Review: The Other Half of the Sky (Feral Astrogators #1) edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay T. Holt (1/4)

March 18, 2016 2016 Review Challenge, 2016 Something For Everyone Challenge, 2016 The Mt. TBR Struggle is Real, Anthology, Book Review, ebook, Science Fiction, series 0 ★★★½

Review: The Other Half of the Sky (Feral Astrogators #1) edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay T. Holt (1/4) three-half-stars
The Other Half of the Sky by Alexander Jablokov, Athena Andreadis, Melissa Scott, Nisi Shawl
Series: Feral Astrogators #1
Published by Candlemark & Gleam on January 1, 2013
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 445
Format: eBook
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Women may hold up more than half the sky on earth, but it has been different in heaven: science fiction still is very much a preserve of male protagonists, mostly performing by-the-numbers quests.

In The Other Half of the Sky, editor Athena Andreadis offers readers heroes who happen to be women, doing whatever they would do in universes where they’re fully human: starship captains, planet rulers, explorers, scientists, artists, engineers, craftspeople, pirates, rogues...

As one of the women in Tiptree’s Houston, Houston, Do You Read? says: "We sing a lot. Adventure songs, work songs, mothering songs, mood songs, trouble songs, joke songs, love songs – everything." Everything.

Table of Contents

Dreaming the Dark - Introduction by Athena Andreadis
Finders by Melissa Scott
Bad Day on Boscobel by Alexander Jablokov
In Colors Everywhere by Nisi Shawl
Mission of Greed by Sue Lange
Sailing the Antarsa by Vandana Singh
Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier by Joan Slonczewski
This Alakie and the Death of Dima by Terry Boren
The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard
The Shape of Thought by Ken Liu
Under Falna's Mask by Alex Dally MacFarlane
Mimesis by Martha Wells
Velocity's Ghost by Kelly Jennings
Exit, Interrupted by C. W. Johnson
Dagger and Mask by Cat Rambo
Ouroboros by Christine Lucas
Cathedral by Jack McDevitt

I discovered The Other Half of the Sky in 2014 when the controversy regarding long time hate blogger and new author WinterFox aka RequiresHate aka Benjanun Sriduangkaew. As I was reading up on all of the drama, I noticed there were some decent looking authors being mentioned (the authors were being harassed by Requires Hate and her group of friends). The Other Half of the Sky – with its clear feminist themes AND the promise of Space Opera – caught my eye and I decided to give it a try.

I purchased The Other Half of the Sky in November 2014 – that means this read qualifies for my Mt. TBR reading challenge! Yaaay! The Other Half of the Sky has been on Mt. TBR for 1 year, 4 months.

Note: The Other Half of the Sky has 14 stories. I decided to break this review up into 4 posts in order to keep [the review] from being overwhelming.

Though I normally skip When reading The Other Half of the Sky I decided to read the introduction (because another reviewer stated that the Introduction really packed a punch.

Dreaming the Dark (Introduction) by Athena Andreadis
Dreaming the Dark IS a very good introduction. Andreadis clearly states the focus (and why) of this anthology and what she hoped to accomplish with it:

Most people conflate opera with Wagner. Likewise, most SF aficionados conflate space opera with galactic empires, messianic anti/heroes (invariably white men) and gizmos up the wazoo, from death stars to individually customized viruses. And herein lies a tale of an immense, systemic failure of imagination.
Science fiction wishes to be the genre of imaginative extrapolation. So it has come to pass that SF writers have conjured all kinds of planetary systems, ecologies, lifeforms and societies; FTL, stable wormholes, time travel, teleporters, ansibles; clones, uploading, downloading, genetic tinkering, nanotechnology; virtual reality, remote sensing, telepathy, telekinesis, precognition.
Yet the same universe-spanning visionaries seem to have difficulty envisioning women (or other “non-defaults,” for that matter) as full humans—that is, not defined by their helpmate/mother role but as rounded people fully engaged in their vocations and wider network of relationships and, furthermore, people who can be heroes, not merely heroines.
Dreaming the Dark, Andreadis, 3%

I’d produce a collection in which women stand as protagonists, rangers, and agents of destiny in unimagined universes that treat them as fully human—and at the same time, maybe strike a blow for SF as quality literature in its own right.

