Clarkesworld #52, January 2011

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Clarkesworld #52, January 2011

“Ghostweight” by Yoon Ha Lee
“Tying Knots” by Ken Liu

Reviewed by Rena Hawkins

In “Ghostweight” by Yoon Ha Lee, the author combines several diverse elements–alien technology, the very human feelings of loss and the desire for revenge, the supernatural, and Eastern religious and cultural elements–into an elegant, intriguing tale.

The world of Rhaion has been devastated by mercenaries. Lisse, a military cadet, has managed to acquire a war-kite, a weapon the mercenaries used against her world with horrifying effectiveness. What could be a more perfect tool for revenge? Guiding Lisse is her ghost, a presence that’s been with her since childhood and whose motives she has never questioned.

Lee conveys alien thought by taking things familiar to the reader and turning them in completely unfamiliar directions. Flower and animal symbols designate groups of killers. The peaceful art of origami becomes a method of producing weapons. Even a ghost becomes an unfamiliar entity in Lee’s hands.

Lee simultaneously reveals the dilemma of the story both to her readers and to the main character, Lisse; how far can you take revenge against an enemy before your actions transform you into the very thing you hate?

A wonderful story that I will definitely add to this year’s Recommended Reading List.

“Tying Knots” by Ken Liu is told from the viewpoint of two characters, and thus, two cultures; the Eastern Soe-bo and the Western Tom.

The Nan have no writing. Instead, they record their history with a complicated series of knots tied in hemp rope. Headman Soe-bo is special among the Nan, possessing the ability to “see” the final shape of a rope before the first knot has even been made.

Tom is a Western researcher who has come to the Nan’s village in search of ancient medical cures for use in the modern pharmaceutical lab he works for. When Tom discovers Soe-bo’s ability to knot and twist rope into the correct shapes, he feels sure Soe-bo could hold the answer to a genetic puzzle. To entice Soe-bo to accompany him back to America, Tom offers to supply the Nan with genetically altered rice seed that will grow and thrive despite the village’s ongoing drought.  

On their own, most of the ideas contained within “Tying Knots” aren’t new, but Liu blends them together in a way that creates an original, cohesive, and well-plotted story.

Since so much of science fiction is based in Western (and often American) culture, both “Ghostweight” and “Tying Knots” are a welcome change of pace with their Eastern influences. Clarkesworld #52 also contains an interview with Walter Jon Williams, the lists of choices for the 2010 Reader’s Poll, an article on romance and science fiction movies, a podcast of “Ghostweight” read by Kate Baker, and cover art by Alejandro MGNZ.

An extremely strong issue of Clarkesworld that I highly recommend.