“So Much Cooking” by Naomi Kritzer
Reviewed by Eric Kimminau
In the words of Clarkesworld Editor, Neil Clarke “Clarkesworld being nine years old makes us positively ancient in internet years, but we’ve never given up on trying new things, even the ‘crazy‘ ones.” There is a widely varied mix of stories in issue #110. Each presented alternative things, some far out and some presenting a chilling future or potential reality that will make you think. That is the best an author can hope for.
The opening story for this month’s Clarkesworld, “So Much Cooking” by Naomi Kritzer is not so much a story as a docu-blog describing what happens from the perspective of a cooking blogger during an H15N bird flu pandemic during the winter of 2018 in Minnesota.
Besides there being a bunch of real recipes, it’s mostly a post-apocalyptic tale of running out of food and medicine and dealing with a contagion during a pandemic: isolation, separation from family, death and improvisation. I don’t much care for blogs and while it felt very choppy with the style and content, the underlying theme of maintaining a positive attitude and making the best of what you have is certainly commendable. The author never concluded the pandemic so one is just left with a sense of hopelessness and a never ending struggle.
“Your Right Arm” by Nin Harris crosses multiple genres: science fiction, fantasy, Indian mythology, and dark fiction. It’s a tale of Rasakhi, or “ghost,” a member of the race known as aspara, that escaped from the human race and lived in their cloaked vessels, protecting the human race and the earth until the earth came under attack during a war with the insectoid Khinnaree and who, with the asparas, created the human-aspara-Khinnaree hybrid bunian. During the Khinnaree war, a human, Jagdeep, a final Earth colonist had crashed his ship, the last fighter pod, into the fleet. Rather than allow him to die, the aspara cybernetically rebuilt him and he became Rasakhi’s mate and companion. Rasakhi relates tales of her life to Teng, a Khinnaree who has come to assist her in maintaining the nursery ship. It was difficult for me to discern whether the author was showing contempt for humans or pity for them but it is clear that Rasakhi loved Jagdeep, even if she won’t admit to it. What is difficult to decide is whether Jagdeep is still sentient in his new role and whether Rasakhi will seek him out to discover it for herself. A very cool story.
In January, 2139, the evacuation ship Munawwer is nearing its capacity of 900,000 and it is preparing to depart Earth for its unknown future, far from the shores of Beirut, Lebanon and into the stars. So begins “In the Queue for the Worldship Munawwer” by Sara Saab. The final report from Suraya Khouri-Smith (Lead Ground Attaché, Munawwer Crew) to Commander Dougal Smith (Transition Commander, EVAC-Central) on the evacuation of Beirut and the population of the Munawwer, describes the scene of those trying to gain passage, with the line of humanity extending four abreast as far into the distance as the eye can see. “At its peak, the queue for the Munawwer was a 130-mile phalanx snaking south from the Mediterranean coast then turning up winding mountain tracks towards the northern border.” Humanity is fleeing the Earth in preparation for its coming doom. An asteroid storm is projected to be the width of our solar system, big and fast enough to wipe out the planet. What proceeds is the documented chaos that results from a reality of only two in five being saved, clashing with a culture and heritage in opposition to saving humanity in preference of saving society. This is a story of guilt and accommodation, confusion and guilt, guilt and compassion for the doomed left behind and Suraya’s guilt over getting a golden ticket for evacuation as preferential treatment as the daughter of her Commander father. I hope to someday read of what happens next in their journey.
“The Hexagonal Bolero of Honeybees” by Krista Hoeppner Leahy is a futuristic tale of human survival via pollination within greenhouses, whether it is performed by the young boy, Ciro, who painted the pollen on the blossoms by hand with his father Gabhan, or it was performed by the hiver, the cybernetically modified human-queen bee hybrid Mishka and the colony of bees she controls. They are both seeking the contract to pollinate the Allmond orchard in a California greenhouse heated by a closed loop geothermal system. When an earthquake causes an explosion and injures Ciro and Mishka it sets the two on a mutual path in concert with the bees to create a new hive and to survive. The disjointed transitions between the three groups make for a jumbled yet interesting story. I’d like to understand more how Ciro seems able to communicate with the bees, as well as his future with the hive.
“The Hexagonal Bolero of Honeybees” is a phenomenal vision of the future, of mankind rediscovering its path. “Enjoy the flowers, Ashur. But watch for the serpents, too.”
“If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu) is the story of a librarian, whose father is a librarian. We do not know their names. This is indicative of the plot twist to come. After his father passes away, the younger librarian chooses to go back and work at his father’s library as his vocation after college. When a new book donation is made to the library, he discovers a chapbook of poetry that, from the first character of the first line of the first poem he feels is that which he has forever sought. Upon investigation he can find nothing about the author other than she had passed away within the Information Age, 20 years ago at the age of 31. His only clue is a library request form left by a patron who had previously checked out the book, but hadn’t been to the library in several months. This leads him on a suspenseful quest that yields a club whose members had also appreciated the poet‘s work and those who “only wish for readers to admire her through her poetry, and we disdain insincere blurbs, biographies, photographs, or interviews.” And so the socially inept finds those with which they can relate and confide by keeping the poet as their mystery for her poetry’s sake. An interesting twist.
I am always astonished at the creativity and imagination of fantasy and science fiction authors. You can only hope to be astonished at their imagined worlds and to learn “of the ways of planting that they had improved upon.” I hope you enjoy this issue of Clarkesworld as much as I have.
Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional seeking those of like mind and character with whom I may share in wit and wisdom.