We’ve been married 8 years, and it’s finally come to this: A schmoopy slideshow video for posterity. Groan along with us, won’t you?
The end has arrived. These are the last two stories in the Subversion anthology, but at least they provide a fine sendoff. Both warn us about the dangers of being manipulated by extremism, and both emphasize the value of personal responsibility as the antidote for that social ill.
Timothy T. Murphy’s Received Without Content raises that warning plainly, and makes the point that disadvantaged people are most vulnerable to predation by those who capitalize on injustice instead of resisting it. Readers are also shown that suggestibility and ignorance are no excuse for carelessness. Accepting the consequences for poor judgment is an especially courageous act when the easier alternative is to blame others for dangerous leadership.
In To Sleep With Pachamama by Caleb Jordan Schulz, we’re reminded that establishing freedom in the face of extremism is a risky endeavor at the best of times and never for the fainthearted. Beyond that, standing for the rights of others is a natural maturation of individual freedom, even as it demands a certain willingness of individuals to place their hard-won independence in jeopardy. Oppressors may describe these acts as ‘returning to the scene of the crime,’ but that this messy heroism arises again and again throughout history is a testament of its value to our continuation.
Make the authors happy. Make yourself happy. Buy the book.
At first glance, the next three stories in the Subversion anthology don’t seem to have a whole lot in common. They take place in a dreary, futuristic call center, a fantastic world of dragons and their human snacks, and Hell itself. The characters are worker drones, royalty, and demons. No obvious theme besides subversion, the theme for the entire anthology, for me to develop into a clever introductory paragraph for today’s reading.
But who said the connection between them had to be obvious? A closer examination shows us that these are three very different stories about daring escapes from cruel systems that care nothing for the individuals they depend on for maintenance.
Scrapheap Angel by RJ Astruc and Deirdre M. Murphy is the baldest, cheeriest example of today’s unifying theme. I’m particularly fond of this story because, like the main characters, I spend my weekdays toiling in a corporate cubicle. Also like the characters – and probably everyone else working in similar situations – I pass a lot of time daydreaming my escape and quietly undermining oppression. Still, I doubt the contents of my cubicle will ever combine to form anything quite as amazing as a Scrapheap Angel.
CA Young’s story, The Dragon’s Bargain, contains a warning against ignorance and blind trust. Also, plans formed at the last minute often disappoint, and sometimes catastrophically. To escape a messy fate on the teeth of a hungry power, one must come prepared to the fight. Lest one’s sacrifice be for someone else’s gain…
A Tiny Grayness in the Dark by Wendy N. Wagner is a tear-jerker. Although other stories in the Subversion anthology have children as main characters, none give parents credit for much good. It’s true that some parents are simply awful or too wholesome to be healthy, but most parents sacrifice a lot of themselves for the benefit of their offspring. A Tiny Grayness in the Dark shines a light on love as both motive for and quintessential expression of subversion.
This series of reviews will end soon, but why wait for me to finish reading the book? Buy it here.
The next three stories in the Subversion anthology are all about germination; growth and change from within. Each reveals a different sort of transformation of a different type of group, but all these stories follow one person taking one step in the right direction. They show us that leaders must first revolutionize themselves before they can expect to lead a revolution.
Jean Johnson’s The Hero Industry possesses more whimsy than most of the other stories in the Subversion anthology, but it’s still a good fit. In it, our heroine makes the most of a bad situation for all involved by bluffing and press-releasing her way to the top of an emerging field. All of her success – for herself and her unlikely clients – would be impossible if she was unwilling to negotiate with chaos.
In Flicka, by Cat Rambo, life in the backwoods gets complicated when the arrival of strange neighbors inevitably spurs identity crises among the locals. One young man, exceptional in his own quiet way, wants to bridge the divide between the ‘aliens’ and their reluctant hosts, but trust takes time to build, and hatred undermines all hospitality. To make things right in his world, the gentle man must start with himself and build from there.
Seed, by Shanna Germain, is a many-layered story. Uniquely among the other Subversion stories, it first leads the reader to accept the unacceptable even before the characters must. It examines the delicate relationship between two vastly different cultures, but doesn’t shy from the double-standards within those cultures which make that cross-cultural relationship so attractive. Sometimes rules must be broken for people to embrace each other’s differences, and oftentimes those two acts amount to the same thing.
There are only a few stories left in the Subversion anthology for me to review. Buy it here, and beat me to the finish.
The next two stories in the Subversion anthology are about second chances and trading comfort for purpose.
Barbara Krasnoff’s The Red Dybbuk is the story of a tradition of subversion. It reminds us that even progressive social movements have roots. Times change, the torch is passed, and new generations rise to the occasion. Some generations may be late bloomers, but you’re never too old to stand for something bigger than yourself.
In Pushing Paper in Hartleigh by Natania Barron, a mighty knight’s cozy desk job begins to take its toll. Bureaucratic ennui is a formidable foe, but the battle has become joyless. Our once-hero faces a hard choice between living with his reputation, or living up to it. Either way, he needs to get out from behind his desk more often.
We’re about half-way through the anthology, but hopefully you’re reading along with me by now. If not, you should buy it here.
The next three stories in the Subversion anthology are all tales of nurturing resistance against intractable, destructive ideas about human worth. Each in their own way, they describe our equally incorrigible drive toward freedom at the individual level and at the scale of civilization.
Pushaway by Melissa S. Green is my favorite kind of story. It’s about a girl, leaving. Leaving home and leaving her past behind, including her name. It’s about having the best revenge, too: A life well lived. Self-determination, growth, and the pursuit of happiness subvert oppression, absolutely.
In Daniel José Older’s story, Phantom Overload, institutional racism persists even in the afterlife, with dire consequences for the living and the dead. Tricked into choosing between security and justice, our half-dead-half-alive hero wisely engages in a little trickery of his own. Turn-about is fair play, in this story, and comeuppance is coming to those who mistake domination for a virtue.
Cold Against the Bone by Kelly Jennings takes us to a planet far away in the future, where one of Earth’s ugliest legacies lingers. After the corrupt labor system on Julian destroys his family, Jeno makes it his life’s work and his heart’s delight to tear down the system from within. Slavery by another name leads to revolution all the same…
There’s more, but you shouldn’t wait for me to get around to commenting on every story in this collection of fine fiction. Buy it here.
I asked editor Bart R. Leib if he arranged it this way on purpose, but he told it me it was pure happenstance that luck and philosophy are central elements in both of the first two stories in the Subversion anthology.
Jessica Reisman’s A Thousand Wings of Luck is a beautiful tale even taken only at face value. But its pretty face isn’t the reason I’ve read it a handful of times already and expect to reach for it again in future. I appreciate it more for casting doubt on face values. Without being heavy-handed, A Thousand Wings of Luck explores the interplay between faith and skepticism and invites the reader to take no assumption for granted. To question tradition and dogma, and examine superstition and the influence of interpretation upon the law. In its elegant way, this story also advocates for experimentation as both a threat to empty faith and the remedy for blind literalism.
In And All Its Truths by Camille Alexa, perfection is the enemy of the good. If not for the vision of a few persistent non-conformists willing to risk all, the future would be lost. This story more closely navigates human experience than it follows a series of events. Its characters and sympathetic readers value the dignity of all above anyone’s comfort, and pursue it without social sanction. But instead of indulging in the rampant melodrama usually associated with antihero storylines, And All Its Truths confronts issues of identity and belonging with a light touch. The plot – in which circumstance demands the heroism of outlaws – is familiar and dear to literature’s heart, but it’s rarely treated so warmly.
This is only the beginning. Do your subversive heart a favor and read the anthology. It’s full of double agents and double meanings. Buy it here.
