Strange Horizons, January 29, 2018
“Obscura” by Yoon Ha Lee
Reviewed by Jason McGregor
Strange Horizons surprises us on the fifth Monday in January with an extra double “Trans/Nonbinary Special Issue” which includes one very dull story and one that is anything but (but not in a good way). If anyone is looking for a good “Trans / Nonbinary” story, I recommend Jose Pablo Iriarte’s “The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” (Lightspeed) or Nick Wolven’s “Galatea in Utopia” (F&SF) which are just two of the stories on the theme this month.
“Obscura” by Yoon Ha Lee
A fourteen-year-old meets an older man at a bus stop and, after several meetings, is given a magic camera which shows (and makes) absences.
I find it odd that a child’s parents “had lost track of me months ago” yet the child can say, “I didn’t have much pocket money, since I burned through my allowance almost as fast as I got it.” Sounds like a tough life. Aside from the self-pity, it’s just generally under-fictionalized. The protagonist/narrator says of the stranger with the camera, “He had been my family when my real family was busy ignoring me.” Yet there is no written evidence of this prior to the declaration. Buying a cup of coffee and giving one a camera makes them family? Anyway—this is a “story obscura” which does nothing at all for me but fans of Strange Horizons‘ standard style/type may get something out of it.
“A Snow, A Flood, A Fire” by Jamie Berrout
A security guard at a museum is waiting on word of the funds coming in for a uterine transplant so he (now she) can have a child with a woman, with the guard doing the childbearing. These funds are denied due to the System’s trashing of the guard’s credit rating years earlier. So when the underpaid custodial workers arrive to rob the museum, she helps them. And this is only the beginning.
The rage and disgust I felt seeing ISIS destroy ancient monuments and works of art was effectively reawakened by this story. Except here, the “pro”tagonists are the ISIS terrorists. (Incidentally, it so subtly mentions that one guard does fire his weapon at them from “his post in European Art” before being neutralized.) While the presence of and manipulation of the AI which was supposed to oversee the guards is pretty ludicrous and the plotting is very contrived and convenient, the only thing good about this that I can think of is that it is a much more dramatic story than the previous one. So if you think fiction about destroying a museum because you don’t get your way is a fine thing, then I guess this is the story for you but, otherwise, stay far, far away.
More of Jason McGregor’s reviews can be found at Featured Futures.