Sunday Short: Amal El-Mohtar's The Truth About Owls

Monday, September 14, 2015 0

This week's Sunday Short (coming a day late -- sorry!) is The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar, available via Strange Horizons.

This coming-of-age story follows Anisa, a teenage girl who lived in Lebanon in a time of war and now lives in Glasgow near an owl center. It is light in terms of fantasy or sci-fi, but focuses more on Welsh folk stories and the emotional experiences of an immigrant girl. She witnesses an owl killing the family's rooster in her youth and feels the first stirrings of power / her impact on the world around her.

The story didn't pull me in as much as other short stories recently have -- I don't have too much familiarity with Welsh folktales and the story of Mabinogion / Blodeuwedd wasn't really fleshed out enough for me to appreciate it's implications in this story. There were some beautiful moments, and I did appreciate the background (another coming of age story affected by war, similar to Bodard's Breath of War featured last week).

 Favorite quote:
"You're well into this, you are."

"It's just—" Anisa bites her lip, looking at Blodeuwedd, raising her slightly to shift the weight on her forearm, watching her spread her magnificent wings, then settle, "—sometimes—I feel like I'm just a collection of bits of things that someone brought together at random and called girl, and then Anisa, and then—" she shrugs. "Whatever."

Izzy is quiet for a moment. Then she says, thoughtfully, "You know, there's another word for that."

"For what?"

"What you just described—an aggregation of disparate things. An anthology. That's what The Mabinogion is, after all."

Anisa is unconvinced. "Blodeuwedd's just one part of someone else's story, she's not an anthology herself."

Izzy smiles, gently, in a way that always makes Anisa feel she's thinking of someone or something else, but allowing Anisa a window's worth of view into her world. "You can look at it that way. But there's another word for anthology, one we don't really use any more: florilegium. Do you know what it means?"

Anisa shakes her head, and blinks, startled, as Blodeuwedd does a side-wise walk up her arm to lean, gently, against her shoulder. Izzy smiles, a little more brightly, more for her, and says: "A gathering of flowers."

 Next week's story will be When it Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster available via Daily Science Fiction.

Sunday Short: Aliette de Bodard's The Breath of War

Sunday, September 6, 2015 0

This week's Sunday Short is Aliette de Bodard's The Breath of War, published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Cover art for BCS's Issue #142 - Sojourn by Ferdinand Dumago Ladera.

The Breath of War is set in a world where women carve breath-siblings (or stonemen) out of stone at their accession to adulthood that are needed to breathe the very first breathe of life into a baby at birth. The protagonist we follow is Rechan, who is very pregnant and on a journey into mountains to find her breath-siblings. It is rare for a woman to live apart from her carved stoneman/stonewoman, mainly because any child born without the breath-sibling present would be stillborn.

In her youth, Rechan went into the mountains and carved a mysterious breath-sibling named Sang, that didn't return with her to civilization post-carving. The reader is given small details throughout the story of Rechan at her time of carving into adulthood -- a teenage girl denied life abroad because of local war, who uses that frustration to create something altogether an antithesis of what you'd thing a breath-sibling (and bringer of life to a small, helpless newborn) would be. Years later, Rechan wants to become a mother and avoids seeking out her stoneman until the last possible moment, because confronting Sang means confronting the decisions she made and the emotions she felt in her youth

I found Bodard's worldbuilding fascinating, if a little foreign / difficult to get into at first, and I think she weaves a tale both interesting and worthy of telling. An adult is protected by the weapon she creates in her angry youth; a reminder that our lives are something more (or that they should at least be) than what we might experience or feel in our youth. And that war / violence has far reaching consequences that can be easy to dismiss in stories we read for entertainment. Maybe I am the target audience for a story like this (being in my *cough* 30s and also not exactly where I thought I'd be or want in my teenage years), but I found it unique and most timely after some of the images this week of Syria refugees.

Favorite quote:

Sang was silent, for a while. I will come back, he said.

He wouldn’t. Rechan knew this with absolute certainty—Sang was the desire to escape, the burning need for flight that she’d felt during her adolescence. Once he found space, he would be in the home he’d always been meant for; and who could blame him for not looking back? “Of course,” she lied—smoothly, easily. “You can always come back.”
 Interested in hearing another opinion on this story and the others I will cover in the Sunday Shorts this month? Check out  Alicia at The Cyborg Knight who is doing a read along with me!

Next week's story will be The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar, which is available via Strange Horizons.
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