Editor: Nisi Shawl / Solaris Books
“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” –Octavia E. Butler
I open this review with the same quote that opens New Suns, not just because it is so appropriate, but because it speaks to an ongoing drive in Speculative Fiction to find new definitions, new areas for the genre. More and more writers identify with the umbrella term, speculative fiction, instead of the traditional Science Fiction or Fantasy distinctions. This anthology really shows why. The stories defy neat categories, some being more this than that, some being a seamless blend of both. The future figures prominently, but so does the past, ghosts, and the ancestors. There are robots, of course, but so much more of the future than just that. If you’re a collector of short stories by people of color, as I am, you’d be well suited to pick up this book.
One of the interesting and complex tasks that writers take up in New Suns is to wrestle with the past. Not as alternative history, or as the consequences we live in now, but to look at past events and re-write them from different perspectives. Two stories here do that particularly well. “Burn the Ships” by Alberto Yáñez retells the story of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, in magic-filled metaphor. Here there are blood rites, cold-hearted gods, and vengeful spirits willing to give power for a price. Woven with that is a kind of love story, or at least a relationship story about a man and woman who have known each other so long that the main character, Citlal can laugh at her husband, “a deep appreciative laugh, the kind only long-time lovers or intimate friends who know each other’s every secret can laugh. It’s the laugh of delight that comes when someone does exactly hat you know they’ll do, and you love them for it.” This is the kind of story that brings new depth to the history we think we know.
Sitting comfortably beside that is “The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations” by Minsoo Kang, which is about retelling and reworking history, even as it does just that. It takes an ancestral story about peace and war and peels the layers of “truth”, revealing how each version hides some facts and reveals others. Kang plays with the way that even as we question the layers, it is all too easy to keep hiding. This story intrigues with the mystery it implies, and with what it leaves out.
New Approaches to Fairy Tales
Folklore remains a fertile field for speculative fiction writers to wander through, picking their favorites to manipulate. What some stories do is not so much manipulate the core myths, but twist us the reader into a new relationship with that myth. These are neither future tales nor past ones, they are timeless in their way, and endlessly accessible.
Chinelo Onwualu brings us “The Fine Print”, a tale that slowly reveals itself to be about the deals we make in exchange for peace and harmony, and the lengths some will go to in order to remake that deal. If that isn’t the stuff of folklore, nothing is. Oh, and also there are catalog women who are really foxes that an all-powerful spirit can send you for a price. The story is about Nuhu, who navigates between his father’s expectations, his catalog bride, and his own desires. His solution is unconventional, but the telling feels so classic, it would be at home in any book of fables.
Another remade myth is “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” by Jaymee Goh. Goh explodes western stories of mermaids, mixing them with her own South East Asian folklore to lead the reader through a series of encounters with…well…with a creature that is half beautiful woman, half sea…I can’t even tell you. Just know that she’s a monster from the waist down, and not a smooth sexy one at that. But the way the story comes together, I won’t blame you if you start having feelings for sea crustaceans in the future. The fact that I even typed that is evidence of how good this story is, how well developed, and how freeing.
Almost Now, But Not Quite
My favorite stories, the ones I read more than once, are the ones that seem contemporary at the start, but slowly develop to reveal that it is an alternative now, one where something has changed, will change, is changing. It twists my relationship with the now in interesting ways that I never get bored with. Karin Lowachee shares just such a tale in “Blood and Bells.” It is set in a Native American world, one with poverty and casinos side by side, but also with tribes and traditions. Lowachee’s story is about Taiyo, a young father, walking the lines between rival tribes to protect his son while also managing his own traumas and loss. What makes this story is the language. It is a song of dialect, consistently portrayed in both beauty and ugliness. “Echoes bounce along the puddles like skip stones and I stop before number 555. We used to think the triple 5s be luck, Losa and me. We’d shut this door and pretend all the world was some other planet, something from fairy jaw and cast aside tech.” The whole story is like that. It is one thing to tell a good story, it is another thing to tell a good story that makes the words bend for you, and Lowachee does that.
My favorite short in the anthology is “One Easy Trick” by Hiromi Goto. Something about the mundane nature of the story – a woman who’s a little chubbier than she’d like to be goes hunting mushrooms – mixed with the adventurous magical reality of what happens to her in the woods is haunting. As a woman living in an “average” sized body, her desire to be thin along with her reactions as her body changes were striking. I found myself telling all of my girlfriends about “One Easy Trick” and rolling over the “What If…” it shares.
New Galaxy of Speculative Fiction
New Suns is an appropriate title. A sun is the center around which other topics revolve. For recent memory, science fiction and fantasy have centered just one or two authors to whom all others were compared. The Giants of the Field as it were, were inevitably white, male, straight. What anthologies like this do, what the field as a whole is doing, is shatter the idea that there is one center of speculative fiction. There are multiple centers, sub genres, and themes, multiple suns. And various successful authors in each galaxy of fictional work. New Suns* collects exactly those authors – this is not a book of newcomers – and offers readers new areas to explore. Short stories continue to be the beautiful edge of what’s possible in Spec Fic. I recommend this one if you want to keep up on the movement as lead by writers of color of various backgrounds and interests.
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