Ideomancer, vol 6 issue 2

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“Things With Sharp Teeth” by Astrid Atkinson
“Far Side of the Moon” by Ruth Nestvold

“Screamers” by Yoon Ha Lee

“Things With Sharp Teeth” by Astrid Atkinson is about alligators: creatures that are spilled out of overflowing rivers and canals during a storm, against their will, into the world beyond. It is also about Jillian: compelled to seek an old woman called Margaret in Florida who stubbornly plans to wait out the coming storm at home rather than evacuate. Through the motif of alligators comes the realization that when crossing rivers, sometimes the boat reaches the shore first, but sometimes the alligators are faster—a metaphor that plays itself out in Jillian and Margaret’s story.

The interplay of reality and metaphor-made-real works excellently, giving the story the feel of a mainstream piece viewed slantwise with an increasing bend towards the fantastical. Into the elegant setup, Atkinson brings a good cast: Jillian who, despite her remove from reality, is a sympathetic character; the enigmatic Jack, her companion, whose supporting role hints at a full person beyond the text of the story; and Margaret, lonely and lost, who finds her way with Jillian. Recommended.

In “Far Side of the Moon” by Ruth Nestvold, Chanda is one of roughly three dozen girls forced into being a whore on the space station, Volva. Her life there is ghastly: she has no choice in which men she will sleep with and what they will do to her, and she has no hope of escape from a place where “retirement” is synonymous with death. Soon after the “retirement” of her friend, Stefania, she learns that the yakuza plans to open a similar resort on the other side of the moon. The thought of even more girls forced into her position is one she cannot bear, so with the help of the other girls and a sympathetic male worker, Hashim, she conspires to teach the yakuza how unstable life aboard a space station can be.

The story is a straightforward one, more so than the usual offerings in Ideomancer, but this does not make it a lesser story. Nestvold handles her difficult subject matter with care, painting the girls’ situation with enough horror that I sympathized for them and understood Chanda’s actions, but without making it too painful to read. Chanda’s transition from being cowed by fear of a brutal death to determined to do something is a believable one, as events finally push her beyond her fear; she is a well-crafted character, as are the others.

The third and final offering, “Screamers” by Yoon Ha Lee, is another science fiction piece. When ships travel through kaleidoscope space, they must be quick to evade the hungry voidmouths that will sometimes devour passing vessels. Warning comes from the screamers: humans trained to detect and react to approaching voidmouths, and to “scream” a warning to the ship’s crew. Serren Psora, training to be a screamer, must learn fast or risk becoming a gaunt or sieve.

This is very good science fiction. The ideas behind the story are fantastic, the plot and characters that flow from it are very strong, and Lee isn’t afraid to make her readers think about what’s happening. Serren is gifted but not excessively so; she must genuinely struggle and even then does not reach a perfect outcome. Lee packs a lot into a short piece, but it is not overstuffed. I would happily read more fiction in this setting and will have to track down some of Lee’s other science fiction pieces. Recommended.