My family just finished our annual series of holiday science experiments. Watch them! Better yet, duplicate them with your family! The balloon rocket, soda bottle ‘scuba’ diver, and flashlight ‘laser’ target practice are my favorites.
In case you’re feeling doubly ambitious, here are eight more festive experiments:
To show affection without going broke, I made art for my family this Festivus. I promised to share it with you, and here it is!
I wrote a story called Parent Hack. It has troubled kids making troubling decisions in a troubled system. It’s about necessity and the invention of family.
There’s an excerpt below to entice you to buy the book my story is in.
A hidden intercom crackled, “What do you want?”
Nicolas’s keen, dark eyes spotted the shine on a camera lens hidden in a crack above the door. He spoke up to it, “We’re little lost orphans. Can you show us the way home?”
“Nico!” Zetta’s simulated mortification was very realistic, from her wide optical sensors and posture to her tone of voice. But no sooner had she spoken than her affronted demeanor suddenly dissolved into mechanical neutrality. Holmium’s disgruntled expression similarly flat-lined a split second later.
Orlando pulled Nicolas behind him and dropped into a defensive stance that was second nature after a year of mixed martial arts lessons. The strange android had stepped from behind an overgrown bougainvillea and disabled their Guardians before they’d even known it was there. “Remain calm, children. I won’t hurt you.” It spoke like a classic film actress, its voice a disarming combination of cultured and flinty that the boys recognized from their seventh grade film history elective but had never heard in person.
The deadbolts clicked and the door opened at last, but the woman who appeared at the threshold was instantly more threatening than the uncanny bot on the other side of the porch. She was short and skinny, but she had a gun. “Are they alone?”
“Yes, and their transport is clean of suspicious devices.”
“And the bots?”
“Standard hardware and basic applications, only.”
“All right, bring them to the dining room and prep them for upgrade.” The hacker stepped out to let the bots file inside.
Directing Zetta and Holmium along with gentle nudges, the hacker’s android asked as it passed, “What would you like for lunch?”
The hacker cocked her head and followed them in. “Lunch already? I just woke up.”
“I was speaking to the children.” The simulated movie star’s admonishment sounded very like a Guardian addressing a difficult Ward.
The woman looked down as if seeing them for the first time. “You want to come in?” They said nothing, so she huffed, “Temperature’s supposed to be in the nineties today, but you can wait out here if you want.”
From deep in the house, the android snapped, “Caret!”
The hacker cringed. “Listen, this is a bad neighborhood. But inside, Caesura’s cooking is the worst thing that’ll happen to you. Okay?” The boys remained speechless, but their eyes followed the weapon as she gestured down the hall. Exasperated, Caret fired a stream of water into the air over their heads and tossed the squirt gun to Orlando. “Lock the door on your way in.”
After she’d gone, Orlando said, “I don’t like this. She’s too weird.”
Nicolas looked older than his twelve years as he massaged tension from his forehead with his fingertips. “Don’t freak out. She’s socially maladapted, but I don’t think she’s really dangerous.”
“What about her bot? I’ve never even heard of a Guardian like that.” He still held the squirt gun away from his body and pointed at the ground as though it held live ammunition instead of tap water.
“I don’t know. It’s strange enough that an adult even has a Guardian. I guess it makes sense for a hacker’s bot to run custom applications.”
“And custom hardware.” Orlando smirked awkwardly under Nicolas’s stare. “I’ve never seen a bot like hers, either.”
“No, I’m adjusted; you’re repressed.”
Nicolas massaged his face again and muttered something vaguely profane on his way into the house.
Now that you’ve read an excerpt, please buy the book, read it, and review it on Amazon. If you can’t buy it right away, but you still want to do us a good deed, then put the Subversion anthology on your wishlist and tell ten friends about it. If you’ve already bought it, great! Tell ten friends about it, anyway. Better yet, buy it for someone else as a gift! Thank you.