Review: The Other Half of the Sky (Feral Astrogators #1) edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay T. Holt (3/4)

May 23, 2016 2016 Review Challenge, 2016 The Mt. TBR Struggle is Real, Anthology, Book Review, ebook, Science Fiction, short story/Vignette 0 ★★★½

Review: The Other Half of the Sky (Feral Astrogators #1) edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay T. Holt (3/4) three-half-stars
The Other Half of the Sky by Alex Dally MacFarlane, Aliette de Bodard, Athena Andreadis, Kay T. Holt, Ken Liu, Martha Wells
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.

 
 

The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard – 4 stars
This one was…different. The Waiting Stars is a rather complex but short story that reminded me heavily of both Anne McCaffrey’s Brainship series and The Matrix – but with a different (original) slant. Anne McCaffrey’s Brainships are extremely intelligent but incredibly physically damaged humans who would have died at/before birth if they were not put into titanium shells at birth. These shellpeople – called “Brains” – run ships/ space stations, etc. Anything too complicated for a computer. The Waiting Stars has a different slant – although it is somewhat difficult to parse what is truth and what is false in regards to the creation of de Bodard’s “Minds.” The Waiting Stars – instead of “Brains” and Brainships – have “Minds” and Mind-ships. It appears that the Mind-ships – like the Brainships – are humans (of some sort) connected to and running spaceships (the ship is their body) and live for hundreds of years. It seems that the Minds are birthed from the beginning as cyborg-ish? and do not have the typical human body? Not quite sure.

The people who create/birth the Minds are called Dai Viet. They are at war? with a group called Outsiders – so heroine Lan Nhen along with her cousin Cuc and her great-great-aunt Mind-ship The Cinnabar Mansions are attempting to rescue captured great-aunt/Mind-ship The Turtle’s Citadel. The Turtle’s Citadel had been captured and placed in a derelict ship ward that was full of [captured] Mind-ships.

The heartroom was back to its former glory: instead of Outsider equipment, the familiar protrusions and sharp organic needles of the Mind’s resting place; and they could see the Mind herself—resting snug in her cradle, wrapped around the controls of the ship—her myriad arms each seizing one rack of connectors; her huge head glinting in the light—a vague globe shape covered with glistening cables and veins. The burn mark from the Outsider attack was clearly visible, a dark, elongated shape on the edge of her head that had bruised a couple of veins—it had hit one of the connectors as well, burnt it right down to the color of ink.

Lan Nhen let out a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding. “It scrambled the connector.”

“And scarred her, but didn’t kill her,” Cuc said. “Just like you said.”
The Waiting Stars

While the rescue operation is in process, the POV shifts to a young woman named Catherine on the planet Prime. Catherine (and her female friends) are being educated/trained in “the Institution” where they have been “rescued” from their Dai Viet families by the Galactics (Outsiders). Why? The Galactics claim that the Dai Viet birth [non-organic] Minds by incubation in human women, resulting in horrific births.

The camera was wobbling, rushing along a pulsing corridor—they could all hear the heavy breath of the woman, the whimpering sounds she made like an animal in pain; the soft, encouraging patter of the physician’s words to her.
“She’s coming,” the woman whispered, over and over, and the physician nodded—keeping one hand on her shoulder, squeezing it so hard his own knuckles had turned the color of a muddy moon.
“You have to be strong,” he said. “Hanh, please. Be strong for me. It’s all for the good of the Empire, may it live ten thousand years. Be strong.”
The vid cut away, then—and it was wobbling more and more crazily, its field of view showing erratic bits of a cramped room with scrolling letters on the wall, the host of other attendants with similar expressions of fear on their faces; the woman, lying on a flat surface, crying out in pain—blood splattering out of her with every thrust of her hips—the camera moving, shifting between her legs, the physician’s hands reaching into the darker opening—easing out a sleek, glinting shape, even as the woman screamed again—and blood, more blood running out, rivers of blood she couldn’t possibly have in her body, even as the thing within her pulled free, and it became all too clear that, though it had the bare shape of a baby with an oversized head, it had too many cables and sharp angles to be human…
Then a quiet fade-to-black, and the same woman being cleaned up by the physician—the thing—the baby being nowhere to be seen. She stared up at the camera; but her gaze was unfocused, and drool was pearling at the corner of her lips, even as her hands spasmed uncontrollably.
The Waiting Stars

The Galactics claim they are saving the girls from becoming broodmares. The reader cannot truly say if this is 100% true (the birthing) because later events in the story show that the Galactics have no problem with lying if it suits their needs. There is a feeling of…self-righteousness and echos of forced conversion coming from the Galactics that remind me of colonization. Th Galactics don’t really seem to know or understand the Dai Viet – and they don’t seem to care to know them, either. The Galactics obviously believe their way is best and Dai Viet are barbarians at the least.

