Review: The Other Half of the Sky (Feral Astrogators #1) edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay T. Holt (2/4)

April 15, 2016 2.5 stars, 2016 Review Challenge, 2016 Something For Everyone Challenge, 2016 The Mt. TBR Struggle is Real, Anthology, Book Review, classic sci-fi, ebook, Science Fiction, short story/Vignette, Space & Aliens 0 ★★½

Review: The Other Half of the Sky (Feral Astrogators #1) edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay T. Holt (2/4) two-half-stars
The Other Half of the Sky by Athena Andreadis, Joan Slonczewski, Kay T. Holt, Sue Lange, Terry Boren, Vandana Singh
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.

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

 
 
Mission of Greed by Sue Lange – 3 stars
This one was interesting. The title of the story is “Mission of Greed” and I felt that all of the parties on this mission are greedy for something so the title applies to all. The heroine of Mission of Greed is Bertie Lai, First Mechanic (ship commander) on a mission for corporation ValeroCorp to discover if a newly discovered planet has the necessary ingredients to exploit it: a lack of sentient life and a surplus of “beautiful 1.4” uranium. Lai is the protagonist/heroine but she has her own greedy motivation: if the planet is determined to have the “1.4 beautiful” uranium, the planet is named after the discovering ship’s commander-in-chief: Bertie Lai. Lai really wants this fame and was working with the geologist in order to ensure they located the 1.4 beautiful uranium.

Lai is joined by her second, Second Mechanic (secmech) Charlene Sekibo, who desires to become a First Mechanic (and thus a ship commander); the ship biologist Rene Genie, who desires to discover sentient life before ValeroCorp can exploit the planet’s resources and potentially kill off any sentient life – and to become famous for the discovery; geologist Aadil Alzeshi wants to discover the “beautiful 1.4” uranium whilst thumbing his nose at rival Genie; Both Security officer Carpenter and Medical officer Axelrod have specific personal motivations as well – but they are spoiler related.

Mission of Greed begins with a bang: Alzeshi is found dead one morning and his corpse appeared to have been eaten at by acid. Security Officer Carpenter immediately accuses Genie of murder and locks him away. The remaining part of the story is a murder mystery and thus spoilers that I need to avoid.

All in all, I felt Mission of Greed was a pretty solid sci-fi murder mystery. The reasons – like all good murder mysteries – was very much human based but the methods were sci-fi. The story didn’t make me want to search out additional Sue Lange works but I was entertained.

 
 

Sailing the Antarsa by Vandana Singh – 4 stars *light spoilers*

But at last the Council gave its reluctant blessing, and here I was, on a ship bound for the stars. I am a woman past my youth, although not yet of middle age, and I have strived always to take responsibility for my actions. So I watched the moon and the great curve of the planet that was my home fall away into the night, and I wept. But I did not turn around.
Sailing the Antarsa

As I started reading Sailing the Antarsa, I felt the text begged the question: Would you be willing to forever leave all that you know and love for the chance to be a record breaking explorer?

Mayha is a decedent of pilgrims from Earth who traveled to a distant planet – Dhara – and colonized it. Unlike today’s humans, the settlers of Dhara lived in great harmony with the planet. They even go as far as to make biological modifications to themselves in order to more fully live and survive in their environment(s). The people of Dhara believe in “kinship” with living creatures and it is very important to them.

“A kinship is a relationship that is based on the assumption that each person, human or otherwise, has a right to exist, and a right to agency,” she intoned. “This means that to live truly in the world we must constantly adjust to other beings, as they adjust to us. We must minimize and repair any harm that we do. Kinship goes all the way from friendship to enmity—and if a particular being does not desire it, why, we must leave it alone, leave the area. Thus through constant practice throughout our lives we begin to be ready with the final kinship—the one we make with death.”
Sailing the Antarsa

The idea of kinship seems to be the founding principle that the Dharans use to focus their lives. So it makes some sort of sense that Mayha – a true traveler/adventurer at heart – would be interested in discovering possible new planets, new peoples and possibly locate other Kin from Earth who traveled to the Antarsa area instead of the Dhara area that Mayha’s people settled.

So it was shown to us that a planet far from humanity’s original home is kin to us, a brother, a sister, a mother. To seek kinship with all is an ancient maxim of my people, and ever since my ancestors came to this planet we have sought to do that with the smallest, tenderest thing that leaps, swoops or grows on this verdant world.
Sailing the Antarsa

I loved Mayha’s adventurous spirit. When Sailing the Antarsa opens, Mayha has already been traveling for eight years. Alone. The type of courage it must take to set off on a one way journey alone is…more than I have. Mayha is from a place that deeply treasures kinship with other living creatures – which makes her decision (to travel) and fate so much more difficult to parse.

