Review: Keepsakes by Mike Resnick · 20 May 2011
What would happen if the dominant inter-galactic culture found itself besieged by an alien race, not one bent on war, but one engaged the destruction of peoples' most cherished dreams and memories? Mike Resnick asks this question in his novella Keepsakes and provides a possible answer by exploring the relationship between Gabe Mola, a veteran agent in “the service” and Jebediah Burke, his new assistant.
They had many names, some of their own devising, some not. The one that stuck was the Star Gypsies.
It was my job to hunt them down. Of course, no one told me what to do when I caught them, because they usually hadn't broken any laws. Hearts, yes; dream, absolutely. But laws? Not often, if at all.
I found myself relating to both Gabe and Jebediah. I've been in placed into adversarial circumstances where I couldn't figure out the source of the enmity from the other party or the motivations for their actions and I've vacillated between similar thoughts. It's truly a frustrating experience when someone is being horrible to you and you just don't know why.
'Why would they bring such misery to a man who had trusted them and kept his bargain and hadn't done them any harm?'
Jebediah reacted with optimism that the situation with the Star Gypsies could be resolved as some kind of misunderstanding. He believed the fundamental problem was lack of information and by uncovering the root of the problem, he could solve it.
Gabe on the other hand, has decades of experience in witnessing the heartache and misery that the Star Gypsies leave behind. He's moved past believing the enemy may have benign intentions and well past believing there's a solution, but he keeps at his job of out a sense of duty.
'When you go to war, do you do it because someone has broken a law?' I said. 'No, you do it because a force of the enemy, however large or small, has committed actions that are detrimental to the people you are charged with protecting. This is pretty much the same thing'
It didn't sound all that convincing even to me, and he sure as hell didn't look convinced.
My favorite part of this story is the shifting alignment of the characters. You're never quite sure whether to be sympathetic to Gabe or to Jebediah, whether tolerance or intolerance is the moral high ground. As the story unfolds and the nature of the Star Gypsies is revealed, Resnick continues the balancing act, presenting an enemy who refuses to be called such. When Gabe and Jebediah finally diverge it's hard to judge either of them for the choices they've made.
By presenting a rich context of viewpoints, Keepsakes constantly asks the reader to examine their own biases. The questions raised by the characters could easily be asked by either side in a modern global political discussion. Resnick does us readers the service of assuming there's no easy answers and encouraging the debate.
However, Resnick doesn't just ask questions, he provides a commentary on loss. On the surface the story is about the loss of a keepsake but it's also about the loss of idealism, of innocence, and of hope. It shows us that while loss can ruin us, it can also temper our harsher instincts. Keepsakes cautions us that refusing to recognize and legitimize loss can dehumanize us and alienate us as surely as overtly acting to cause others loss.
Although there were a few discontinuities in the story, its ambition in undertaking complex themes in a way that challenges the reader makes it well worth the read.
I received a copy of this work for review from the publisher - 40kbooks.
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Snab a Short Story · 10 May 2011
Snab – To snatch, to grab
I've been reading quite a few short stories lately, in search of techniques that work well in short format fiction, and thought I'd share a few that caught my attention. All of these are available free (gratis) on the internet and they're the kind of read that you can sneak in on a quick break.
Sleeping with Bears by Theodora Goss - via Strange Horizons
I love the structure of this piece. Goss takes the familiar elements of a wedding: the invitation, the ceremony, the reception, et cetera and uses them to introduce a world in which a human girl can marry a bear.
Bit by bit we learn about the couple through snapshots of their wedding day as observed by our narrator, the bride's sister. She's the perfect mouthpiece for this story. She doesn't understand why her sister would choose a bear bridegroom and her exploration of this question becomes the reader's discovery of how little the exterior package matters as long as society is willing to treat your husband like a man.
Thanks to Becky over at A Book a Week for linking to this one.
Shards by Leah Thomas - via Daily Science Fiction
In this piece, perspective is the entry point to the story. Thomas examines a tragedy, its immediate aftermath, and its long-term consequences through the eyes of three different protagonists. It's only through experiencing the internal dialog of the first two characters that we can appreciate the irony of the last.
I particularly like how Thomas chooses to have the first character be mute by design and the second mute by choice. In using these techniques, the story makes the point that silence (no matter its origins) will fester into misunderstanding without addressing the theme explicitly. In a work this short, economy of words is particularly important, and I think this technique for introducing depth without taking away from the pacing of the story worked quite well.
Study for Solo Piano by Genevieve Valentine – via Fantasy Magazine (audio also available)
This is a longer work, leaving the author room to develop themes through repetition. The tone, like the subject matter, is lyrical, and Valentine uses asides like accents to break the gentle sway of the narration and bring the reader's attention to the harsh reality of her dystopian world.
