The dockside air went straight to the back of the throat and stung the sinuses, icy cold and smelling of volatiles. It tasted like ice water and oil and it cut through coats and gloves the way the clean and the cold finally cut through the stink Bird smelled in his sleep and imagined in the taste of his food. Time and again you got in from a run and the chronic sight of just one other human face, and when you looked at all the space around you and saw real live people and faces that weren’t your face—you got the sudden disconnected notion you were watching it all on vid, drifting there with only a tender and a hand-jet between you and a dizzy perspective down the mast—worse than EVAs in the deep belt, a lot dizzier.
What was there to say? Civilization was like a mad dash that lasted five thousand years. Progress begot more progress; countless miracles gave birth to more miracles; humankind seemed to possess the power of gods; but in the end, the real power was wielded by time. Leaving behind a mark was tougher than creating a world. At the end of civilization, all they could do was the same thing they had done in the distant past, when humanity was but a babe:
Carving words into stone.
(Spoilers regarding The Three Body Problem and The Dark Forest, obviously. Also some spoilers for this book. If you liked the first two, you’ll probably like this one too.)
Linguists will tell you the ancients were less sensitive to gendered language than we are, that we react to it because it’s rare, but that in ages that heard ‘he’ and ‘she’ in every sentence they grew stale, as the glimpse of an ankle holds no sensuality when skirts grow short. I don’t believe it. I think gendered language was every bit as sensual to our predecessors as it is to us, but they admitted the place of sex in every thought and gesture, while our prudish era, hiding behind the neutered ‘they,’ pretends that we do not assume any two people who lock eyes may have fornicated in their minds if not their flesh. You protest: My mind is not as dirty as thine, Mycroft. My distress is at the strangeness of applying ‘he’ and ‘she’ to thy 2450s, where they have no place. Would that you were right, good reader. Would that ‘he’ and ‘she’ and their electric power were unknown in my day. Alas, it is from these very words that the transformation came which I am commanded to describe, so I must use them to describe it. I am sorry, reader. I cannot offer wine without the poison of the alcohol within.
(Mild spoilers ahead. The book’s fantastic and I urge you to read it blind, if you’re willing to take my word for it.)
Pepper gave a brittle, incredulous laugh. ‘Stars. I’m sorry, Tak, but – stars. Yeah, if you went in and explained, maybe you’d get somewhere. I mean, look at you. You’re as respectable as it gets. You’re an Aeluon, you went to school. There is no door that won’t open for you. For me? For us?’ She pointed between her and Blue. ‘Humans aren’t much out here, and we barely qualify to begin with. You think if I stroll into some curator’s office with my monkey limbs and tweaked face, xe’s going to give a single solitary fuck about what I have to say? What would I even say? That they have a ship I used to live in? That someone I owe everything to has been stuck in it for ten years? Ships are property, and as far as the GC is concerned, AIs are, too. My home was confiscated, and that was legal. My family was taken from me, and that was legal. And the museum, the museum probably bought the ship at auction, which is totally legal and binding and all that shit. The law forgot to make space for people like me. People like her.’ She pointed at Sidra. ‘It doesn’t matter what sob story I lay out. If they say no – and they would – there is no chance of me ever getting in there again. There is no chance of me ever getting Owl back.’
(This book is fantastic. Read it now if you don’t want spoilers.)
“It’s amazing, when you think about it. Everyone in the Stillness is like this. Never mind what’s in the oceans, never mind what’s in the sky; never look at your own horizon and wonder what’s beyond it. We’ve spent centuries making fun of the astronomests for their crackpot theories, but what we really found incredible was that they ever bothered to look up to formulate them.”
(This blog post contains full spoilers for The Fifth Season and mild spoilers for its sequel. Spoiler-free opinion: The Obelisk Gate is more of the same; it isn’t as novel as the first book but it isn’t a drop in quality, either.)
On the word “hands,” she unsheathed the combat knife, then retrieved her left glove. The knife was sharp in the way of bitter nights. Cheris made a show of sawing off each of the glove’s fingers in turn. They fluttered to the floor, looking like hollowed-out leeches. When she was done, it looked like a ragged imitation of Jedao’s fingerless gloves, the kind no one had worn since his execution.
The silence could have swallowed a star. Continue reading “Solitair vs. The Hugos 3: Ninefox Gambit”
“You never learned the secret,” said Roberta. “How to be a crazy motherfucker and get away with it. Everybody else does it. What, you didn’t think they were all sane, did you? Not a one of them. They’re all crazier than you and me put together. They just know how to fake it. You could too, but you’ve chosen to torture all of us instead. That’s the definition of evil right there: not faking it like everybody else. Because all of us crazy fuckers can’t stand it when someone else lets their crazy show. It’s like bugs under the skin. We have to destroy you. It’s nothing personal.”
Continue reading “Solitair vs. The Hugos 3: All the Birds in the Sky”
Houses built on bridges are scandals. A bridge wants to not be. If it could choose its shape, a bridge would be no shape, an unspace to link One-place-town to Another-place-town over a river or a road or a tangle of railway tracks or a quarry, or to attach an island to another island or to the continent from which it strains. The dream of a bridge is of a woman standing at one side of a gorge and stepping out as if her job is to die, but when her foot falls it meets the ground right on the other side. A bridge is just better than no bridge but its horizon is gaplessness, and the fact of itself should still shame it. But someone had built on this bridge, drawn attention to its matter and failure. An arrogance that thrilled me. Where else could those children live?
Continue reading “Solitair vs. The Hugos 3: This Census-Taker”
“Why are there so many more girls here than boys?”
“Because ‘boys will be boys’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Lundy. “They’re too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It’s not innate. It’s learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”
(The following post contains spoilers for this novella.) Continue reading “Solitair vs. The Hugos 3: Every Heart a Doorway”
Although high born, one needn’t go round haughtily seeming so; Aqib quickly fixed his expression. “Of course it’s wonderful that the gods employ so many from Olorum on their estates. The food those menials grow, and the wealth they bring back cross-bayou to the Kingdom, has helped to make us Olorumi the richest and most prosperous of the world’s peoples”—true, but was that quite the politic thing to say, Aqib?—“though, naturally, the wonders of Daluz, your nation’s prowess at war, for instance, and the storied loveliness of your cities, have no match upon the sphere.”
The soldier laughed. “We’re for sure no courtiers, us two! Aqib, it really ain’t no need for you to get all mealy-mouth on my account.” It was such a nice laugh. Just as I do, Aqib thought, he lacks the forked or silver tongue necessary at court. Plain speech won’t offend him.
(The following post contains ending spoilers. If the above excerpt hasn’t scared you away from wanting to read this story, do that now.)
Continue reading “Solitair vs. The Hugos 3: A Taste of Honey”