Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #98

July’s Apex Magazine features a nice little editorial that celebrates the USA’s birthday in a rather nice way. And the stories it brings to the table are an interesting pair, keeping things firmly in the realm of science fiction, probability and time travel, rabbits and desperation. In both we find characters on missions. In the first, it’s a mission to make sense out of a random universe. In the other, it’s a mission to undo what is being perceived as a great wrong. The stories differ greatly and offer up some very different interpretations of dark SFF, but they offer up some interesting and rather philosophical points to ponder. And before I get to distracted, it’s time to review!

Art by Quentin-Vladimir Castel

“The Turing Machines of Babel” by Eric Schwitzgebel (7200 words)

Okay, when the editorial called this a strange story, it certainly wasn’t joking, presenting a universe that is only hallways and stairs, rabbits and vines and books. It’s a place where humans just sort of wander through these hallways, but they don’t really know what’s going on. The books on all the shelves are nonsense, and the rabbits move around and alter them into slightly different nonsense. The main character, Hamete, is a person who begins to study the rabbits that seem like the messengers of some force that controls the great library. With the help of Dulcinea, another scholar, Hamete begins to figure out how to manipulate the rabbits to produce books that make sense, and from there they keep pushing and pushing. But ever in the story there’s the reminder that the universe is, essentially, a random place, and no amount of human intervention is going to undo the underlying chaos of the system. We can try to game things, but because of the scope and the overwhelming infinity of it. It’s a story whose darkness for me comes largely out of this feeling throughout that Hamete is struggling to find meaning in his life, in existence in general, and lacks a certain amount of imagination to really dig into the meat of the argument. He’s a scholar, and hopes to find his purpose through observation, where as Dulcinea feels to me more to be of the opinion that if anyone wants to find their purpose, they have to make it. That they have to shape it and be active in making a difference on that larger scale. It’s a weird story but it’s also about reaching out, and about stories, and about random chance, and how unlikely it is that we’re even here at all, and how much we should value and cherish that. So yeah, a great story!

“L’appel du vide” by Rich Larson (5000 words)

Content warning: suicide. This is a story of loss and obsession, time and captivity. It sees Pau, a man at work on a project related to time and with a fridged daughter, Naza, who is kidnapped by a mysterious figure and who must keep his wits about him as the situation gets a bit weird. I do like the way that the story plays out on a metaphoric level, Pau having to deal with the specter of his own perceived failure regarding his daughter, and having to deal with his self-loathing and self-destruction. It’s an interesting story in that, and there’s certainly a central mystery that keeps the action going throughout. For me, though, the story fell a little short when it comes to how it handled the central tragedy of Pau’s life. [SPOILERS] As far as the science goes, and the darkness, the idea of a man circling through his own past trying to atone for what he feels is his failure to protect his family, is nicely weighty. Much of the enjoyment of the story, though, might depend on how much you actually care and feel for Pau and his situation. And for me, I had much more sympathy for Naza, and the terror then comes not from Pau’s guilt and self-destruction as much as from Pau’s complete lack of respect for his daughter or concern for the reasons she might have taken her own life. His drive to undo this wrong leads him to view Naza only so far as she was his possession. He feels completely entitled to her life, to her existence, to the point that he feels okay drugging her, constantly controlling her, for fear that she will kill herself. It treats suicide like it’s some sort of wrong the universe is playing on Pau and I just would have preferred the story to examine a little bit more what happened with Naza, instead of making her death all about Pau’s pain. Still, it’s a story that has some interesting bits to it, and I certainly recommend people check it out and make up your own minds.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a billion years behind on all reading forever, but I skipped over here since I just listened to "L’appel du vide" and wondered how the Naza element played for someone else. The lack of agency was really tough, and then I found myself more troubled by what the story seemed to think suicidal ideation was. We end with the choices that either Naza is a slave to some hypernatural temporal force, or 'Naza had come of age with a small piece of death already inside her,' a metaphysical condition so severe it can only be stopped via active restraint and medical coma.

    The story mentions brain chemistry, and mentions institutional help, but suicide here is somehow such an overwhelming part of self that there is literally nothing for it but to either let it happen or turn Naza into a vegetable. Which ... leaves me with a very troubling portrait of what severe depression is, enough so that it verges on irresponsible.

    The ending feels like a condemnation of POV Pau's decision to rob his daughter of choice, but the choice at play here is unequivicolly dying. Not therapy, not understanding. It's forever in the storage container or it's the 'free choice' of succumbing to suicidal urges.

    I realize we're in a limited POV for a character with questionable perspective, but the fact the story offers no other viewpoints to critique the two poles leaves me with a sense I'm supposed to buy that these are the only two options, a scenario that makes me squirm from the implications it has for people with real depression / suicidal issues.