Crossed Genres #24: Characters of Color

Crossed Genres 24

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about having a child is his sense of fun and fantasy in everything that he does.  Imagine my delight when I am asked to review Crossed Genres, which twists science fiction and fantasy with themes from other genres.  The theme of this particular issue was “Characters of Color.”

I enjoyed the different flavors of the settings and characters. Though I am a music teacher by trade and a writer by night, I have a passion for and a degree in Cultural Anthropology/Sociology.  The wide variety of different settings and perspectives put my inner sociologist in hog heaven as I read Crossed Genres.

Absolutely everything we do and believe boils down to two things: the way in which we provide for ourselves, and how we propagate our species.  The best speculative fiction, in my opinion, is derived from an earthshaking change to one or both of these things, and the drama in a story unfolds from the collision of humanity and change. All of these short stories had a major change to the human ability to survive and/or reproduce, though not all were utilized to their fullest potential.

Overall, I enjoyed the issue.  Several had political ideas with which I both agreed.  Some had ideologies with which I disagree.  Though I have my little pet peeves, and we all do, I tried very hard to keep them out of my judgment of all of the stories and instead focus on the skills of the writers.  In fact, I liked some very much that touched on ideologies that were more foreign to me.

In, “Flying with the Dead” by Sabrina Vourvoulias, the fate of illegal immigrants in a barrio rests with Chucho, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who is himself Mexican.  While visiting his mother’s grave on the Day of the Dead he meets a girl and her family, who would prove to be the key to a mysterious box he inherited from her.

I loved the premise, and the symbolism of the monarch butterflies was touching and beautiful.  One frequently sees stories involving children who have lost their parents, and one would think that it would eventually get old, but it does not for me.  Thinking of that particular kind of loss never loses its emotional impact for me, especially since I have become a parent myself.  Definitely worth the read, though the setting in the middle part of the story was not as rich as it was in the beginning and the end.

“Protected Entity” by Daniel Jose Older, has a gritty, film noir sort of feel.  Agent Carlos Delacruz and his ghostly partner, Agent Riley Washington, are the only non-white agents of the Council of the Dead, and are chosen to solve the murders of African American children in a prosperous part of Harlem.

The setting is rich, the structure good, and the choices the characters have to make are believable and heart-wrenching.  The author’s clear voice sings through.  My only complaint is the same one I have about “Sy Nebula” below.

A mode of speech that really isn’t spoken anymore is devilishly difficult to write well.  The dialogue that is supposed to sound like formal, century-old speech can be somewhat stilted and fails to flow like the rest of the prose.  I think of it as the difference between hearing Patrick Stewart doing Shakespeare, as opposed to William Shatner, though it only happened once or twice and didn’t detract terribly from the rest of the story.

In “Drag Queen Astronaut” by Sandra McDonald, you could say Commander Truax was having a bad day after being caught on his shuttle’s live video feed hanging out in women’s underwear.


The fact that aliens were burrowed in on the moon was inconsequential, really.

Teaching is my day job, and having worked with teens and now elementary students for the last few years, I found the consequences for the main character’s tiny boo-boo utterly and frustratingly believable in a world rife with Facebook, sexting, and YouTube.  The writing was strong, the little asides relevant and entertaining.  I absolutely loved it.

In “The Presence” by Barbara Ann Wright, Huang Li is discovered as a thief at the Omni Superstore.  It was an honest-to-goodness accident, but his brush with the law brings him to the entrancing Officer Taylor.

I loved the premise of the story.  We Montanans bristle at even the slightest invasion of our privacy, and the technology used to track Huang’s every thought and movement made me want to go hole up at my parents’ place and wait for the government to come try and implant one of those chips.
Go on, cupcake.  Make my day.

Overall, I never felt like I was in Huang’s head or really felt empathy for him.  At times, it seemed as though it was just a string of events.  It was more or less clear why Huang was attracted to Officer Taylor, but, without spoiling the end, let me say her motivations behind her response to him were not clear.  Great premise, but less than clear characters.

In “Sy Nebula and the Dream Tosser” by Angela Ambroz, Sy is getting ready for her first ride in the Dream Tosser.  Bound for Florence, Italy and struggling to figure out what Dante Alighieri has to do with anything, she wonders if she’ll come back intact. Signs do not point to yes.

