Short Story Review: “Consolation” by John Kessel

3 of 5 stars.

Perennial political hot buttons topics, such as immigration, sovereignty, security and privacy, are turned on their heads in this speculative character piece set in a much altered North America that seems to have taken a page out of Europe’s playbook. The dissolution of the US followed the loss of Florida to sea change and Galveston to hurricanes. Texas went independent and the Sunbelt claims the mantle of Confederated Free America. New York and New England became Canadian provinces as did the Pacific coast states. While Alberta left Canada to merge with the former US mountain states. None of the newly reconfigured nations seem hip to immigration from the others.

Luckily, that is merely a backdrop to this tale driven by characters. Three vignettes follow different characters revealing the pulse of the new political climate. One works for Canada in the Boston area to investigate political dissidents and hackers. Another is a guilt-ridden activist that has to keep her head down, crossing the borders that she wants closed to keep ahead of the law. The third is an Alberta ex-pat that’s immigrated to New York, Canada. He considers himself above or beyond politics as his worry is immortality and paying for the treatments that’ll extend his life indefinitely.

The story is left oddly and yet intriguingly loose as the lives of the three characters are pulled together in unexpected ways.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.

[Check out my other reviews here.]


Short Story Review: “Another Word for World” by Anne Leckie

4 of 5 stars.

The cultural politics of disputed land is rife with tension and prejudices. Think: Kashmir and Palestine. One hopes that pacts are made in good faith and sensitivity. However, far too often common ground is not found and and any sense of understanding is lost in translation.

Set on an off-world planet occupied by 2 different colonizing races, neither of which originated on the disputed planet, this tale brings together the descendants from an historic agreement between the cultures with neither side 100% happy. Ashiban Xidyla of the Raksamat people is the daughter of the woman who’d crafted the treaty. She shares a quiet plane ride with the Sovereign of Iss, granddaughter of the treaty-signing Sovereign of Iss, heading to formally meet and discuss the original pact.

The tale opens with Ashiban concussed and confused amid wreckage as the Sovereign pulls her from the plane. Using a handheld translator, the young Sovereign informs Ashiban that they’d been shot out of the sky by one side or the other and they’re the only survivors. Escaping just before the plane plunges under the mire’s black water, the women run for solid ground away from the pursuing flyers that had attacked them.

This canny tale forces 2 distrustful people to work together to survive, neither knowing which inadvertently represents the side that tried to kill them. Then, they lose the translator . . .

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s “Resurrection Points”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Canon Fodder-Friday: Nonfiction

For my final foray into considering the educational canon, I’d like to include nonfiction. Many speeches, letters and treatises have had a profound effect on the modern world as it relates to politics, economics, sciences, philosophy, the penal code, and human rights among other things. The following is my top ten non-fiction canon for works written in the last 250 years:

1) 1764 — On Crime and Punishment by Cesare Beccaria

This treatise was spread by Voltaire long after Beccaria lived out his life largely under house-arrest just for having written it. It suggested the first arguments against capital punishment, torture, and cruel and unusual punishment. It called for punishments to fit the crimes.

2) 1776 — The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith [Hello free market.]
3) 1776 — “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine and The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson
4) 1845 — Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
5) 1848 — The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
6) 1859 — On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
7) 1863 — “The Gettysburg Address” and The Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln
8) 1869 — The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill
9) 1958 — Night by Elie Wiesel
10) 1963 — “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

My three previous Friday posts listed Top 10s that included poetry, plays, and novels written in European languages. As of yet, I have not included a single graphic work in any of these lists, so I’d like to propose an eleventh item for this list as I think graphic works can be just as important and literary as non-graphic works.

11) 1991 — Maus by Art Spiegelman

What would you include in such a list, or what would you exclude? Let me know.

April is International Poetry Month. My Friday posts with all be poetry-related:
April 3rd– Poetry Forms I: Haikus and Limericks
April 10th– Poetry Forms II: Sonnets, Villanelles and Sestinas
April 17th– Poetry: Rhyming and Sounds
April 24th– Poetry: Avoiding Abstractions and Cliches