Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Finishing off March's Asimov's

"Spiders" by Sue Burke is a nice, quiet short story. It depicts a man and his son walking through the forest on an alien planet. The father knows that some of the life on this planet is dangerous, but wants to teach his son about it, instead of having him always be afraid. The eponymous spiders watch them as they pass, and the father hopes his son doesn't notice. Of course, five year olds are always more observant than we think they are. The story doesn't follow any of the well-worn paths that our arachnophobia might dictate. The man is a little worried about the boy's mother and her influence on him, but mostly it's a natural history lesson. There is obviously more to this world than we see in the story; there's a feeling of depth to the world-building. I would be interested to see more stories set on this world, to see what else the author has thought up but hasn't shared with us yet.

Finishing off the issue is a novelette by Carol Emshwiller, "Master of the Road to Nowhere." This long story depicts a group of people with unusual tribal customs. They're nomads, like gypsies only more stand-offish. The people in each group have well-defined roles, and as older members die, younger ones take their place. Wandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape (population and tech levels have obviously fallen, but no reason is ever offered), they are finding it difficult to maintain their way of life.

Each group has one strong man. He hunts, gathers, scouts, and performs the most physical labor, although he does not lead. The society is matriarchal. His other physical attributes are shared equally amongst the women of the group; there is no private ownership in their society, not even exclusive relationships. However, the man for this group falls in love. It is a real and oft-told tale, the individual rebelling from a collective society and its strictures. In a story that feels as quiet, desperate, and heroic as The Grapes of Wrath, we learn what he and his lover gain and what they lose.

I enjoyed this story: Emshwiller's writing is always beautiful and very emotional. However, I always seem to get so wrapped up in the emotional content of her stories that it's only when I get to the end that I find questions that haven't been answered, meat that I expect from sf stories that isn't there. I'm always left with a lingering sense of beauty and perhaps tragedy, but not much else. Her craft and prose are wonderful, and I almost never fail to finish one of her stories, but I always feel like there's something missing. I imagine that for many people, this won't be an issue, and I hope you enjoy this story.

No comments: