Small Thoughts Review: Banshee by Michael Cassutt

Banshee by Michael Cassutt is a science fiction novelet published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’s, Jan/Feb 2020 issue. While I say it’s science fiction, it could be categorized as science fantasy in the sense that little of the plot hinges on the actual science that makes the plot possible. Stretching subgenre even further, this could be considered science weird literature, or weird science fiction, similar to Jeff Vandameer’s work, though less on the horror spectrum and more on the absurd.

The premise hinges on the idea of the “Banshee,” a person who has gone through a medical proceeding that changes their whole body into. . . well pretty much anything. There are people who have morphed or “Bancheed” themselves into dinosaurs, unicorns, Martians, etc, etc. It’s ridiculous. Yet, the main character was interesting enough to keep reading about–which is a testament to the piece.The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January/February 2020 ...

However, I find this pice irksome for other reasons as well, despite its redeeming qualities. For instance, the piece functions on the premise that nobody over the age of 30 can make scientific breakthroughs. It’s a joke, but the piece goes to lengths to illustrate how people over 60 have good or great ideas that benefit everyone. This sentence really drew my attention in today’s political and economic climate, as well.

“But he had proven one thing: Smart political decisions could be made by people over sixty.”

Sure, this may be true–but putting it in this piece, which didn’t feel overtly motivated by politics, felt like a plea to readers to trust in the old political guard of today. A guard that has given us deregulated banks that caused the 2008-2010 recession, unprecedented levels of student debt, and a for-profit health care system which only makes money when it can successfully deny care to as many people as possible. That sounds cynical and maybe agist, but all I’ve seen, my adult life, is white, male, politicians creating policies that ultimately impact my generation and those younger than myself in negative ways. In the rare occasion, a politician with policies that would affect me and my generation I positive ways does gain a foothold, everything possible is done to make sure they cannot implement their platform. While this piece is ultimately about an older man changing in his ways and views to become relevant again, the quote above feels like an appeal to younger generations to trust their elders. It’s difficult, we’ve been given few reasons to trust our elder political leaders. While trust in some may be warranted on a case-by-case basis, I think the trust needs to be earned, not granted due to empty promises.

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