Some of us have looked up at the night sky and wondered about other worlds that might be kin to us, other hearths and homes that might welcome us, through which we would experience a different becoming. Some of us yearn for those connections waiting for us on other shores. We seek to feed within us the god of wonder, to open within ourselves dusty rooms we didn’t know existed and let in the air and light of other worlds. And the discovery of the Antarsa, that most subtle of seas, has made it possible to venture far into that night, following the wide, deep current that flows by our planet during its northern winter. The current only flows one way.
Away.
So I am here.
Sailing the Antarsa

Singh’s writing in Sailing the Antarsa is so beautiful and lyrical. The beauty of the words almost masks the sadness of the tale – that of a single traveler recounting their life-lessons in order to lessen the overwhelming loneliness of deep space. I loved the way Mayha’s story unfolded and the tales she remembered as the story progressed. I also enjoyed the whole idea of the Antarsa – of a Universe wide ocean and the lifeforms that actually live in space itself.

Sailing the Antarsa reminds me of The Girl in the Box by Ouida Sebestyen in the way the story unfolds to the reader (via flashbacks) as well as the lack of resolution. Which bothers me. Quite a bit. I get teary when I think about Mayha in her single ship all alone. I have a feeling that – like The Girl in the Box – I will think of Mayha in the future and wonder about her final fate.

My hands are still my hands. But I fancy I can feel, very subtly, the Antarsa wind blowing through my body. This has happened more frequently of late, so I wonder if it can be attributed solely to my imagination. Is it possible that my years-long immersion in the Antarsa current is beginning to effect a slow change? Perhaps my increased perception of the tangibility of the Antarsa is a measure of my own slow conversion, from ancient, ordinary matter to the new kind. What will remain of me, if that happens? I am only certain of one thing, or as certain as I can be in a universe so infinitely surprising: that the love of my kin, and the forests and seas and mountains of Dhara, will have some heft, some weight, in making me whoever I will be.
Sailing the Antarsa

 
 

Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier by Joan Slonczewski – 0.5 stars
Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier is the most frustrating story I’ve run across in this anthology thus far. AND it’s the most frustrating story I’ve read since forcing myself to read The Atrocity Archives. Honestly, I have to say that Landfall is taking the award for “BS Read” since The Atrocity Archive was built upon a pretty solid idea and Charles Stross made sure that the reader had a clue as to what was going on by the end.

Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier starts in medias res – which I’m totally down with – but then it also ends in medias res. WHAT??! YES! The beginning of Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier is in a laboratory where students are working on an extremely important and top secret vaccine to stop an alien infestation of…barely multi-cell aliens (named ultraphyte and also called ultra) who landed on Earth one day. The ultraphytes emit cyanide when upset/nervous/”reasons” and thus need to be contained/eradicated. Strangely, the ultraphytes seem to be able to be in different forms (the students are working with a snake-like one and one of the students has a plant-like one as a pet) but this is never explained.

What makes Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier the most irritating is that it just ends. Just like that. There’s no resolution (not even a piece of one like Sailing the Antarsa and a lot of the wording is very awkward. Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier feels like a single chapter taken 1/3 from the start of a book: the explaining has already happened but the resolution is far away. So the reader is left with just this dangling piece of paragraph. Ugh.

Landfall from the Blood Star Frontier ends with the random explosion of some random space junk. What this had to do with the plot? IDK and I’m too pissed off to care enough to go back and try to analyze it.

 
 
This Alakie and the Death of Dima by Terry Boren – 2.5 stars
I wanted to enjoy This Alakie and the Death of Dima much, much more than I did. This Alakie and the Death of Dima is…strange. The grammar is odd: all of the “people” spoke and thought in 3rd person. So Alakie spoke and thought of herself(?) as “this.” Alakie and the other ambulatory “people” (called Hu) were tokens of some other kind of person called “Dine” and “Dinela.” The Dine/Dinela are some kind of fungus/worm creature. They build stuff and trade with each other and seem to be almost like tunneling worms that tunnel as extensions of themselves but cannot move? Except that a lot of the words used to describe the Dine/Dinela were words associated with fungi:

The roadbed of the truncated span was spongy with infiltrates, and urine-colored metabolites pooled there on a fuzz of matted rhizomes.
This Alakie and the Death of Dima

So I’m sticking with my mental picture of a fungi glo-worm. The tokens of the Dine/Dinela are divided by value with the ambulatory sentient (the Hu) being the most valuable. There are also “stupid” tokens which “fluttered” around so I’m calling them butterflies. The tokens would be traded by the Dine/Dinela based on value.

And this is where I start to lose the train of the story.

The Hu have to leave Dima (the planet) and their Dine/Dinela because the planet is being destroyed. By some strange (possible?) enemy. But the Dine/Dinela need as best as possible to send parts of themselves (buds) to other places (planets?) along with their tokens because their tokens are proof of their status(?) And the Dine/Dinela are too big to leave the planet (or refuse to contract in order to do so). For reasons. And they are not sure but the destruction of the planet was deliberate? Because strange enemy reasons? Either way, planet goes and the Hu plus the stupid tokens have to leave. End scene.

My final take: I wanted to enjoy this because of the mystery of trying to unravel what the author was saying. Everything was made more difficult by the this/these/that pronouns. And I was never sure if the Dine/Dinela fungi glo-worm things (who also used this and that and these) was IDK. It was too confusing and although I could mostly follow along, I could never really pin down “This Alakie’s” end game plan. In then end, I left this story feeling frustrated.

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