The Mythology of Salt by Octavia Cade

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 12, 2014 in Reviews

Strange Horizons
Author Website:

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

Tags: , , ,

No Comments >>

“The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter” by Damien Angelica Walters

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 5, 2014 in Writer's Life

Strange Horizons, Jan 2014
Author Website:


Short Women in Space, Review #5

This story is about a Technical Mission Specialist, a space mechanic, if you will, who is damned good at her job. She’s spent more time aboard the space station than she has back on Earth, but when it comes to light that her deadbeat father is a serial killer on death row, her world gets turned upside down–which under the influence of microgravity, usually is not such a big effin’ deal.

Twelve dead women, all with families and loved ones, and the media has decided to focus on me. No, it doesn’t make sense, but it makes a hell of a headline, so they say. Most people don’t remember the names of the victims anyway.

And somewhere in the middle of this whole mess, the press is having a field day. I’ve become the serial killer’s astronaut daughter. I don’t know who the hell she is, but she isn’t me.

And yet here she is, her career in jeopardy because of the crimes committed by a father that was no more than a sperm donor. If she’d been a man, this situation would have blown over within a matter of weeks, reminding us that there are still gender inequalities and glass ceilings, even a couple hundred miles above Earth’s surface.

This piece uses a unique situation to point out some of the double standards that threaten to follow us into the future if they aren’t addressed head on. There are a ton of references to the Alien movie franchise, in which Sigourney Weaver is the supposed measuring stick for all badass women astronauts, and a ton of f-bombs are dropped, so if either of those things don’t appeal to you, you might give this one a pass, but if twentieth century pop culture and sailor-mouthed astronauts are you thing, take half an orbit with this story. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Kathryn D. Sullivan First American woman to walk in space

REAL Women in Space
Kathryn D. Sullivan
First American woman to walk in space (Oct. 11, 1984)
Creative Commons


Tags: , , ,

No Comments >>

“Lysistrata of Mars” by Tory Hoke

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 3, 2014 in Writer's Life

Strange Horizons, February 2014
Author Website:


Short Women in Space, Review #3

Okay, Tory Hoke. Who are you and how did you get into my brain? Seriously, this piece was practically written for me. The aliens are amazing. The writing is charmingly snarky. The depth of the message is spot on. Okay, let’s back up for a minute before I hyperventilate.

Kay has just arrived on the Martian colony of New Plymouth, broke but not completely broken, trying to forget her crappy life back on Earth. She’s looking for a fresh start, but rent’s overdue, and she’s about to be homeless. Then salvation comes in the form of an ad for a strip joint:

Club Combustion seeks dancers. Vertebrates only.

It’s a respectable gig, especially compared to the alternatives, so Kay auditions and gets the job, based on her nice waist, natural teeth, and her “cold but not stuck-up” attitude. In any case, Kay ends up inadvertently performing a sex-act on a pushy, shark-finned, patron and when she denies him for a second time, the whole of the colony suffers the repercussions.

This is a great story about personal boundaries–not just setting them, which sometimes can be a feat in and of itself–but also sticking to them, fortifying them as necessary when others try to tear them down. It speaks directly to women, but can be broadened to a human lesson in general.

It could be said that in this story, Kay lacks agency, and is more reactionary than solving problems for herself. But the act of saying “no,” while it happened early on in the story, it continues to echo as she stands (or sometimes cowers) behind her words. This is the driving force of the plot. The story’s message is heavy, but it’s depth does not burden the sheer entertainment value in any way. I think this is what impresses me the most. Give it a read, and watch for more great things from this author.

Anousheh Ansari First female space tourist

REAL Women in Space
Anousheh Ansari
First female space tourist
First Iranian in space
Soyuz TMA-9/8 (Sep. 18, 2006)
Creative Commons

Tags: , , , , ,

No Comments >>
Copyright © 2024 Diary of a Short Woman. All Rights Reserved.