Ideomancer, Volume 5, Issue 2, June 2006

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.
"Leftovers" by Keri Bas
"Triple Helix" by Ruth Nestvold
"Unstringing the Bow" by Yoon Ha Lee

"Leftovers" by Keri Bas is a flash piece from the viewpoint of one of the virgins sacrificed to the Minotaur in Ancient Crete. She alone has survived, and now her world has dwindled to a pitifully small corner of labyrinth where she crouches in fear of the Minotaur.

While Bas skillfully portrays the dull despair that comes after all hope is abandoned, I suffered from not knowing at the outset what this referred to. The word "Kore" in particular threw me, as it is also another name for Persephone. The numerous mythological allusions make this a tale that will be satisfying to mythology-lovers, but I found it relied too much on those allusions to truly engage me.

"Triple Helix" by Ruth Nestvold is an interesting experiment: a hypertext story. The first "page" offers five different ways into the linked entries. These include bits of reports, encyclopedias, etc. They focus on the first contact between a team of anthropologists and the system of Rakild, and both the third biological sex of Rakild, a sex essential to procreation, and on the human slavery practiced by the Rakild’s inhabitants.

This is not a story per se, but it is a very satisfying experience to piece together what happened from all the entries, as well as an intriguing reflection on the role of First Contact Teams. First contact is a classic theme of SF, and books such as Orson Scott Card‘s Speaker for the Dead have explored the need for non-interference, a concept most likely derived from anthropology. I have seldom seen it done when the moral customs of the aliens were truly repellent, as they are in this case; this is not a matter of what the aliens do among themselves, but of how they deal with other species (and, by implication, how they will deal with humans). What is the responsibility of the First Contact Team in those circumstances? Nestvold does not have any easy answers, but the questions she raises deserve to be considered. Thoroughly recommended.

"Unstringing the Bow" by Yoon Ha Lee exhibits Lee’s gorgeous prose and mythical characters. The narrators guard a maze at the heart of things, a maze that whispers tales of the outside world. They faithfully transcribe everything into books. Until the day a mysterious woman, Nanmori, arrives chased by an army and finds refuge in the maze.

"Unstringing the Bow" is not standard fantasy.  In fact, it reminded me most of my mathematics and physics classes (algebra was apparently what inspired Lee to write this). But it is also a lovely reflection on the power of words, of how they may create and change things, undo them, and, at the last, become meaningless.