

5 of 5 stars.

Modern day slavery and an apocalypse are brought together spectacularly in this short speculative story. What does an apocalypse mean to someone who’s already lost everything many times over? There’s a surreal aspect as civilization breaks down–but for Miriam, her life took a turn for the surreal long ago and this final devastation is a coming back.

The beauty of this piece is in capturing this unique perspective and setting it as the grounding point.

The story opens with Miriam at the Cannes Film Festival for the third time, but not enjoying herself as usual–she doesn’t belong there. Ironically, she daydreams about escaping the pageantry by crossing the sea to the realness of her native Africa. But in reality, Africa is dying of a raging hemorrhagic epidemic, the “Red Sweat”. It is also the land and people that sold her into slavery at the tender age of 8, then resold her, and resold her, until she landed in the purchasing hands of Victor, humanitarian Hollywood director and actor. It’s his well-intentioned, racist movie that has her at Cannes where it’s being openly mocked. [Hearts of Light–“brave, warm-hearted American adventurer–played by Victor himself–” rallies African child-soldiers against Islamic terrorists . . .]

Miriam went from slave to Victor’s lover to Victor’s nanny to the twin surrogate children he had with his fourth wife to his personal photographer and documentarian, not that she’s qualified. But then Krista, the Eastern European woman Victor bought from a brothel in Benelux, isn’t qualified to be the new nanny, either.

“Red Sweat” hits the shores of Italy.

Victor and entourage flee to his French country estate with its generators, gated walls, natural wells, and well-stocked pantries, wine cellars and bars. Those left behind, including his wife, are S.O.L. Miriam and Krista band together as they don’t mix well with the partying of the holed up Hollywood types. Before news is completely cut off, they hear of all the major cities falling and even America succumbing.

Miriam considers herself a survivor. She’d almost rather slip out of the compound and leave them all behind. . . That choice may not be hers to make.

This story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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