Human Science Fiction

I’m starting to get a sense for Thoughtcrime Experiments, and I’m liking it. I think the anthology is trying to explore a wider variety of human elements and viewpoints than are seen in the typical science fiction anthology.

Mary Anne Mohanraj’sJump Space” has some of the most fully realized relationships that I’ve seen in science fiction. The plot is a family drama, really, set against a science fiction background. Like “Welcome to the Federation,” which I also blogged about, I don’t think this story had to be science fiction. I could see it rewritten as a story of plain old Earthbound foreign travel. It’s really about the strains the main character places on her children and polyamorous marriage when she finds a new lover. Also like in “Welcome to the Federation,” the story’s genre emphasizes the theme of strangeness (foreigners aren’t just foreign–they’re alien).

Sarita, the main character, is very well drawn:

“You say culture like there’s just one,” Sarita said sharply. “What about the engineered species and their cultures?”

“Sarita, c’mon,” Joshua said. “The engineered species and their treatment here are her point.”

“Exactly,” Kate snapped. “The dominant culture on this world is disgusting.”

Sarita said primly, “We’re supposed to avoid value judgments.”

“Kate’s right. It is appalling, really,” Joshua said. He tried to keep his tone mild, though Sarita in uppity mode would make a saint want to slap her.

Sarita deflated, flopping down into the co-pilot’s chair. She reached out an apologetic hand to Kate, who, after a moment, took it. Joshua breathed a covert sigh of relief.

“I know,” Sarita said, “they’re awful — but it’s not as if I want to take the girls down there. You can all stay up here; I just need one more vocal grouping — and no one’s ever studied any of the genetically engineered serf-species here.”

“Because no one civilized can stand to be around them. Poor things,” Kate said.

Joshua knew Kate was right, but he also knew that Sarita would get her way. She almost always did. She wanted things so passionately, so intensely, that it became impossible to say no to her. She wasn’t even saying anything now — just looking at Kate with those big dark eyes steady, silently pleading.

The other characters are a little more uneven. Mohanraj gives details about each of the other three characters, but I felt that both the male characters were a little bland. Joshua, Sarita’s husband, doesn’t seem to have come from anywhere, and I’m conscious of this because Mohanraj makes a great effort to show us where Sarita came from. Cho, the unwelcome new love interest, seems like a typical “hot guy”–though he does have fur.

Despite that complaint, I really enjoyed reading a science fiction story that explored an unusual source of tension. And the theme of love’s simultaneous strength and fragility was emphasized against the backdrop of space. Love and family seem even more accidental and precarious when the universe is so large.

Because I recently read an essay by Mohanraj on writing about race, I was very conscious of how she handled this:

“Try this,” Sarita said, bringing over a bowl to Kate’s bunk. “My mother sent the recipe; she swears by it for nursing mothers. Of course, she’s not happy that I’m not the one nursing Ini, but still — can’t let her only granddaughter starve, can she? It’s a white curry, full of coconut milk. Milk to bring in the milk, they say. Although it’s actually the fenugreek that does the trick; stimulates milk production.”

“Can’t I just take some pills?” Kate asked. “I’m not hungry.” She lay sideways on the bunk, eyes closed, Iniya curled naked against her chest.

Sarita poked her arm gently. “That’s just the exhaustion talking. Who would have thought the tough freighter captain would be laid low by a little baby! C’mon, try a bite. For me? It took me hours to find all the ingredients on that last planet we stopped at, and they cost a fortune.”

Kate opened her eyes, sighed, and then opened her mouth and let Sarita spoon the curry in. She chewed wearily and swallowed. “You’d think after all these years they’d have found some better way to feed babies.”

Mohanraj mentioned on her blog that she’s working on a sequel to “Jump Space.” I’d read it. I hope she finishes soon.

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