Tor.com, March 2016
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong
Reviewed by Bob Blough
The line-up of stories for March at Tor.com is very uneven. But perhaps this means there is something for all readers.
At the heart of “A Fistful of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” are two sisters raised by abusive parents (how abusive we are not shown as this is only hinted at), who have powers to work the weather and bend time. One sister, Hannah, escapes the bonds of home leaving Melanie to face the traumas of home life alone. Melanie decides to destroy the world. Hannah trues to save Melanie. There are no heroes here nor villains. These are two traumatized young women trying to deal with a world that is not kind and with powers that are too strong.
Alyssa Wong is a new author (she is eligible for the John Campbell Jr. Award at the Hugo ceremonies this year.) But after reading only three stories I must say that she is a writer of amazing power. Her subject in all three is pain. The pain of abuse, the pain of never connecting, of guilt and shame. Somehow she uses genre tropes to grope toward an understanding of that pain. There are no easy answers in this story–but somehow there is hope. Beautiful work.
“Listen” by Karen Tidbeck is a sequel to an earlier story published by Tor.com last year called “Sing,” but you don’t have to have read the former to enjoy the latter. Aliens have come to see if Kiruna is the right place to colonize. Kiruna is a moon where, as the intro states, “celestial bodies play havoc with sound and reality may not be what it appears.” The aliens speak but only a few can remember what they said afterward. At the time they are speaking everything seems clear but all is forgotten when they are finished. Oort the alien ambassador picks up an interpreter, Mika, and Aino Korhonan, a citizen of Kiruna who is exiled to the space station above Kiruna, as a guide to help him. This complicated set-up is more interesting than the story itself turns out to be. Ms. Tidbeck writes precisely but something fails to ignite within her words. The situations are rich with possibilities and the emotions are real but it is all too much like an alien fairy tale rather than a story. She is line by line an excellent writer, but as a whole this one just doesn’t work for me.
In a lighter mode is “Your Orisons May Be Recorded” by Laurie Perry. Heaven is brought up-to-date in this story. Heaven and hell have merged because there are so many humans now that they need everyone on deck to answer the prayer lines. One angel has continually fallen in love through the ages with various humans and does so again in the story.
This felt old and stale. And done better in Unknown back in the late 30s and early 40s.
Carrie Vaughn has written a whip cracking good story about war and peace and the possibility of both situations between two peoples—one who can read minds and one that cannot. It is the unusual love story between Calla, a nurse for prisoners during the war and Valk, her charge. They bond over the game of chess. As the story begins, the war is over now and we follow Calla as she is allowed to visit Valk’s country to see him. In flashbacks we see this unusual relationship begin and carry on through the war. This is a solidly executed piece of real science fiction. And very well thought out. Good job.
An atmospheric short story, “The Weather” by Caighlan Smith, takes place in the second generation after this one in a weathered farm house where three generations of women live. The grandmother is lost in the past of facebook and the internet. Her daughter is keeping things together for her daughter until a storm comes along.
I won’t discuss the storm or what happens, but this was a huge disappointment for me. I guess I am tired of these end-of-the-world dystopias. There is nothing new here except a good enough writer who, I hope, can go beyond the tropes of today and write something rich and strange next time.
David D. Levine writes a very good adventure story from George R. R. Martin’s long-running Wild Card Universe in “Discards.” This is an origin story so you need not have read anything in the series before. All you need to know is that a virus was released into the world which turns some people into superheroes, others into jokers, and leaves others completely alone. Tiago, a 15 year-old orphan in Rio catches the virus and becomes something else. “Discards” tells us how he stays alive and learns who he has become. Light and adventurous with some dark implications–a very good combination.