Throughout The Waiting Stars the Outsiders/Galactics are not very detailed. There is no reason given for attacks/capture of Dai Viet Mind-ships. The only comments made are:

Outsiders — the Galactic Federation of United Planets — were barely comprehensible in any case. They were the descendants of an Exodus fleet that had hit an isolated galaxy: left to themselves and isolated for decades, they had turned on each other in huge ethnic cleansings before emerging from their home planets as relentless competitors for resources and inhabitable planets.
The Waiting Stars

and this is related to Catherine and her friend Johanna during their re-education in the Institution:

a redemptionist church with a fortune to throw around, financing the children’s rescues and their education—and who thought every life from humans to insects was sacred (they’d all wondered, of course, where they fitted into the scheme).
The Waiting Stars

The ending of The Waiting Stars was poignant and does make me question the moral idea of Mind-ships – but my moral questions even have questions. I don’t know the hows and the whys of Mind-ships. I am unsure of how they are created and what [else besides a human body and physical touch] is sacrificed in that creation. I also wonder if only females can become Mind-ships since all of the characters in The Waiting Stars are female except for one. All of the Mind-ships are female and all of the “rescued” Dai Viet are girls. One of the things I did notice is that the Mind-ships may have human families but no human names: the two Mind-ships in the story – The Cinnabar Mansions and The Turtle’s Citadel – don’t have names like “Catherine” or “Lan Nhen.”

The ending was a little sad but freeing at the same time. You can capture an eagle, put it in a cage and love it…but it will always be an eagle and will never be a songbird.

…and, in that last moment, she finds herself reaching out for him, trying to touch him one last time, to catch one last glimpse of his face, even as a heart she didn’t know she had breaks.
The Waiting Stars

 
 

The Shape of Thought by Ken Liu – 3 stars
The Shape of Thought really reminds me of many different books. It is also very alien in a lot of its writing: the aliens – Kalathani – in this story do not have gender and therefore no gendered pronouns – only words like “zie” (He/she?), “zir” (him/her?) and “zem” (them?).

On of the first things that made me crazy while reading The Shape of Thought is the delving into language and grammar. Liu dug deeply into language structure because language shapes the way we think (or the way we think shapes language) and the human heroine (and her people) were trying to colonize an alien planet. Language is so important in this story because the humans cannot (or refuse to) understand the vast differences and vast similarities between themselves and the Kalathani. The humans wanted to break the Kalathani down into easy to classify/easy to understand boxes. The inability to understand the Kalathani leads to a lot of distrust and anger between the two groups. A lot of this anger is caused by the humans and the belief that the human race was superior (due to technology) and the human language was superior.

I did have some issues with the conversations between the heroine, Sarah, and her mother about language. Specifically the comments about how and why languages die. The text claims all (human) languages died because English was the best way for our thought patterns – implying that English is the superior (human) language. Of course, this is not true – especially since English is a hodgepodge language which borrows from myriad languages and is unable to stand on its own. So if English is the “language of choice” then that proves that the idea/theory of why languages die is incorrect.

Every language shaped the way the speaker thought about the world. And so languages were like genes, and their speakers like species, competing for survival in the world. The language that out-competed the others and survived must, by necessity, represent the one that was most enlightened, most fit for effective thinking and reasoning, conferring on its speakers the best chance at developing advanced technology and gathering wealth. This was the Sapir-Whorf-Mair Hypothesis, developed in ancient times by the great philosopher and general Mair, who synthesized the observations of previous thinkers and pushed them to their logical conclusion.
The Shape of Thought

While reading The Shape of Thought I thought often of my favorite science fiction writer Octavia Butler and her Xenogenesis series. The Kalathani with their fronds, long nimble fingers and their DNA sharing reminded me a lot of the Oankali in Xenogenesis. Just like in Xenogenesis, the humans in The Shape of Thought refuse to share knowledge or DNA.

