Clarkesworld Issue 158 – Operation Spring Dawn by Mo Xiong (translated by Rebecca Kuang)
The what: A genetically-engineered (rather human) Key, Little Snow, accompanied by her genetically-engineered (rather robotic) little helpers, must brave a terrible Ice Age to find ancient Locks and discover their purposes, a place to be for herself and the grand plan she has been designed for by her human ancestors.
The who: Mo Xiong, an award-winning science fiction Chinese writer, with nominations for the Xingyun Award, Galaxy Award, and several other Chinese SF awards. This story was the first of many in his City of Chaos series, which also includes a novel (Hell Hunt), two novellas (Pray of Doomsday and Turtledove), and several short stories.
The why: First of all, the story is actually even more complex and deep than it seems from the description, as it packs a lot of heavy-weight twists, revelations and a huge moral dilemma. Second, I loved how a dead, desolate world is slowly discovered through exploration (we do love our post-apocalypses in the East) and how the ever-growing death and cold creep inside the reader, freezing his/her mind as well, in more ways than one. And third: ironically, I loved it for being quite badly written. Western scifi has long gone past the initial clumsiness and robotic, cranky dialogues age into perfectly written, artistic literature, but also lost that raw, pioneering spirit and its harsh realism – well, apparently Chinese scifi is still in that stage and I absolutely loved the nostalgic surge of ”hero fights alien world in simple words and wins!” (sort of…)
Also, as a non-literary note, having myself grown up in a Communist dictatorship, I could easily see where the author (or some censor) added a must-have propaganda flavor, but also how the entire story could be read as a political statement – just my view, of course, I am sure the author meant nothing like that…
Lightspeed Issue 114 – A Country Called Winter by Theodora Goss
The what: Veriska, raised in Boston by her single, immigrant mother, slowly discovers more and more about her country of origin, its past and future struggles and strengths and begins to realize they might also be her own past and future.
The who: Theodora Goss is a World Fantasy and Locus Award-winning Hungarian-American author of the short story and poetry collections In the Forest of Forgetting (2006), Songs for Ophelia (2014), and Snow White Learns Witchcraft (2019), as well as novella The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), debut novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), and sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (2018). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her work has been translated into twelve languages.
The why: Unlike the other two recommendations, this story offers neither plenty of action, nor original alien worlds – on the contrary, its strengths are the slowness by which it unfolds and the way it gradually inserts well-known fairytale elements into a very prosaic city life. Ever since the first sentences, I was absolutely charmed by the soothing, poetic beauty of the writing and the almost mythical atmosphere created. I was of course also enchanted by the numerous Eastern-European elements (an Orthodox matriarch, local clothing style, landscapes and so on) and the mixture of Slavic and Finno-Ugric mythology; but most of all by two things: the almost exclusively female family, clan and even entire country trying to deal with the aftermath of a Revolution, World War 2 and Civil War that killed their fathers, sons and brothers (just as it was around here and we know it very well); and the suggestion that behind very ordinary things there might hide other older, deeper meanings and values.
Tor.com (Nov. 6) – In Xanadu by Lavie Tidhar
The what: Nila of the Banu Qattmir was born, raised and trained as a soldier to protect her AI overlords from physical threats, but she grows restless, as nothing ever happens in their lair, well-hidden on Titan. Then, out of the blue, everything happens… and she must decide which Law is more important: Security through Physicality or Security through Obscurity?
The who: Lavie Tidhar is an Israeli-born writer, working across multiple genres (mostly scifi, fantasy and graphic novels). His novel Osama won the 2012 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel; his novel A Man Lies Dreaming won the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize for Best British Fiction, in 2015; he also won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2017, for Central Station. As of October 2019 Tidhar is a columnist for the Washington Post.
The why: I have read Tidhar before in translation and, although I enjoyed his original HebrewPunk style and Middle-Eastern flavor, I was not that impressed by his rhythm. So, when for the first third of this story the main character and I were equally bored, I was not amazed… and, man, were we duped into an action-packed surprise! Suddenly, it all goes terribly wrong… or right… or confusing in any case… and having just learned the worldbuilding through that fake lull, I was just absolutely dragged into the (perfectly 3D all senses-perceived) chaos next to the teenager Nila. And then into her struggle not only to survive, but also to understand, from very few hints, who is the enemy for her and who for her masters, as it might (or might not) be the same thing. The open ending (which I must admit I presumed to suggest the worst) is perfect for this entire tricky piece, with its perfectly timed use of very different rhythms, perceptions, moral values and doubts.
What’s this column about? I love short fiction, but I also know that not many of us actually have the time to browse through all the monthly issued stories, or go buy a physical magazine. Yet, you can easily go online while you wait for something, and must only click these links – here’s 3 scifi (or fantasy) pieces hand-picked as worthy of your limited time, each with 3 vital qualities: readily available online, great literary value, and also 3 to read. Free for the reader, I mean. So, Scifi 3.