- Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt, eds. The Other Half of the Sky.
Source of review copy: e-book from my personal collection.
After the last segment in this review series, I’ve been thinking a lot about world-building and storytelling as hospitality. I can add another role now: the editor of an invitational anthology. Andreadis and Holt created a brilliant feast of tales and invited readers to the table.
As reader and writer both, these stories encourage me because they grow so seamlessly out of character, culture, world, pre-existing conditions and dilemmas. There’s a lot of serious science behind the world-building, and a truly adult approach to same – which is to say, no info-dumps and a whole lot of implication. Nor do the editors type-cast writers by ethnicity, gender, or subject matter. There’s no exotification here; protagonists live and move and work in first person even where the story is told in third person.
Best of all, none of them read as exercises in How To Write The Marketable Story.
The women protagonists in this collection are various in culture, role, gender – they are full characters, not the props of authorial vanity typical of most male-centered written-by-numbers space opera (or for that matter, any genre). These stories quietly take for granted a variety of genders and gender expressions, e.g. in Nisi Shawl’s brilliant “In Colors Everywhere” where the women of a distant penal colony have been downloaded into a variety of bodily configurations.
There are mercifully few elite POVs and a stunning range of professional perspectives: a social worker integrating refugees in “Bad Day on Boscobel;” a polyamorous space salvage team in Melissa Scott’s “Finders;” a hard-boiled engineer in “Mission of Greed” who finds herself confronting both devious crew members and an alien intelligence that stands in the way of immediate commercial exploitation of its homeworld. Cat Rambo’s “Dagger and Mask” gives us the dance of an infiltrator/assassin and a socialist rebel ship’s captain, “Exit, Interrupted,” a world where street children navigate a hardscrabble society that sells oxygen on the installment plan, Vandana Singh’s “Sailing the Antarsa”, whose central character is an explorer on a mission both sacred and peaceful, “This Alakie and the Death of Dima” with the death cycle of an alien collective intelligence.
The glimpses of the alien are glorious here: whether the fabric of the universe in Singh’s “Sailing the Antarsa,” the civilization whose mysterious artifacts are salvaged by latter-day humans in Scott’s “Finders,” first contact with an alien intelligence in “Mission of Greed” where the real enemy is the human mining & military interests on board, the suggestive world-building-by-poetical-naming in Shawl’s “In Colors Everywhere”, or the evocative body-and-language of the others in Ken Liu’s “The Shape of Thought”.
The stories are short but their world-building feels complete, extending far beyond the frame of the story. For most of these stories, I’d be happy to entire novels in the same universe; both the characters and the world feel well-realized enough to carry work at that scale.
Even the cover art for this anthology and its successor, the newly released To Shape the Dark, gives warning enough that you’re not looking at the Usual Thing. The cover art has a hand-crafted, light-floating-on-darkness quality; all of these stories are light floating on elemental darkness, the deep ground of a universe whose full extent is only suggested. The touch of human hands, human voices unmediated by the Usual Story, command attention. It’s quiet, but we need more of this kind of thing: not Token Track, not Special Diversity Issue of Otherwise Standard Magazine, but a shift of perspective to the possibilities of human beings and their stories of living in this vastness.