There is another book I’ve read that The Shape of Thought recalls to mind: The Voyage of the Minotaur by Wesley Allison. The attitudes of The Shape of Thought reminded me of The Voyage of the Minotaur

This is an interesting story – but some of the linguistic and grammar conversations made me feel as if I were back in college, forced to take advanced grammar all over again.

 
 

Under Falna's Mask by Alex Dally MacFarlane – 3 stars
Under Falna’s Mask is…different. It felt closer to Fantasy than Sci-Fi. I think this has to do with the lack of real technology being a factor in the story.

Under Falna’s Mask is the story of endings and beginnings and does not give true closure. I like closure – it makes me happy, I guess. I always want to know “why” and “then what happened.” It’s a major part of my personality – I probably should have stayed in academia, lol.

Under Falna’s Mask starts as the heroine of the story, Mar-Teri, is mourning her family. All of her family members died either in an attack by the “far-off people” or by the poison the far-off people used on the land.

It seems that the far-off people are humans who utilize large amounts of technology while Mar-Teri’s people – the Tuvicen – only use medical technology. Other than medical technology (which is sophisticated enough to include sex reassignment, surgeons, hormone treatments, etc.) and communication, The Tuvicen are closer to the Fantasy version of Gypsies: they live in family groups in caravans and are herders of a (cow like?) animal named befil. I am not sure but I think that the far-off people either are invaders/colonizers from off planet or the far-off people and the Tuvicen are all of the same planet but with drastically different ways of life. I’m leaning towards “drastically different ways of life” over the course of generations.

The far-off people are fighting with the Tuvicen over land usage – reminding me of the fights between the Native Americans and the European settlers: the native peoples are being pushed back and massacred by the more technologically advanced far-off people. There are no real hints as to what the far-off people want besides land/space for experimentation. There seems to be some kind of nuclear-type weapon that the far-off people use which sears the sky orange and is poison and death to those who are under it.

As I mentioned, Under Falna’s Mask is a story of endings and beginnings: the Tuvicen have begun to break apart – divided by the decision to attack a new settlement of the far-off people or not. Mar-Teri and her side believe that the far-off people have the advantage of both numbers and technology and thus feel they should not attack and should focus on finding new and safe land outside of their historical area. The opposing side believes that attacking the far-off people will force them back and away from their historical lands – that the attack will allow them to resume their way of life.

Under Falna’s Mask is an ending: family groups are splitting up and the tribe as a whole are in disagreement.

Under Falna’s Mask is a beginning: Mar-Teri’s group does lose people to the fighters but they gain people as well. Mar-Teri’s group plans to move as far away as possible to begin life again in a safe place. Mar-Teri also “grows up” by being forced into such difficult decisions at such a young age.

There was one thing that bothered me – pronouns (or rather gendered pronouns). When thinking and talking, the Tuvicen used the words “se” and “sem” but throughout the story there is regular use of the word “her.” This aspect of the story – gender reassignment – is only lightly mentioned and not delved into at all. I wish the author had have either left this out or developed it further.

I enjoyed Under Falna’s Mask for what it is but it feels very…incomplete to me. I don’t know if the Tuvicen make it to a safe place and continue to thrive; did an attack happen? And if yes, what was the result(s)? Inquiring Minds want to know.

 
 

Mimesis by Martha Wells – 3.5 stars
Mimesis was fun! I have heard of Martha Wells (I do own at least one of her books) but I don’t think I’ve actually read her before. I’ve heard so much about Ms Wells that I almost dreaded reading this story. What if I disliked it? Would I get drive-by review(er) hate? Will I ever read that book I bought?? The pressure! O_O

Luckily for me, I enjoyed this quick read. I’d say that Mimesis did the one thing I really read anthologies for: it introduced me to a new author/series in a comfortable and inviting way. Mimesis is book #3.5 in the Books of the Raksura but it did not punish me for being unfamiliar with the series. While I was slightly confused as to [some of] the particulars – 99% was understandable/explained so that I was able to follow along without having read any of the previous stories.

Mimesis is short and filling while leaving me wanting at the same time. There are hints of previous and future stories woven skillfully into Mimesis. I’m leaning towards reading The Cloud Roads (The Books of the Raksura #1) in the very near future.

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