This month's offering from GigaNotoSaurus is not exactly for the faint of heart. It is not exactly a happy sort of story, nor a short one. It is an experience, though, appropriately weighty and dense with a fully realized world (all contained inside an insulating dome). Drifting through age and love and loss and struggle, the story doesn't offer any easy answers, but it certainly knows what questions to ask. So yeah, time to get to that review!
"Brushwork" by Aliya Whiteley (21,324 words)
So this is a complex, long, and emotionally gripping story about the power to resist and the power to comply and the prevalence of violence and privilege and loss. About how everyone has their own views of what happens to them, and that everyone is the hero of their own story, and the victim too. And it's also about fruit. About stewardship. About growing things. It's a difficult piece, ripe with age and heavy with meaning, requiring some rather serious attention to draw out the flavors, to find the hope and beauty within. It follows Mel, an old woman working at an organic food biodome, working to grow food for the very rich, while outside the domes the snow falls and people die. Mel begins the story just hoping for an easy life. To make it to death without having to suffer. It's not a wish that is granted, nor is it one that survives the story, as the prose delves into the idea of struggle and the burden of action.
The story makes great use of the idea of brushwork, the careful weaving of colors and people. Mel has led a privileged life, but not one without struggle. And the story does look at how those two things, struggle and privilege, effect people. How power works. How everyone blames each other for the ills they are facing. Or, in some ways, how pain makes it difficult to see things accurately. To not be motivated by that pain. There's a lot of care that goes into making this a morally complicated piece, one that shows a failure in binary us/them systems. That does not excuse people because something is difficult or painful because there are many ways that it's just not possible to avoid harm. Especially in the situation of the story where scarcity and corruption is such that people just don't have options. Mel gets blamed for her life choices but in many ways they were barely choices, more like clinging to what hope she could, trying to survive a dangerous and painful world. I love that the story takes such a keen look at how corrupt situations damn everyone. So that it becomes impossible to not cause harm, to not be complicit in some way because the act of survival means a series of betrayals.
The story is long, and it is largely depressing. Wrenching. Sad. Mel has lived a long life and wants to just fade, wants there to be room for melons and nothing else. But ignoring people, trying to corner off some joy and ignore everything else, is what causes a lot of the problems in evidence in the story. [SPOILERS] In essence, the story looks at the old problem of opting out. My "Millennial fiction" obsession. Mel just wants out. Wants to not take sides. But not taking a side is still taking a side, and Mel learns that she can not only not really avoid doing something, she doesn't want to avoid it any more. Of course, she doesn't really pick a team. She tries to help what she can. To save what she can. To do what good she can. It's not a story that offers some sort of magical hope for a cure. For some one thing. But it does seem to believe in the power of people trying to do good. Deciding not to hurt, even when that seems the best option. And while it's possible that Mel just leaves the warmth behind in order to die at the end, there is something to be said about having to try that. About embracing in some ways the struggle, because there are no easy paths any longer. It's an elegant story that does a nice job of coming together, that allows for some structural flourishes and a heart, a core of character and morality. Definitely block out some time to give this one a read. An excellent story!