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Saturday Storytime: A Word Shaped Like Bones

The Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine is out and being praised and vilified in (I am happy to say) decidedly unequal measure. A few of the stories are available online. More will be Tuesday, though much of the content is available only with purchase of the issue.

I find it in equal parts amusing, frustrating, and unsurprising that the author of this story, Kris Millering, wasn’t sure her tale was ready for publication. Oh, impostor syndrome.

Maureen works on her sculptures, trying to ignore the dead man. “I was supposed to be alone,” she says to the pliant material in her hands. It’s a model, only a model; it will be cast and perfected when she reaches the planet that humans call Hippocrene. She makes the model out of a lightweight foam clay; it stays flexible for only a few hours once extruded, so she must work quickly and work small. The foam clay is not her favorite medium, but she is in space. There must be no fumes, nothing that crumbles easily, nothing that must be fired or melted. It would not do to put anything poisonous in the air that she might breathe. She usually works in materials much less forgiving, lunar basalt and glass.

A stunt, her critics said before she left. She holds her ears and buzzes her tongue against her teeth to block the voices out as she has been taught. It is not a stunt. It is a fellowship. Won, by the merit of her work. There are people who understand her work. The universe is not filled with critics!

She thinks the dead man in the corner might be a critic.

Maureen has done nothing interesting in the last few years other than win the fellowship that placed her on this small spaceship. Her sculptures sell, this is true; but selling is nothing, some of the greatest artists of the 23rd century have never sold anything. Commercialism is out of fashion. She longs for the 22nd century, when you couldn’t tell the difference between any of the genders without asking, people dressed like people, and you were only successful if you sold.

She could have been something, in 2165.

Instead she is hopelessly banal, striving for beauty in form. She sculpts the shapes she finds in her mind, all smooth curves and edges that catch at the fingertips, demanding attention. Her work does not feature a thousand flickering holograms each reciting a passage from On Hills of Steel; it does not assault anyone with the smells of the lunar landscape or the taste of needles. She regards the Synasthete movement as crass sensationalism. She never wanted to know what yellow sounds like. Yet she does, and it is something she cannot un-know.

Oh sweet breath of the divine, there is a dead man in the corner and she cannot un-know that, either.

She works. She continues to work. She is always working.

The dead man decays at her in what she feels is a possibly reproachful fashion.

Keep reading.

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