Monday, January 24, 2011

Torquing Vacuum

Short Story by Jay Lake

Text and Audio on Clarkesworld

I put this in the same category as Genevieve Valentine's Seeing, a good, exceptionally well-written story that doesn't take us anywhere we haven't all been many times before. Engineering Supervisor Domitian Spanich is a tech on a space station, out in deep space. He is infatuated with a hooker, who one day, despite his being broke, turns to him for help. It turns out the ship Spanich has been working on has more important and dangerous passengers than he knew. And now his probably-unreciprocated love interest has dragged poor Spanich into the whole mess.

Don't get me wrong, this is an interesting story, it's just that I've seen it before. Same with the worldbuilding. There is some great and clever world building in an interesting, nicely cramped-yet-huge feeling world (more details, with spoilers, on this blog, with a very nice post about Lake's technique). But the world, and the mysterious Mistake isn't that fresh. I do want to learn more about it, and I can imagine it exceptionally well, but some of that is because it fits space station tropes I know very well. I might just as well have read a story in this world before, if you take away a big, irrelevant, mysterious event we don't hear anything about besides the name.

But the story does keep me interested, and the world does pull me in, the writing is of excellent quality, so I shouldn't complain too much. The one thing I haven't seen enough of before is that Spanich and his hooker-friend are both men. The reason I didn't mention it until this far into the review, was that it was nice that the main character was gay, while being totally irrelevant to the plot. It wasn't a story about him being gay, or about sex-in-the-future or anything, it was a plot we've seen before, where a character just happened to be gay. The same feel and (rough) plot could have come from a noir story where some 1930s private eye hooks up with some dame he's been after, and it turns out she was using him, to drag him into helping out with problems way over his head. Nothing new, and in a way, that is some of the charm of the story. You would have assumed heteronormality in 1940, but that's the one difference.

Oh, and the climax is a bit weird. It's tense and interesting, but Spanich solves things by basically saying: "Central problem, I hereby declare you Solved!" And then he walks out the door and everything really is resolved. I mean I can imagine this working in that situation, but it is a bit weird.

Another 3.5 out of 5. I'm giving these a lot lately, while trying to review stories others are talking up a lot for Best of Year. I keep thinking they are good and recommendable, but not really interesting enough to be award nomination worthy.

No comments: