“Bourbon, Sugar, Grace” by Jessica Reisman
Reviewed by Bob Blough
Tor.com was light on original stories in June. There were only three of them and one was originally printed on a blog in 2015 (however, noted here as original) but has not been seen by many people so I am reviewing it.
The novelette “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace” by Jessica Reisman is a solid SF story about a mining colony left to their own devices by the combine after things were completely mined out. It is a hostile planet and only the falling apart machinery and an internal air breather allow the remaining unmoved workers to breathe at all.
Fox, the daughter of two miners, is an expert salvager of various needed tech that helps to keep the people alive. In one salvaging session she finds an object which becomes more and more curious as the tale continues. The item has healing properties that a normal “rock” would not have. After the combine gets involved it leads to the inevitable showdown. I found it nicely written, but rather un-involving. I do like the ambiguous ending which points to a hopeful conclusion none-the-less. If the story was continued it might end up to be an absorbing novel.
This next story seems to have a weird publishing history. It is being called an original publication but in the comments I discovered that it had previously been printed on a blog in 2015. But I am sure very few saw it there so I will review it here.
I will admit I did not—at first—“get” the story. “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine begins with dead women getting out of refrigerators (and by the end of the story these refrigerators are all over the place) and standing around. “Why refrigerators?” I asked, but it was clear that these women were here to give witness to the world about their deaths. All are pretty. All do not speak. All are definitely dead. Many of them head to Los Angeles and appear just standing in TV shows and movies. Many refrigerators appear in libraries. A large group surround Joss Whedon’s house. I understood (finally) that these women were witnessing for the deaths of fictional women used purely as a plot device to give the main character (a man) his motivation for going after the bad guys or murdering his best friend or…. There is no plot to the story itself but it is a good wake up call to fiction writers of all types to stop using women as just plot devices. But…why those refrigerators? Again after reading the comments I went to a feminist blog to find out that this is the “name” given to this fictional cliché—all the women who are merely plot points in movies, TV, comics and books. It is based on a Green Lantern comic where a woman is actually found dead in a refrigerator. Sunny Moraine has written an eerie narrative to make that a bit more real to us.
A subtle fantasy story, “The White-Throated Transmigrant” by E. Lily Yu begins as a thoroughly mundane story about a Chinese woman who is unemployed from her job as a geologist with Big Oil coming to an underpopulated place in northern New York State. In the opening paragraph she runs into and kills a white-throated sparrow. She brings it to a local ornithological museum and watches it being prepared by a taxidermist. From this point she becomes an assistant taxidermist for a while, encountering racial slurs and reactions from almost everyone she meets in the community. The fantasy subtly creeps in and it ends on a poignant yet hopeful note. E. Lily Yu is a wonderful writer, seemingly effortlessly writing excellent prose. This is not a story that smashes you over the head with brilliance, but instead seeps into your mind until you can’t forget it. Excellent work.
Tor.com is one of the best SF magazines to print literate SF, Fantasy and Horror. It is a treasure for short fiction readers