Thursday, August 18, 2011

Conservation of Shadows

Short Story by Yoon Ha Lee (Text & Audio Online)

A retelling of the Sumerian mythology of Inanna's Descent into the Underworld, narrated in the second person, as some sort of Ereshkigal/GLaDOS hybrid speaking to one of several Inanna clones.

From what I can gather, Sumerian culture was still dominant when Earth began to colonize space, and people wanted to send out copies of their gods, to reenact myths and ensure that other planets properly experience seasons and whatnot. Or something.

Honestly, I've read and listened to this story five times, and I like it less each time. The first time it didn't make a ton of sense, but I was pretty sure that I liked it. The fifth time, I'm pretty sure that it makes no sense at all, besides trying to justify Lee's mythological conceit, and I dislike the story. The climax in particular annoys me, because I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and from what we're given, it just doesn't make any damn sense.

So I'm not a fan of this story, but I must admit to loving the writing. Where it fails as a story, it entirely succeeds as a sort of incomprehensible prose-poem. Yoon Ha Lee never fails to provide haunting, beautiful imagery and poetic description. "Ghostweight" remains my favorite, both for the story, and for descriptive poetry, but "Conservation of Shadows" is well along that track for description. The problem is that the only story is a less-comprehensible version of a pre-existing myth. Some good ideas, like the inventory slots of a video game, and the clones reenacting stories, but they don't really go anywhere, and the more I think about them, the more I think the actual work of fiction in question isn't good, just beautifully done and full of distracting half-ideas.

With the second person narration and retelling of mythology, I was at first reminded of Rachel Swirsky's "A Memory of Wind", which put me in quite the mood to enjoy this story. Sadly, it didn't pan out, and felt more like weirdness for weirdness sake (and because you can't just repeat a myth straight and get it published), with an unconventional POV more to add to the weirdness than to the story.

2.5 empty inventory slots out of 5.

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