Posted by Nicky Drayden on Apr 2, 2010 in Reviews
Published by: Asimov’s Science Fiction, 2009
Photo by Kodismom Creative Commons
Mira died in a car accident, but that’s not the worst of her problems. She’s now a bridesicle — half icicle, half mail order bride — waiting for her prince charming to revive her cryogenically frozen body. Only it’s not exactly the princes that go to the dating centers of the dead. It’s the weirdos, the perverts, and the old men looking for the affection of pretty young things. And apparently not even those types are interested in Mira. She slips in and out of death, for decades on end, trying to convince her would be suitors to give her a second chance at life in exchange for her hand in marriage. Her future depends on the sweet nothings she can mutter form her cold, blue lips, wooing men with her flaccid face and dead eyes…
The Craft: Character Arcs
Mira wakes up eighty years after her death, unable to move anything thing besides her face. She quickly learns that she’d been frozen after her accident, and is now at the mercy of the men visiting her icy crypt to pay for her revival. The world Mira had known is gone, including her mother, whose consciousness had been implanted in Mira’s brain. Mira has considerable guilt about losing her mother, despite that her mother hadn’t done much to deserve such sentiment. Having her mother constantly in hitching along on her thoughts, judging her every move, and second guessing her decisions had made Mira’s life a living hell, and she’s relieved to finally be rid of her.
But trapped in a half-death, Mira now has bigger problems, namely getting the nerve to convince some desperate schmuck that she’ll love him only if he’ll free her. She’s got guilt about this too. She’s never had to deceive, and she lies to Lycan, a shy, overweight man who visits her on occasion. It pains her not be herself, to bend to fit his fantasy of a woman and to tell him the sweet things he so desperately wants to hear. Mira finds the strength within her to pretend she’s interested in him, even though in life, she hadn’t been interested in men at all. As it turns out though, Lycan had secrets of his own. He doesn’t have the money to revive Mira.
The good news is that Mira learns that her girlfriend Jeanette had been frozen, too, and Lycan passes a message to her, just a few crypts away. Mira’s outlook changes instantly, and now she truly has something to live for. Another century or so passes before she gets her next chance at freedom, from an orange-tinted attorney looking for a surrogate to birth a child for him and his late wife, who’s hitching in his head. And apparently it’s pretty crowded in the orange man’s brain, who’s Lycan’s grandson as it turns out. Lycan’s hitching too, trying to convince the orange man and his wife to choose Mira as the surrogate. Mira makes a case for herself, tries to say all the right things, but it’s just not enough. Finally, she tells the truth, that she’s gay, hoping it’ll ease the wife’s jealousy.
Mira never liked having her mother as a hitcher, but she admires how the orange man and his family coexist in a sort of marital bliss. After she’s free and raising her child, she decides she wants to experience a that bliss for herself. She doesn’t have the money to revive Jeannette, but she’s got enough to get her consciousness implanted. They’ll be together through this life at least, and maybe more. In this delightfully odd Nebula Award contender, Mira is stuck in a state where she must constantly reevaluate her morals and motives in her search for freedom. She betrays herself, but at the same time, grows into a stronger woman, realizing that she doesn’t need to be anchored down by the guilt and hurt from past lives. She also realizes that she’d given up too soon on love, the one thing that’s able to transcend death, even without fancy technology.
Posted by Nicky Drayden on Feb 28, 2010 in Reviews
Photo by Chi King Creative Commons
Author Website: nkjemisin.com
Published by: Clarkesworld Magazine, Sept 2009
Every morning, Adele prepares herself for battle. She prays to the gods of her ancestors, bathes in fragrant herbs, then piles on her armor — trinkets such as the Saint Christopher medal her mother gave her, a hair clasp that doubles as a badge of courage, and a lucky pair of worn panties she’s particularly fond of. As Adele walks to work, she keeps an eye out for others who might not have taken care to protect themselves as dutifully as she does.
Her mistrust of public transportation is justified yet again when an elevated train jumps its track just a few blocks away. A tragedy, yes. A freak occurrence, yes. But accidents happen all the time, right? In New York City, these freak occurrences are piling up. The Lottery went bankrupt from too many winners. The Knicks made it all the way to the Finals and the Mets clenched the Series. People with cancer and AIDS are being spontaneously cured. It’s no wonder why tourists are flocking here for a taste of luck.
Too bad nobody told them they’ve got an equal chance of being brained by an improperly installed window A/C unit or roasted inside an exploding tour bus. In this time of certain uncertainty, people cling onto faith and superstition and whatever else will get them through the day. A fitting story for my thirteenth review…
The Craft: Beginnings
The first paragraph opens with Adele preparing for battle with an odd mash of rituals. She prays to the Christian god and to those of her African ancestors. She bathes in a mix of herbs that leave her smelling like coffee and pumpkin pie. Then she adorns herself in personal trinkets that give her the protection and courage to face her day. The reader in quickly sucked into the story by these rich, odd, tantalizing details and by the undercurrent of humor. The parentheticals set a light tone, and the reader is left wondering what dangers Adele expects to encounter.
That danger immediately presents itself in the following few paragraphs when an elevated train jumps the track and crashes a few blocks away. The scene is compact, but full of details that touch the senses and give the reader a good feel for space in this urban setting. Adele battles her emotions as she goes to help, but can’t help feeling like the crash victims brought this on themselves. The last line of the scene sums it up brilliantly:
“They should have known better. The probability of a train derailment was infinitesimal. That meant it was only a matter of time.”
Obviously things are going wonky in this world, and if this scene doesn’t hook you in, I don’t know what will.
The next scene continues with more tasty details and humor, but we also get a sense of what’s really going on in her world, as her neighbor across the hall demonstrates, throwing snake eyes after snake eyes with a pair of dice. Crossing his fingers has some effect, though it doesn’t totally ward off the weird that is ravaging New York City. Adele takes the cue and succumbs to superstitions, careful to avoid breaking mirrors and opening her umbrella indoors. She also spends hours looking for four-leaf clovers, real ones, and not the knock-offs they sell in Chinatown.
The plot gets going soon after, centering around “A PRAYER FOR THE SOUL OF THE CITY”, a massive gathering of half a million people meeting at Yankee Stadium to pray the city back into shape. The event is on August 8th, considered a lucky day by the Chinese. But Adele soon realizes that while some people are intent on restoring order, others are embracing the chaos of their new world and adapting. After all, since she’s been walking to work, she’s lost ten pounds and has gotten to know her neighbors for the first time. She embraces the change instead of fearing it — a nice parallel to the times of uncertainty we’re living in today.
Not to sound like an obvious fan girl, but “Non-Zero Probabilities” is one of those stories that makes me glad that this mode of storytelling exists. I enjoyed every bit of it, and it’s no wonder its a Nebula finalist. Also, N. K. Jemisin’s debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms just hit the shelves last week, and you can bet I’ll be seeking out a copy.
Posted by Nicky Drayden on Feb 21, 2010 in Announcements
Congratulations to Kij Johnson for her short story Spar (Clarkesworld Magazine, Oct 2009) making it to the ballot of the 2009 Nebula Awards! See the rest of the nominees on SFWA’s Blog.
Read my review of this striking story here.