The author’s voice was clear and strong, and she wove in little details here and there that allowed the reader to firmly understand where the current setting was in relation to times, places, and events that we knew.  She also inserted little details here and there that gave the setting a unique feel.  The ending was rather abrupt, and some of the dialogue had similar dialect problems that troubled “Protected Entity” above, but the quirky author’s voice won me over.

In “Equatorial Snow” by Fadzlishah Johanabas, a very misguided attempt to counteract global warming goes terribly awry making it snow for months on end in equatorial Kuala Lampur.  Amri and Zarina face worldwide famine, disease, and death as they wait for their unborn child, who decides to come a little earlier than planned.

It was the relationship between the man and his wife and the choices they were forced to make as the world crumbled around them that drew me in.  The voice was engaging, and the setting rich. I loved it.

In “Blood Oranges” by Audrey Fine, Catalina must face the world left after a mutated virus decimates those with O-positive blood.  An quirk of fate leaves Catalina immune, but places her only loved one left alive at risk.  After meeting Eduardo, her hope of leaving loneliness behind glimmers through a tumultuous relationship.

I’ve spent some time in the Southwest, and the author really made me feel as though I were there with Catalina.  It was easy to picture and an obvious strength.  However, Catalina’s feelings for Eduardo vacillated between, “I love you,” and “You’re a douche,” a little too frequently to feel real.  I expect her to be conflicted, but her feelings changed so quickly that it often was difficult to see her motivations behind the changes.

In “Dangerous Terrain” by Kelly Jennings, the relatively inexperienced scout Dajin stumbles upon a life form on a lifeless planet.  She inadvertently sets events in motion that places the creature’s life and future in her hands.

The story’s setting and technology are unique and imaginative, in particular the plants used to collect information on barren planets.  The author’s voice was also unique, but the use of jargon was so thick that it was exceedingly difficult to follow at times.  I cannot be sure, but some of the words seemed as though they could be Spanish slang.  If so, it’s quite possible that the author was writing to an audience that would understand far more than I could, but still the pace felt overly rushed and breathless.

In “December” by Teresa Jusino, Lisa Cruz is finally forced to confront her haunted childhood and deal with her mother’s possessions after her passing.  Lisa could never have predicted that the shades of an abusive mother would prove all too real.

“December” sheds a poignant light on what it is to pull oneself up by the bootstraps as an immigrant, but also delves into the less savory side of parental ambition.  The story was woven together well, and the dialogue was spritzed with enough Spanish phraseology to give it a clear theme, but did not obscure the meaning.  Let me say that, as a music teacher, I’ll never look at Tchaikovsky the same way again.

“In the Half Light, A Woman” by Lavanya Karthik, a very talented inventor has given a very special brand of comfort to the dying Shahjehan the Magnificent, who grieves for his lost love.  Upon his deathbed, his family is rending itself apart over that very special piece of machinery, religious zeal, and blame for the death of their mother years before.

The writer’s skill in weaving together a wide variety of characters and conflict was apparent, but this one touched me more than most.  There are a few themes that touch me very deeply, and this story struck upon one of them.  I work daily with children who are very nearly dying for their parents’ affection.  Some are foster children, others victims of neglect or abuse, some orphans, and many other kids simply had the shitty luck of drawing parents that are extremely self-involved or self-indulgent.  The author managed to create a set of very believable, flawed characters that elicit both sympathy and disgust.  Well done.

In “Diaspora” by Paul Lamb, readers receive a history lesson that tells how mankind escaped a dying Earth, and of how the idea of race very nearly died with it.

Sociologically speaking, the author’s premise is absolutely fascinating and intriguing.  Race is really just a social construct, not a genetic inheritance.  It is used to distinguish who is alike and who is not.  “Beware, my child, those people are not like us.”

I loved the author’s exploration of the concept of race from an observer’s perspective.  I also loved the ambiguous ending.  The only thing I felt really took away from the story was that its structure forced the author to tell rather than show, which I really cut down the efficacy of its message.

Thank you, Crossed Genres, for the enjoyable read!


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