The Mythology of Salt by Octavia Cade

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 12, 2014 in Reviews

Strange Horizons
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This is a story of three women, tied together by motherhood, grief, infidelity and salt. Their lives are so interconnected, and yet they are all strangers to one another. Makareta has lost her husband and the father of her three daughters. She has been left to continue the family business of hauling salt across the galaxy to a planet that uses it in a secret birth ritual. Edith has just given birth to twins, a boy and a girl, though before the girl can suckle from her mother’s breast, her first meal must be that of salt, harvested by Edith’s own two hands after a grueling journey, her legs still bloodied and unsteady from so many hours of labor.  Miriama is Edith’s lost aunt, banished away from their homelands after a sexual encounter with a man from another world that left her with child. She is old now, and her daughter is grown and is ready to venture out on her own–unsure of why her mother clings to the traditions of the people who shunned her, but the tie of the mythology of salt is strong, both across generations and bloodlines:

Salt was a precious commodity. Scarce, although the pillar endured—partly because the men thought it cursed, a punishment for disobedience, and the women took care not to alter that perception. Other sources were imported. Brought by spaceships from ocean worlds to the desert and too expensive for traditional communities such as Edith’s. So be it, said the elders, who wanted little contact with traders anyway, arguing that they did not understand desert life, and contact with them polluted. It had done so to her mother’s sister, and Edith had been raised on warning tales at the back of the fire, whispered where the men could not hear and spit on her name into the desert. “Miriama was not so much older than you,” her mother had told her, on the night of Edith’s first bleeding. “She fell in love with a man from another world, and gave herself up to him. Of course that was the end of it—tossed out, she was, without so much as a single date, a single cup of water. She gave it all up for salt. I wept into my blankets at night, knowing I would never see her again.” And that was the end of it; the end of interaction and transaction and trade. 

It was these strictures Edith thought of first when she arrived at the pillar and saw a strange woman, in foreign trousers and jacket, her head immodestly bare, her chin and lips scarred blue with ink. At first Edith thought she was blowing sand at the pillar, but the quick warm smell of water permeated the air, jolted her out of weariness into feverish dismay.

Her mother’s stories came suddenly back to her: abandonment and disconnection and loss, a life looking back to a sister kept separate forever. At her breast, the baby cried—and the sharp, stabbing fear that her child would be lost as her mother’s sister was lost spurred her into action.

This story is one of subtleties, and I had to reread it to pick up what I missed on the first go-round. It is an interesting commentary on the sacrifices mothers make to keep their families whole, and the secret sub-culture of womanhood that happens under the noses of menfolk. I feel like theses women are tied down by the traditions surrounding salt, but at the same time, it is salt that puts food in their mouths, gives them identity, and ties them together in sisterhood. Will the tradition continue, or will Miriama’s daughter or someone of the like deny her heritage and seek something greater, or at least something different? And will the disconnect from one’s culture eventually drive her back to the comfort of salt?

Anna Lee Fisher, First Mother in Space

REAL Women in Space
Anna Lee Fisher
First mother in space.
STS-51-A (Nov. 8, 1984)
Creative Commons

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Communion by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 11, 2014 in Reviews

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Chaurin has left the tunnel-cities of his homeworld to find the remains of his brother, killed at a gaudy human city on the planet Kriti. He doesn’t understand what drove his brother to want to live among the humans, so light and slight, and easy to dispose of.  While he is not here to exact his revenge, the thought does cross his mind. He’s more nervous about the state of his brother’s body, six months after his death. Chaurin has gotten here as fast as he could manage, but is devastated when he is presented with the remains in a small box:

Chaurin reached out a hand, and then pulled it back. He’d thought he was prepared, but the shock of seeing the box made his mouth go dry, so that he had to swallow before he could speak. “Is this all there is? Was he . . . cremated?” The word was unfamiliar in Chaurin’s mouth, but he had learned it, just in case. He hadn’t known what he would find on arrival, so had studied human death customs on the long journeys between Jump points. He hadn’t been able to afford a luxury cruise; the clan had barely scraped together enough to buy him passage on a freighter. They had been afraid to wait longer than they had to, afraid of what would happen to Gaurav’s remains.

Amara is one of the humans that had been spared from death due to Gaurav’s bravery. She’s still trying to process the senseless violence and loss of life, and has stepped away from her career in law enforcement to tend to a garden at the memorial site, using her hands to make things grow in Kriti’s stingy soil. When a broad and terse saurian suddenly stands before her, she thinks she’s seeing Gaurav again…no not him, but strikingly similar, and his imposing look suggests he means business.

Mary Anne does an exquisite job weaving together the narratives of these two characters. Each offers a glimpse of the other and the world surrounding them as filtered through their views with all the glory of their cultural baggage. Even more impressive are the turns this story takes. Just when you think you know where it’s going–bam! Didn’t see that coming. The writing is seamless, allowing me to immerse myself in the world, right up until the sad moment I noticed my browser’s scroll bar coming to the end of the page. This is a story of how death and destruction can tie strangers together, even if they’re species from different sides of the cosmos. Some things truly are universal–from the act of bringing life into this world, to the act of commemorating a life extinguished. The customs may be vastly differ on the outside, and they may even seem barbaric filtered through one’s own cultural lenses, but the emotions that rim the heart do no waver. I think it is important to be often reminded that the way one sees things is not the right way, but only a way, so give it a read, or even a re-read. This is one you don’t want to miss.

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Special Delivery by Maddie Engelfried

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 10, 2014 in Writer's Life

Bikes in Space
(Disclaimer, I have a story that also appears in this issue. Any typos in the story sample are mine.)


In this little flash piece, we get a slice of life story of a girl with a bike route on the moon. “Newspaper delivery on the moon?”  I’m sure you’re asking yourself. But in the moon town of Summersville, Last Haven of Small Town America, people pay a hefty price to keep up appearances of a nostalgic time that none of them had actually lived through.

But delivering newspapers wasn’t a bad job. The ad on the telescreen had specified that a paperboy was wanted, but once the committee in charge of the town had seen how she could ride, they hired her immediately. They had given her the bike, to which she had made a few discreet modifications. They cautioned her about “maintaining authenticity,” but the adjustments were almost invisible to the untrained eye, and anyway no one was awake during her shifts.

This piece does its job at making the reader feel nostalgia for a simpler time. I remember my parents getting their news from the paper, instead of me getting it from a screen. I don’t have a robot to do my lawn…yet…but that day is already here. This story is a simple one, but it’s also a refreshing view of our future. Will there be towns like this on the moon? Will we ever revert to a simpler time, and give up the luxuries of technology,  just for the pleasure of it all?

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