I would love to review a single author collection of JY Yang’s short stories, but as far as I can tell, no publisher has yet seen fit to publish one. Happily, the author has selected five short pieces they are particularly fond of and made them available on their site.
Each title is a link to the story in question.
Strapped to a dissection table, an ancient alien waits for its human captors to dismantle it, Millennia of experience, knowledge, consciousness erased. As if the alien were just another frog to be pithed in high school biology class.
The humans have convinced themselves that the way the alien reacts to damage does not indicate pain; just as doctors were once convinced that babies could not feel pain. Or the way some contemporary doctors believe that African Americans don’t need as much in the way of pain meds.
Othering other humans to justify treating them badly is an all-too-human behaviour. When the thing on the dissection table isn’t even from Earth … well, of course it’s OK to cut it up.
In the researchers’ defence, the alien’s biology gives it compulsions considered unacceptable in most human societies. Still, odd nobody seems interested in talking to the alien, if only to ask how it got to Earth.…
Desperate to trade her lumpy, unattractive body for a sleeker, prettier model, Agatha turns to the highly illegal second-hand body market. As soon as she sees possible donor Maryam, Agatha knows she has met the love of her life. And if Maryam doesn’t love her back, well, Agatha will just have to give Maryam no choice but to love Agatha..
How odd that romantic extortion by a self-loathing plutocrat ends so badly.
Outside, just another ordinary worker. Inside, her true self, a sleek apex predator. But how to shed the false shell for the reality hidden within?
If anyone is keeping count, this is three for three for stories about people with conflicted relationships with their own bodies. Despite that common theme, the three stories are utterly distinct. Yang isn’t the sort of author who writes variation after variation of the same story.
One of its human mothers has been erased, collateral damage in a petty political assassination. The artificial intelligence Starling is determined to use every resource at the disposal of its remarkable mind to extract payment from the guilty parties. But what will this mean for its other mother?
Unlike a lot of AIs, Starling’s designers believed very much in ideas such as off-site backups and distributed networks. Like the internet before it, Starling can circumvent most impediments, from specific mainframes being shut down to human directives it believes are counter-productive. Well, for the most part it can.
Over in the Sarah Connor universe, did anyone ever try sitting down and talking to Skynet?
The National Archives offer a form of immortality for the recorded minds stored there. Of course, only the worthy qualify. Night Clerk Wei En’s job is to protect the archive from unsanctioned tampering. She has been given enhanced senses that can detect unsanctioned tampering. Which she does. So that’s why dissident Lee Junwei is skulking around the archive! But it proves unexpectedly hard to figure out what sort of tampering is happening, and how to roll it back or prevent it.
The official explanation for why the government is so selective about who is preserved in the archive is “If we archived people just based on the fact that they were loved, this building would cover the surface of the Earth.” But … recorded minds don’t seem to be take up much space. One per memory stick. If those are the same size as present-day memory sticks, each one takes up one four-millionth of a cubic meter. Ten billion people would fit into a volume of recording medium a mere 14 meters cubed.
A more reasonable explanation is that careful selection of who is saved shapes the image of the present of which the future is allowed to be aware. It’s the same basic principle behind curated lists that selectively ignore persons in specific categories. Curate often enough and thoroughly enough and it will be as though the unwanted never even existed. Of course all significant contributions were made by people of whom the gatekeepers approved!
Yang’s stories often involve the same themes: people unhappy with their bodies, political disquiet; non-humans struggling to coexist with humans. Despite circling around some of the same themes, each story is unique. Even in a sample as small as five stories, the author demonstrates considerable range. It’s only thanks to my iron will that I don’t immediately head back to their site to hoover up the rest of their stories. I want to avoid the mistake I committed with authors such as Daniels, Rowland, and others — of inhaling everything available and leaving nothing for tomorrow.
Yang has a story on Tor.com about lesbians and ansibles, you say? No matter. My will is iron and I can defer gratification for at least a week. (cursor slowly moves towards link…).
These short pieces and many others are available on the author’s website.
Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com.