Short Story Club: “Miguel and the Viatura”

I can’t see any coverage for this week’s story in either the print Locus or the online one, so it’s left to the SSC stalwarts to kick things off. Matt Hilliard:

My reaction to the story is similar to how I felt about “A Serpent in the Gears”. That story was steampunk and this one is cyberpunk (or post-cyberpunk, or whatever it’s called this week) but both stories spend almost their entire length on introductions. We are introduced to the titular Miguel and his brother, but, like “Serpent”, the emphasis is on introducing the world. Also like “Serpent”, this story assembles a set of tropes common to its subgenre almost as if it is ticking off boxes: poverty-stricken non-first world setting, telepresence, nanites, environmental problems, evil corporations, and a technofetishist cult, just to name some of the big ones. Like “Serpent” it does a good job with these things, and is in fact tied together with what I thought was somewhat stronger writing, but alas it has a final similarity with “Serpent” in that I found the plot to be incomplete and unsatisfying.

Pam Philips:

Maybe I missed some clues or unstated assumptions, but it’s not entirely clear to me why Joaõ asks Miguel to help him find their father. Joaõ is so vague about the situation that he manages to hurt Miguel deeply without even touching him. Miguel is almost entirely on the receiving end of the action, but the powers that be leap to the conclusion that he is to blame. Mostly things happen to Miguel, and all he can do is protest. Sure he’s a kid, and he grows up a little, but I was left with no idea what he was going to do in the end. There’s also a “torture is pointless and cruel” scene that goes on way too long, but I suppose it wouldn’t be torture if it stopped when you got tired of it.

As for the technology, this comes off as one of those nano-can-do-anything stories. I was also jarred by the term “nanite”, which I mostly associate with Star Trek. Finally, what we see of nanotech seems to be confined to making people into monsters. What’s the point? These people sure as hell don’t need technology to act monstrously.

Chad Orzel:

I don’t recognize the author’s name, but this story is very much in the same vein as the stuff I’ve read by Paolo Bacigalupi and others. I’m not sure if there’s really a formal literary movement in this, a la “cyberpunk” or the “New Weird,” but it’s tempting to think of this sort of story in those terms, as a part of the Recent Unpleasantness. Because, really, that’s the defining trait of these stories: every aspect of the thing, from the setting to the characters to the actions that drive the plot, is chosen to make the result as unpleasant as possible.

Is there more to it? The floor is open.

Short Story Club Reminder: “Miguel and the Viatura”

This week it’s one of Futurismic’s stories under the lens: “Miguel and the Viatura” by Eric Gregory. I’ll kick off discussion around lunchtime on Sunday.

“The Transmigration of Aishwarya Desai” by Eric Gregory

IZ223 coverSkipping over the Dominic Green stories for now: I haven’t read the 1982 Philip K Dick novel on whose title this story riffs, so I don’t know if the similarities go deeper than a first-person narrator whose sense of consensus reality is out of kilter with those around her. Gregory’s narrator is an academic, travelling to an alien world to debate the nature of the first alien life humanity has encountered (and how best to talk about that life, what it means to impose human descriptions and interpretations onto it). But in travelling, she has (I think) crossed not just space but worlds. Ships seem to jump into parallel realities, leading one character to obsess about meeting versions of herself, which she believes will allow a “perfect love”, and another to insist that “we can only jump into an improbable universe”. This may be enough for one story, but Gregory adds in a psychic bond between Desai and one of the aliens, which causes trouble and may or may not indicate that she’s met a deeply improbable version of herself. It’s a curious piece, perhaps slightly too compacted, but certainly flavoursome.