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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How to Recover from a Ginger Scald · 16 May 2011
Science fiction and fantasy transport us out of our comfort zones, into imaginary worlds where the normal rules don't apply. I try to do the same in my food adaptations and (as is to be expected) sometimes living outside the rules has consequences. The latest side effects of trying to push the cooking envelope were the left over ingredients from the Ginger Scald.
Fortunately, the ginger oil has proved a bit more reality friendly than the Scald and I've incorporated it into several tasty vegetable dishes, including the super simple spinach side below. The sweetened radishes proved a bit more difficult, but after a bit head-scratching I came up with a salad I'll be submitting for the Bookalicious Feeding America cookbook.
If you too decided that having the experience of making a Ginger Scald was worth some inconvenience in the kitchen and found creative ways to use up the left overs, I'd love to hear about it. I've still got a half cup of ginger oil left and I'm looking for a new adventure.
Spinach Salad with Garlic Ginger Oil Dressing
- One pound fresh spinach
- 4 Tbsp. ginger oil
- 2 Tbsp. garlic (or more to taste)
- 2 tsp. soy sauce
Heat ginger oil and garlic in saucepan over high heat until garlic is slightly browned.
Add spinach and stir, thoroughly coating leaves. Stir continuously until spinach is wilted but not fully cooked (about 2 minutes).
Remove pan from heat, pour in soy sauce, and stir until mixed.
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