Tor.com, August 2020
“Exile’s End” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“Flight” by Claire Wrenwood
“For Every Jack” by R. K. Duncan
Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
In the anthropological SF story “Exile’s End” by Carolyn Ives Gilman, museum curator Rue finds herself at odds with a representative from a culture long persecuted for destroying their possessions. When Traversed Bridge and his people insist that burning a famous painting will release the ghost inside, Rue and the museum must decide who truly owns art, and if ownership includes the right to destroy. Gilman’s timely dive into cultural reparations brings us skillfully into the worlds of both the dominant and persecuted cultures, through the eyes of a protagonist whose wish to preserve both runs aground on the rocky shores of liberty. Sympathetic characters and gentle pacing elevate this story above a prescriptive guilt trip of dominant culture; like Rue and Traversed Bridge, Gilman leaves us to interpret the art of “Exile’s End” for ourselves.
“Flight” by Claire Wrenwood lays out the vivid bones of its social commentary from the start, opening with a winged mother’s decision to finally address her five-year-old son’s micro-aggressions against women. Scenes then unfold in reverse chronological order, prying back to the origin of the mother’s wings and beyond, bringing the narrative full-circle to her wingless childhood. From its brave opening to the punch at the end, Wrenwood’s delicate depiction of trauma provides readers with moving, powerful insight into cycles of victimization against women.
In “For Every Jack” by R. K. Duncan, two specialists rush down to Earth to convert the dead to historical monuments impervious to descending nanites programmed to convert Earth’s resources into fuel for humanity’s life above the clouds. Connor, however, harbors a generational secret he hopes the nanites will bury forever, if only his aggressive partner doesn’t get in the way. While there’s plenty of action and sufficient backstory in this far-future SF, readers could use more insight into Connor’s reasoning at the end.
Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to read and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration and motivation. You can find out more about her other writing projects and geeky obsessions by visiting her Facebook page.