Tor.com, February 2013
Reviewed by Cyd Athens
On a regular schedule, Lucy, the hero of Kali Wallace‘s story, “Last Train to Jubilee Bay,” takes carefully collected written scraps of memory to trade with the aliens for serum. An addictive substance of unknown origin, the serum helps the natives of Morningtown and other neighborhoods forget, if only for a little while, the unnamed illness that weakens their bodies and opaques their eyes.
A dilapidated train station is the exchange point for the runners and the aliens with their limbs that are not arms or legs, orifices that are not mouths, and fronds that are not human fingers. Every neighborhood has a scheduled time to meet with the aliens. Before Lucy sets out on Morningtown’s day, she hears a rumor that the runner from neighboring Riverton went for the precious serum, but never returned. When Lucy arrives at the station, she finds Riverton’s runner, Belle, but the traders never come. Lucy and Belle set out to discover why.
Those who like their speculative fiction with a bit of uncertainty, and who like to see their heroes forced to make hard choices, will enjoy this tale.
In “Angel Season,” J.T. Petty gives us a story of father and son bonding over a period of years. Red and Jeremy have bonded over hunting. Beginning when Jeremy was a boy, his father, Red has shown him how to make the air candles and the gold shot needed for their special prey–angels. They’ve left before dawn for long drives to the woods, bled goats, and killed angels together. Angel wings were a commodity that brought a good price.
After a while, the law changed and made the hunting of angels illegal. Jeremy grew up and went to live and love in the big city. He and Red didn’t keep in as close contact. During the course of a phone call, Jeremy reveals that his girlfriend is pregnant. It’s only natural that father and son get together and celebrate Red’s impending grandfatherhood. And what would their reunion be without revisiting some rituals from their past? This story about life cycles will be a treat for anyone who can appreciate familial bonding rituals.
“The water that falls on you from nowhere when you lie is perfectly ordinary, but perfectly pure.” Thus begins John Chu‘s “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere.” This story, written in English and Mandarin, follows Matt, a gay Chinese man who has not yet come out to his family. When his lover, Gus, proposes marriage, Matt explains that because Mandarin doesn’t have gender-specific third person pronouns, he has always spoken of Gus using the words that mean, sweetheart, lover, or spouse. So Matt’s family knows about the relationship; they’re simply unaware that the spouse is male.
Matt suggests that he and Gus visit Matt’s family for Christmas, and plans to tell them the truth. When his older sister, Michele, confronts him about his plans and forbids him to follow through, the tension is palpable. What follows is reminiscent of the movie, The Wedding Banquet. Were it not for the titular water, which plays a very small part here, this story would not qualify as genre fiction. Rather, it is an easy read about family dynamics.
“The Memory Coder” by Jessica Brody is a short story set in the world of her novel, Unremembered, the first book in a science fiction/suspense trilogy. Here, we follow Sevan Sidler, a programmer who replaces real memories with false ones. When the memory coder is ordered by a superior, Dr. Solara, to replace two weeks’ worth of a subject’s memories, Sidler takes a glance at what he’s to replace. It’s a girl.
Once he catches a glimpse of her on Solara’s computer screen, Sidler can’t get the girl off his mind. Like the subject whose memories he’s replacing, Sidler is consumed with a need to find her, consequences be damned. That the story is predictable makes it no less an enjoyable read.
Cyd Athens indulges a speculative fiction addiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W.