bibliogramma: (Default)

Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghost Talkers is a book that crosses genres with impudence and verve. It's a World War I historical romance, with a spunky red-headed heroine and a dashing military officer. It's a wartime spy thriller, with traitors and murders and secret codes. And it's a historical fantasy in which the British make use of a distinctly paranormal source of intelligence - the ghosts of soldiers killed in combat.

In Kowal's slightly alternate world, mediums are real, and the war effort has recruited them to interview the souls of those lost in battle for information about enemy weapon placements, troop movements, anything the revenant remembers about the circumstances of his death. And in turn, the mediums record their final messages for those they leave behind.

Ginger Stuyvesant is one of the mediums of the "London branch" of the Spirit Corps - so named to hide its true location in Le Havre - and her fiancé, Ben Harford, is an officer in British Intelligence. She, like all the other mediums, spends her days talking to the dead, reliving their last moments with them, and then dismissing them to the next plane. And then everything changes, when one of the ghosts reporting in is an officer she knows, stationed in Le Havre, who tells her that he thinks he was murdered - and the last thing he remembers is overhearing is a discussion between two spies that could mean the Germans are planning on targeting the Spirit Corps.

What follows is a fast-paced story of spy vs. spy as Ginger hunts clues to the identity of the spies across war-torn France. There are plenty of red herrings and false leads, dead ends and desperate plots. And of course, a love story.

What gives the narrative extra depth is Kowal's focus on the women (the mediums employed by the war department are mostly women, but the war also relied on the services of nurses, female couriers and other support personnel) and people of colour who were part of the war but are so rarely seen in fictional accounts of The Great War.

Sexism abounds. When Ginger attends a staff meeting as the acting head of the Spirit Corps, she's asked to make coffee. Her reports on the murder and subsequent related events are downplayed because she is a woman. The work that the mediums do - soul-wrenching and potentially deadly should the medium fail to disengage from the departing ghost - is dismissed as "sitting around," in a way that recollects the minimalising of the value of so much women's work. Not even Ginger's beloved Ben, who has learned to acknowledge her value and strength, is completely free of overprotectiveness disguised as gallantry.

Racism abounds as well. The strongest and most experienced medium is Helen, a woman of colour - but not only is she unable to take her natural position as leader of of Spirit Corps, she and other black mediums can't even fraternise with their white colleagues. At the same time, skilled and experienced soldiers from the Indian colonies are sidelined as drivers, and are excluded from the conditioning given to all white soldiers that ensures that they will report after death - then be mercifully dismissed, rather than left to wander the fields they died in.

Kowal's narrative moves swiftly, capturing both the horrors of war (she makes effective use of Rupert Brooke's war poems) and the "whistling in the dark" kind of humour so often found side by side with death and the constant pressure of being in a war zone. In a book which deals so powerfully with darkness, separation, sacrifice and death, she reminds us that there is also love and courage, and that after the dead have passed, life goes on.

bibliogramma: (Default)

Katya Gould, the protagonist of Mary Robinette Kowal's novella Forest of Memory, is a dealer in Authenticities - artefacts from the past that have a provenance and a history of real use, a patina of use and wear that she and her clients call wabi-sabi. The world she lives in is one of constant connectedness - most people are hooked into a system that informs, records, communicates and tracks their every word and action.

Katya is returning from a buying trip when she accidentally encounters a mysterious man who is drugging and tagging deer. He blocks her connection to her AI, drugs and kidnaps her, holding her in a forest area while he tags several more groups of deer. Apparently wounded by a buck, he lets her go. When she gets far enough away to reconnect, she calls for help, but when a medical team arrives, and she leads them back to the site where she was held, there is nothing to be found but deer tracks.

At least, that's what she remembers. Because nothing of her experience was recorded, it's hard for others to believe her story. And when an unknown client hires her to write her story - a one-of-a-kind account on a typewriter the client has also bought - her hesitations and disclaimers show that she is not even sure herself of the authenticity of her memories.

The account she types out - typographic errors, false starts and all - forms the text of the story. It is her first person narrative of what she remembers. And what she doubts, and mistrusts, and the lacunae when she is drugged or asleep. It is the authentic human experience - which cannot, unlike the artefacts she appraises, ever be authenticated.

bibliogramma: (Default)

"Harvestfruit," J. Y. Yang, july 2014, Crossed Genres
http://crossedgenres.com/magazine/019--harvestfruit/

In this chilling piece of flash fiction, Yang explores the responses of people traumatised by capture and forced integration into a society where they live only to satisfy the needs of others.