I want swashbuckling but also nuancing, people who act well despite fears and doubts, protagonists who lodge in my cortex and under my breastbone. I want layers, the frisson of depth that comes from a world that’s fully realized by a sensibility whose boundaries extend beyond the borders of US sub/urbia. I want configurations that are neither pyramidal nor male-dominant: cat, elephant, bonobo, or orca societies, not the baboon and dog ones that over/underwhelm SF. I want humans who are aware of limitations and consequences, who do not “conquer” new planets and act as neo-colonialists of the Manifest Destiny stripe. I want women to be nexuses, pivots, movers, shapers, creators and destroyers—loved, feared, admired (or all three, I’m not picky). And I want these women and their worlds to be brought to life by language that’s not the Hemingway-wannabe workshop-101 hackery that passes for writing craft in much of SF.
Dreaming the Dark, Andreadis, 3%

 
 

Finders by Melissa Scott – 4 stars
Finders was a difficult start for me: I often struggle with the tech in SF and the tech in Finders was both simplistic and complicated at the same time. The MFC (main female character) in this one is Cassilde. Cassilde and her partner/mate Dai are scavengers/junkers in what seems to be far in the future (or a different reality?) after major wars destroyed civilization. They scavenge the archaeology-like wrecks of a people they call the “Ancestors.” The work they do reminds me heavily of an area of Andre Norton’s Witch World called the Waste. Both areas are heavily strewn about with relics of power left behind by a group that was clearly superior both in intellect and technology.

I loved the fact that Cassilde is clearly an equal (if not senior) partner with Dai (and later Ashe) and I love that the threesome the group has is depicted as common.

The author did not give a lot of worldbuilding (very few details or explanations) but what I did get worked for me. I couldn’t quite decipher how the tech worked (BLUE, GOLD, RED, and GREEN) as it seemed both electronic tech and biological tech – merged together? I’m not quite sure. The worldbuilding doesn’t quite explain how/where most of the population lived and what (where?) exactly were these salvage locations. I can’t quite complain about this since infodumping is a pet peeve of mine.

There are so many things in Finders that intrigued me – teased me – but left me wanting. I really hope the Ms Scott has expanded this short into a full length. I want more.

Finders was an auspicious start to The Other Half of the Sky. I’m actually excited to read more AND I’m looking up Melissa Scott so I consider this an anthology WIN.
 
 

Bad Day on Boscobel by Alexander Jablokov – 3 stars
I’m not really sure how I feel about Bad Day on Boscobel. The story in rather interesting and has a lot to enjoy but there was a lot of confusion and BS along the way. Bad Day on Boscobel pits a mother/social worker (Dunya) against…what felt like everyone. Boscobel is (a planet? an asteroid?) that has the biggest trees in the Universe. These trees are so big that people live in and on the trees. They make their food out of bugs and vegetable matter (from what I could see). Dunya is a social worker (of sorts) on Boscobel who is in charge of monitoring refugees and she has her eye on Martian refugee Phineus. Phineus seems to be a messy refugee who is dipping his fingers into local illegal politics and/or gang wars. Dunya also has to deal with arguing with her teenage daughter, her husband away for God knows how long (he is not present in the story) and the local “police” who seems to be antagonistic as well as unhelpful.

The actual plot of Bad Day on Boscobel is rather interesting. I really wanted to know more and why but a lot of that was lost in the more mundane issues of Dunya’s life.
 
 

In Colors Everywhere by Nisi Shawl – 3 stars
*Trigger Warning* There is a rape in this story.

This story really strained me in some ways. In the fact that I can’t quite say that I understood what was happening and that the ending was 100% completely unsatisfying.

There’s a lot going on is In Colors Everywhere and it’s hard to parse it out. The story is set on a planet – Amends – that is being used as a penal colony. The prisoners – called clients – have their consciousness removed from their bodies on Earth (which are destroyed) and the downloaded into clones on Amends (love the irony of that name). Once downloaded into bodies, the clients are left to figure out life. And they do. An entire culture is created with rules, regulations, and leaders. Clients are also able to reproduce, which adds an additional layer of complexity and a little grimness (for me) since the children of clients are considered clients as well. Talk about “sins of the father.”

Offspring produced by clients during their sentences have committed no crimes but must serve with them, as they are likely to be contaminated with clients’ views. Under no circumstances are they to be allowed to develop extraplanetary capabilities. Similar caution must be exercised regarding any later generations coming into direct contact with clients.
–Mission Guidelines, Psyche Moth, 2055

One of the major issues/plot points of the story is that clients were not specifically downloaded into bodies of the sex they had while on Earth. The MC, Trill, is female but genders are rather fluid on Amends so clients are unsure of someone’s gender unless wearing clothes. The reader won’t know unless specifically told. It appears that gender/sexuality was one (if not THE) crime the client committed that had them placed on Amends. Also, the clients can reproduce. Trill mentions her mother dying during the first generation on Amends so I’m thinking that Trill is a client only because she was born there.

Amends (the penal colony) is run by “Dr. Ops” who is never seen or actually heard of. I haven’t figured out if “Dr. Ops” is an actual person or an actual Operational department that has been personalized by the clients. Which starts to bring me to the major issue I had with In Colors Everywhere: I hadn’t a clue as to WTF was going on at times. Perfect example: the author used the word “dopkwe” extensively throughout the story. I Googled and I Yahoo’ed and I searched and searched: dopkwe is NOT a part of the typical lexicon that I have access to. Also, it seems the Internet as a whole doesn’t really know much about dopkwes, either. I received millions of hits for Dockers, musicians (there’s a group named Dopkwe) and quite a lot of what looked like Russian. FINALLY I decided to google search in Books (thank GOD for books): A Dopkwe is an African word (not sure of what country/language) for “work group.”

