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.

Small Thoughts: The Converter of Time by Mina Ikemoto Ghosh

The Converter of Time:

Speculative City #6

By Mina Ikemoto Ghosh

The Converter of Time by Mina Ikemoto Ghosh explores how industry capitalizes on the fears of the populace it claims to benefit.

In the story, there are two societies–those who live within the Converter of Time (or CT) and those who live without. Those who have escaped the CT are free from the fear of death, willingly infect by a genetically engineered virus. It sounds a bit like toxoplasmosis, but there aren’t any cats involved.

The narrator isn’t human. There is talk of braiding “fur” and slicking ears back when something bad happens. Part of me thinks this was an effective way to tell the story, part of me wonders if it’s necessary. The fact that the characters aren’t human gives them license to act decidedly different than humans, which at times they do. On the other hand, up until halfway through the story I didn’t know they weren’t human, and so had to adjust my mental image of the story in the middle of reading. I can see why Ghosh didn’t introduce their alienness to readers from the outside. You tend to lose people when you start something off with alien main characters. I know I immediately wonder if they’ll be relatable. If they are, that’s good. But if they are overly human in their logic and emotions, then I begin to wonder why they aren’t just human. So–I guess Ghosh is walking a thin line here. Aliens or humans? For me, this story is a good one. I like the themes, the structure, the world it is set in. But I don’t think the alienness of the characters is essential to the plot, and so it tends to distract.

The finished product, however, is an intriguing and well-crafted, excellently written, and darkly imagined look at how industry leads us astray.

Mina Ikemoto Ghosh is a British-Japanese writer and illustrator. Her style incorporates brushpen and bold, dark, dynamic linework – drawing on the influences of the manga she grew up with and Japanese calligraphy – and the fine pen lines she saw in illustrated English books. She admires Chris Riddell and Amano Yoshitaka, and draws on her love of nature and BA in Natural Sciences for her story subjects. Trial and error over a couple of million words’ worth of manuscripts has taught her enough about narrative to know that she’s got many, many miles to go. She would like to see more illustrated YA fiction.

A Look At The First 3 Chapters of Murakami’s New Novel, Killing Commendatore

Last Friday, after work, I met my wife at a bar for a drink and cheese. Out of nowhere, she told me she had bought me a book. The new Haruki Murakami novel, though she didn’t know what it was called. She really bought it because it was the only way for her to get a tote bag that she liked which depicts a black cat (like our own black cat) reading a copy of the new book, Killing Commendatore. First, I was thrilled to have the book, and second, my wife loves totes. She probably has about fifteen of them of them. It drives me crazy. “…they’re in my tote,” she tells me when I’m looking for her keys so I can take the car and make a milk run.

My eyebrows raise. “Which tote?”

Things have disappeared. Things have materialized in those totes. Trust me.

See the source imageAnyway, I eagerly sat down with Murakami’s new book and started to read. At first, I was a little put-off. Many of the themes and ideas in this new book are similar to those found in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and while that is one of my favorite books ever, I want to see one of my favorite authors do something new. He did.

I’ve only read the first three chapters (as well as the prologue) because I couldn’t quite tell what Murakami was doing with the chronology of his piece. He has a collection of themes he introduces all of which take place in a different time frame, all in the past, but some more so and some less. I was wondering if there was any kind of rhyme or reason to it. It was clear to me that the narration was leapfrogging through time, then taking a step back, then leapfrogging again. If that sounds confusing, it is. I read chapter 3 last night and then sat down and made a graphic organizer so I could understand what Murakami was doing with time. Here’s a simplified version of what I thought was going on.

Leap frog_ Killing Commendatore

That probably seems confusing. It is, and furthermore, I don’t it’s this systematic. But what I’m trying to get to is that each scene is pushing the story forward, then picking up somewhere in the past, i.e. in between scenes or ideas that you’ve already heard about. Sometimes the narrator even repeats the scene and ideas and some of the same words as the first time you’ve read it.

Below is a table I made to organize my understanding of this book–or at least the first 3 chapters of it, I didn’t even take the prologue into account. I likely will at some point.

COLOR CODED KEY:

Green = Concerning anything the narrator did once he first got to the mountain house.

Brown = Anything about his wife wanting to separate.

Yellow = Anything to do with teaching painting and sleeping with married women.

Light Blue = Anything that came before the immediate story, i.e. flashbacks.

Dark Blue = Anything to do with the narrator trying to escape his own situation.

Red = Anything to do with the narrator leaving his past behind.
Killing CommendatoreAs you can see, the top table is the way this information is presented in the book, the bottom table is the chronology of when and what happens. You may notice that ideas are touched on twice. For instance, the wife tells the narrator she wants a divorce twice, not literally twice, but the narrator tells us twice in vastly different spots in the book. Four sections separate that once instance told twice. More extreme is the fact that he brings up sleeping with two married women who he taught art to in the fourth section, but also in the fifteenth section.

the lack of chronology in this piece makes me think the time isn’t of much import to the narrator, though to the author it was obviously of much importance, as he took a lot of time to mix the timeline up so much.

I’m thinking I will continue this timeline and color-coded method throughout the book. I’m expecting to see a pattern of some kind, but I’ll just have to read on and see.