A Pitch Perfect Sci-Fi Short That Speaks Volumes

Emergency Skin (Forward collection) by [Jemisin, N. K.]

The best fiction keeps your undivided attention. It holds you in the moment, simultaneously letting you savor every word and creating anticipation for what happens next.

N.K. Jemisin’s short story “Emergency Skin” does these things and more. The story of a human foot soldier on a mission to a decimated Earth is almost immediately flipped on its head. The Earth is thriving when it shouldn’t be since the ‘best’ of the species hightailed it off-planet with as many resources as possible centuries ago when they saw everything circling the drain. Everyone else be damned.

Jemisin cheekily uses the AI embedded in the soldier’s suit to show how wrong our ‘superior’ cousins got things. The planet survived the catastrophic damage that people inflicted on it and society didn’t crumble. We rebuilt.

The story could almost be a standup comedy routine (the audio story is excellent) the way it’s delivered and how exasperated the AI is at not being able to explain things.

But Jemisin does something more here than entertain; she creates multiple layers speaking basic truths about civility and compassion without beating you over the head. It ultimately made me reflect deeply on how we think we have the solutions to everything and he we might be deeply flawed in some of these assumptions.

It’s hilarious, it’s thoughtful, and it shows Jemisin at the top of her writing game.

(Part of the Amazon Prime Reading collection “Forward“)

Happy Reading!

Josh

‘Strange Weather’ Forecast? Bloody Good Reading

strange-weather-4

Don’t read the description of this book; you’ll only spoil the setup for each of the four wickedly good tales collected here. And they are wicked good. Each evokes a different kind of terror, and their implications hang heavy like the weather in each of the stand-alone stories. This anthology doesn’t have a weak link, and intentionally or not, the stories get weirder and more fantastical as you go. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling these reads, so here are my emotional reactions to each instead:

Snapshot: Evil in the world lurks right out in the open and I want to smash a baseball bat square in its face.

Loaded: I was unsettled by the lengths people will go to for self-preservation. Truly terrifying.

Aloft: It’s bizarre, it’s funny, it’s a guy’s fantasy, it’s heartbreaking, and ultimately it shocks you back to reality.

Rain: My favorite because…I never saw it coming. Full of fun characters that I would want to meet, an apocalyptic tale that’s both fantastical and plausible.

SPOILER SECTION:

Rain was an interesting take on the near-apocalypse and was full of misdirection. The main character Honeysuckle was catalyzed into action after her girlfriend was killed by crystal needles raining from the sky. She wanders a devastated Boulder where people still try to cling to the normal (McDonald’s fries during disaster relief) while dealing with the staggering death toll (mass graves at a high school football field). There are Russians, crazy cultists, and more than a few bigots in this tale. Honeysuckle tries to honor those she’s lost by doing right by them and along the way meets strangers of every type – among them an MMA fighter who can’t put his suffering cat out of its misery, state troopers getting the job done, and the Queen of the Apocalypse, wandering Denver in a wedding dress and tiara and who claims she can walk between the raindrops.

This needle rain starts to infiltrate the global weather system and a panicked public listens to the news media and government, which claims it’s the work of terrorists. Two storm fronts begin to brew: the deadly rain (which eventually is the only kind falling) and threats of nuclear retaliation on the assumed culprits.

The ending is startling and satisfying in how it completely circles around to the people closest to Honeysuckle to reveal the mystery of the hard rain’s origin. It’s closer to home than Honeysuckle would have ever imagined. The misdirection in the story is brilliant – those who would harm Honeysuckle (the jealous Russian with the stripper girlfriend and the cultists who would convert her by locking her away and dehydrating her) are not the real threat. It turns out Honeysuckle’s young neighbor Templeton, who lost his father, has a vengeful mother who blames her husband’s death on the company that stole his research (aka fired him and left him unemployed). She exacts her revenge in a dust cropper plane spreading the seed agents from her husband’s research that create the first storm in Boulder. Honeysuckle puts it all together right when it’s too late and her friend Marc Despot is cut down by the mom with a machete (but Marc lives!).

In the end, when trying to kill Honeysuckle, who has taken the boy Templeton as a shield, the mom is pierced by several hundred needles protecting the boy from another storm. The world meanwhile is in poor shape since the U.S. President — a brash, Twitter-crazed egomaniac — nuked the company that could have solved this new climate crisis. There’s hope one scientist can reverse-engineer the damage and the world waits with abated breath. The End.

Loaded shows how guns play a huge role in our society. It’s a boiling pot of water waiting to spill over, and it does so in spectacular fashion. The author doesn’t spare anyone in this tale, which is is what makes it such an emotional slap in the face when we reach the end. There’s no clean, easy solution to America’s gun problem and this one drives that point home in a blaze.

Snapshot is eery and shows how we can be easily seduced by power. A powerless boy comes across a man who can wipe memories by snapping someone’s photo. The boy gets the slip on him, and as the new owner of the Solariod (an evil Polaroid), he ultimately can’t resist the evil camera, which promises all the answers in universe. That thread is never really pursued, as is the connection between the evil man and the boy’s babysitter, so the story feels incomplete in that regard.  I believe this is an allegory for the evils of technology, but it’s told in a fashion that centers on the human decisions to use that technology for good or ill. I still can’t believe the kid wiped the babysitter’s memory (thus killing her) thinking it was a mercy since she was already far advanced with Alzheimer’s caused by the camera. That was a morally ambiguous decision that still doesn’t sit well with me.

In Aloft, it’s pretty simple. Boy pines over girl, girl’s not interested and boy is perpetually tortured as being the “best friend.” In was fun for the fact that the cloud he lands on (when attempting a skydive to impress said girl) is so damn weird. The cloud materializes what you need at just the right time. And up there, he does get his dream girl. Er, um, yeah, that happened. There’s also a sleeping alien that the cloud’s security system (pounding headaches and blackouts if he get’s too close) won’t let the main character near. Lucky for him, the cloud doesn’t throw anything away and he escapes with a 19th century balloonist’s balloon buried in a cloud grave with the former owner? Weird stuff but the guy survives and hopefully this experience can help him get past said girl or man up and let her know how he feels. RIP Junicorn!

Happy Reading,

Josh