So. In Colors Everywhere starts with some kind of drop from Dr. Ops onto the surface of Amends. The ruling body of Trill’s settlement (the Ladies) assign Lady Trill and her mentee, Dola, to investigate. They locate the drop – strange items in strange boxes – along with two Trustees. Trustees are…some clients that are trusted by Dr. Ops(?). The trustees demand to be taken to Trill’s settlement but this fills Trill with dread.

He took a pair of white gloves from a box and put them on and started touching her, proceeding from her hair to her ears, face, throat, and downwards. He lifted her dress.
“Oh. Uh. Oh.”
“Somethin wrong?” But she knew there wasn’t. Unique checked everyone every five weeks—once a month, regular as leaflight. Doctors out of Uluru backed him up when they came through the settlement. Trill was fine.
“It’s just—I can’t, uh—I thought you were a woman.”
“I am. Since I was a tens-to-thirteens.”
“Of—you—of course—”
A whisper of cooler air as Isabelle pushed the curtain aside and walked in. “What Freddie mean is a course we knew gender assignments among you all be pretty fluid—that’s why come summa us original clients wound up here, after all. Among other crimes. But he never suspected you, that you wasn’t born what you say you are.”
The elders were right again. “But it won’t be a problem? People put here were allowed to live on Amends anyway we wanted, so—”
Freddie had recovered his ability to talk in sentences. “The only difficulty is that summa my treatments are for biological females.”

Different kinds of women and men had different kinds of genitals. Like colors. Elders said that most places on Earth, that had mattered. Mattered enough to get some women—some men, too—murdered.
What treatments would the trustees—or rather, Dr. Ops working through them—want to impose based on those differences?

Dola gets examined in Trill’s place. During this “examination” Dola is drugged and raped – the trustee implants some thing in Dola while she’s drugged and he perves out all over her feet. *GAG* After the rape, the trustee wakes her up and they have consensual sex. Why? Because the trustee needed Dola to believe that she was impregnated by the trustee – leaving her unaware of the implant. The implant seemed to be some kind of mindless clone embryo that Dr. Ops planned to used to…I’m not really sure. The story said that Dr. Ops wanted to download people/personalities/information without the client(s) being aware. But WHY? Why bother paying for all the implants, etc? Aren’t people still sent to Amends as punishment? Are clones no longer available to be filled? I feel the reasons given don’t really make sense in context. Unless the point is just to create additional spies because reasons?

The plot line with the rape and implant doesn’t go anywhere. The leaders sit around, discuss/argue options – Dola demands an abortion – and the Ladies tell her if she doesn’t do it, some other innocent person will have the same thing happen to them. Dola runs off sobbing and then suddenly Dola and the reader are told that “it was a test.” WHAT is a test? Dola was raped, so that couldn’t be the test. Dola was impregnated so that couldn’t be the test. The trustees and the drop from Dr. Ops wasn’t a test. So…am I supposed to believe telling a rape victim that she should “stay preggers for the greater good” is a test?? FFS. The story doesn’t say what occurs next – what is done about the blank embryos?? The entire situation with Dr. Ops is left dangling. There’s also an incredibly interesting plot about birds that is left dangling AND it seems as if Dola and Trill were about to embark on a life-partnership of some sort (very cool). I’m one of those people all about closure and In Colors Everywhere does not give me that.

In Colors Everywhere packed a lot of different things into a very short story. I did enjoy it’s rather Utopia-like look at a possible Eden: people on Amends worked together to survive. They also allow others to simply be themselves. Sexual orientation as well as gender identity is up to the individual. The society in the story felt very…workable and lovely. In Colors Everywhere also gave an unflinching look at the lengths others could go to in order to remove “undesirables” from their society: Amends was only populated in order to turn it into a penal colony – a penal colony made up of only the transgender or the homosexual – and that’s pretty atrocious.

One thing that made me RAGE a little bit was a…toss away comment about ethnicity: About 20% into the story Trill thinks “Both spoke the way many elders did, so they, too, must have originally occupied black bodies.” What in the FUCK is that supposed to mean?!? The majority of the characters in In Colors Everywhere spoke with a little patois and there were other markers like the word “dopkwe” that made it plain (to me) that a lot of (if not all) the clients were African/African American. But seriously. Who the fuck truly believes that the WAY someone speaks is indicative of their ethnicity?? People’s accents and/or patois is solely dependent on their environment. The only exception to this would be the (very few) people who have “accents” due to medical reasons (i.e. my partially death cousin has an accent due to her inability to hear all inflections in words).

All in all, it’s a but rough but still something to make you think.

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