8) ‘The Other Graces’ by Alice Sola Kim
Anyway, you were getting off the bus in that nice neighbourhood when the handle of the violin case slipped out of your hand. You stopped to wipe your sweaty hand on your t-shirt. Someone pushed up behind you and said, “Out of my way, chink.”
Who does that? Surely the dickhead utterer of such words must have been green-skinned, a thousand feet tall, dragging a spiked club behind it as it picked and ate its own boogers. But, no, it was just some pretty white girl, a little older than you, highponytailed and tall. She didn’t even look at you as she walked past.
The science fiction element of this story is ingenious but incidental. Trying to write about ‘The Other Graces’, which involved me so utterly I felt short of breath while reading it, leaves me wanting to tell you just read it. The way this story is told – that loose, idiomatic style that is nonetheless replete with original turns of phrase and striking imagery – is as ingenious as the SFnal conceit itself, doing things with point of view that are such an integral part of the story you barely notice their cleverness. Some small portions of the text are written in Hanja, which I cannot read, but that felt vital to the impact the story made on me nonetheless.
I’ve not come across Alice Sola Kim’s writing before, but I am delighted to learn that she’s currently working on a novel. In the meantime, luckily, there are more of her stories online for me to read.
9) ‘Boojum’ by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
“But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day/if your Snark be a Boojum! for then/You will softly and suddenly vanish away/And never be met with again.”
(Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark)
As well as the invariably lethal variety of Snark as described in Lewis Carroll’s epic poem, it is worth noting that ‘boojum’ was also the name given to a never-finally-commissioned variety of supersonic cruise missile. In Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s story a Boojum is an organic, sentient creature – a kind of space-whale, I think – that humans have learned to corral and control as intergalactic starships. The Boojum in question is the Lavinia Greenlaw, known as Vinnie to her captain and crew, a company of space pirates. Black Alice is an engineer, and has formed a particularly close bond with the ship on which she serves. Her ambition is to become chief engineer, but that ambition is not to be realised. When Captain Song picks the wrong craft to attack, and Vinnie begins to show dangerous signs of non-cooperation, Alice is brought to a decision that will reshape her universe…
It made sense, from what Black Alice knew about Boojums. Their infants lived in the tumult of the gas giants’ atmosphere, but as they aged, they pushed higher and higher, until they reached the edge of the envelope. And then – following instinct or maybe the calls of their fellows, nobody knew for sure – they learned to skip, throwing themselves out into the vacuum like Earth birds leaving the nest. And what if, for a Boojum, the solar system was just another nest?
… Jesus and the cold fishy gods, Black Alice thought. Is this why the Marie Curie ate her crew? Because they wouldn’t let her go?
‘Boojum’ is one of only two stories in this anthology that I’d previously read, and I was delighted to encounter it again. It’s great fun – this is beautiful worldbuilding – and gives you everything you’d want to find in a New Weird romp about space pirates. But the fun is thoughtfully underpinned by some serious meditations on the nature of non-humanoid intelligences and the exploitation of sentient beings. Wonderful characterisation, smart dialogue. I was left wanting more.