"He thought he was used to knowing that there would be no music that did not come from him, from the brass barrel of his body and the spindly silver lengths of his arms, from the bellows on one side and the keys on the other that make him useless for work.
He thought it would please him, to have power like that. (You think a lot of strange things, before the truth sinks in.)"
The imagery syncopates between the steampunk and the fleshy elements of the characters, focusing both on what they've gained and what they've lost by choosing to survive. In this work, what I most liked about the style is the continuous touches on the themes of beauty and regret by having different characters provide their own definitions of them.
I thought the threat to the piano at the end could have been set up a better and a bit of foreshadowing in the story seems misplaced, but this story certainly whet my appetite for Valentine's recently released Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti set in the same world.
Though I missed the Monday recommendation, these short stories are part of my ongoing participation in The One Upon a Time Challenge
Review: Shades of Magic by K.D. Wilson · 17 April 2011
This book was received and reviewed as part of Library Thing Member Giveaways.
Goldcliff Grove is a small village that has an interesting history. The village received its name because of a large cliff that towers over the west edge of the town. The cliff sparkles, meaning that from afar, it might be thought to be made of gold.
So begins, Shades of Magic, a story the reader is told is interesting. The tale follows two young people, Edgar and Adelaide as they embark on a traditional hero-quest while coming of age adventure. From the Amazon blurb:
Edgar comes from a magical family, and hopes to live up to the reputation of his uncle, Magnus the Magnificent.
Adelaide discovers she has serious magical gifts. Unfortunately, Chadwick is a kingdom where women are forbidden to use magic.
Just as they are discovering the extent of their abilities, they find themselves thrust into a life-changing journey. With their masters, they embark on an epic adventure that leads them to each other, and to a world that may one day be without magic at all.
Is it within their power to harness all shades of magic and secure the fate of their craft?
The book fails in the execution of the promise that its cover makes. It attempts to tackle the serious themes of discrimination, self-awareness and regret but without the depth and attention those topics demand. The characters, ostensibly adults, have little subtlety. Wilson uses them to present what amounts to talking points, having her characters spout extremist positions. All too quickly, they see the errors of their ways and change course. The most egregious example is Edgar, who spends the first half of the book vociferously hating love and ridiculing those who have fallen into believing a woman is worth its steel jawed trap. Wilson uses him as a mouthpiece for sexual bigotry on several occasions.
Edgar was speechless. He could not believe the person that had all the answers was a woman. He couldn't see how a woman was going to be able to help them save magic, when they couldn't even use magic themselves.
Edgar looked at Magnus incredulously. He couldn't be serious. He was talking to this woman as though she was his equal, and planning on teaching the girl the same things he taught Edgar. He felt like he had entered into a backward universe . . .
The morning after espousing these views, Edgar decides not only are woman potentially worthwhile, but also worth impressing. The radical changes in attitude coupled with the readiness in which both Edgar and Adelaide readily accept their new stations and traipse after their new masters make the main characters seem more like impressionable adolescents than the twenty-somethings they are described as.
Because I had a hard time remembering the characters were adults, I question the interjection of casual (but not graphic) sex into this story. Both main characters jumped into bed with little preface and treated it with even less gravity; they exhibited neither the emotional upheaval I'd expect of someone inexperienced with physical intimacy nor the practiced skill and enjoyment of a person familiar with the act. In short, the romantic interludes, like so much of the story, felt forced and flat.
By reading I aspire to escape into the world created by the author, to transcend for a brief time the blinders that shape the world I see and to peek into the periphery of existence beyond what I've imagined. In Shades of Magic, I was too distracted by the repetition of descriptive style and lack of concrete sensory detail to conjure a good sense of the world Wilson envisioned.
They were stepping into the middle of an enormous room. The fountain was directly in the center of this large circular space. The walls were made of neatly stacked stone and rose high above them. Large tapestries hung all along the walls. They were the most colorful and vibrant draperies Edgar had ever seen.
The slang also disrupted the sense of world continuity. I don't expect a magical, preindustrial, fantasy world to be punctuated by modern exclamations, much less the jumble of “whoa,” “wow,” “dame,” “bloke,” and “mate” sprinkling the characters' speech.
Despite its flaws, Shades of Magic presents a quest undertaken and conquered, lessons learned, and love found. I think this is a story looking for an audience and trying to cast its net too wide. I could easily see it rewritten as a book targeting ten year-olds by morphing the romance into themes of budding friendship and the promise of love. A stubborn and one-dimensional boy is much more easily believed than a young man of twenty, and when he doesn't question his elders or changes his mind on a whim, it's the prerogative of youth. However, the style of Shades of Magic closely mirrored The Crown Conspiracy: The Riyria Revelations, a book which I chose not to finish, but has ardent fans. Perhaps there's already an audience for these works. I'm just not in it.