"So, You Must Talk to the Woman Who Is Wearing Headphones," Alexandra Petri, August 30, 2016, The Washington Post
https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2016/08/30/so-you-must-talk-to-the-woman-who-is-wearing-headphones/?utm_term=.608e14c2aac8

A powerful and very pertinent piece 'inspired' by the public conversation about the inappropriate demands for attention men make on women who clearly do not want to be disturbed.


"The Lady Astronaut of Mars," Mary Robinette Kowal, electronic publication September 11, 2013, Tor.com
http://www.tor.com/2013/09/11/the-lady-astronaut-of-mars/

A moving novelette about an aging former astronaut called back in for a final mission that she is uniquely suited to perform, and the emotional costs of deciding between the desire to return to space and the responsibilities that arise from love.


"The Curse of Giants," Jose Pablo Iriarte, March 7, 2016, Daily Science Fiction
http://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/magic-realism/jose-pablo-iriarte/the-curse-of-giants

Some stories give you all the clues you need to figure out what's happening, but nevertheless kick you in the gut at the final reveal. This is one of those stories. Some people might debate whether it's really science fiction, or magic realism, or something else, but it's powerful and it's both comment and critique on the world we live in, and the nature of courage.


"Between Dragons and Their Wrath," An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky, February 2016, Clarkesworld
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/owomoyela_swirsky_02_16/

Domei and hir friend Hano live in a country that lies between two nations at war, a country ravaged and poisoned by dragons used as weapons of destruction. This story focuses on how the terrible aftermath of war and global exploitation affects innocent people trying to live their lives in the midst of destruction they neither caused nor understand. It is a story of despair, resignation, and faint, distorted hope, and it wracks the soul.

bibliogramma: (Default)

More short fiction from the vast corners of the Net.


"Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters," by N. K. Jemisen (originally published 2010, The Company He Keeps, reprinted 2015 Uncanny Magazine Issue #6)
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/sinners-saints-dragons-and-haints-in-the-city-beneath-the-still-waters/

A good man and a family of miniature dragons face the evil that grows in the heart of the city drowned by hurricane Katrina. Powerful and painful.


"The Oiran's Song," by Isabel Yap, September 2015, Uncanny Magazine
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-oirans-song/

Akira, a former pageboy in a pleasure house is taken as a soldier, trained to fight but also used with casual brutality as a servant and sex slave. When they buy an unusual oiran (courtesan), Ayame, to serve them as well, a strange bond forms between the two victims of war. The subject matter is painful, but the story is both powerful and beautiful.


"September 1 in Tblisi," by Irakli Kobiashvili, Summer 2015, One Throne Magazine
http://www.onethrone.com/#!september-1-in-tbilisi/ccw8

A strong and discomfiting story about the often violent policing of gender norms, set in post-revolution Tblisi, Georgia. (Not sff.)


"Security Check," by Han Song (translated by Ken Liu), August 2015, Clarkesworld
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/han_08_15/

At first, this story seems to be a typical dystopia. Louis, the protagonist, lives in New York, in a future America that has given up everything for security. People travel only by subway, and everyone must pass through a thorough security check to get to the subway system. The goal is to make everything - and everyone - completely, constantly safe. But to read further is to see each previous assumption about the country, the world, and ultimately the universe in which this is happening - and what is responsible - rendered an illusion, an experiment in reality. Thought-provoking, but ultimately not quite satisfying.


"City of Ash" by Paolo Bacigalupi, July 27, 2015, A Medium Corporation
https://medium.com/matter/city-of-ash-94255fa5d1a9

In an America devastated by climate change, where only the wealthiest have access to fresh water or greenery, a young girl dreams of a better future for herself and her father. As emotionally devastating to read as the future it describes.


"The Midnight Hour" by Mary Robinette Kowal, Uncanny Magazine Issue #5
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/midnight-hour/

A royal couple agree to pay an almost unbearable price for the wellbeing of their kingdom, and will do anything to keep their promise. The tragic elements - and they are many - are thankfully relieved by the strength of their love for each other and their people.


"In Libres" by Elizabeth Bear, Uncanny Magazine Issue #4
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/in-libres/

This is a wickedly funny story about a student of sorcery who needs just one more source citation to complete her thesis - but to get it, she must face the perils of the Special Collections Branch of the Library. To make clear the nature of the threat, the epigraph is from Borges, and the one essential thing needed to navigate the Library is a ball of twine.

Profile

bibliogramma: (Default)
bibliogramma

August 2017

S M T W T F S
  12345
67891011 12
13 141516 17 1819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Aug. 18th, 2017 11:52 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios