Writing is an act of letting go. The author is ultimately a mute and absent bystander. The real conversation does not involve us; it is between the work and the reader, who comes to it with the whole of who they are, their life experiences, intuitions and biases, and their own context.
So, all my preoccupations came into how I read these ten pieces. While many of them used speculative fiction as a distorting mirror to glimpse a truth about who we are in June 2017, even the most imaginative among them didn’t feel like much of a distortion.
There is something in the air, in the streets, in the data. We are having a global conversation about intersectionality, identity and accountability, gender, race, sexuality and, especially, masculinity and its damages. Sometimes it descends into a violent screaming match, which is the only way to describe the surge of fascism we’re seeing across the world.
This collection speaks to all of that messy, complex humanity across a range of tones; strange, or subtle, or full of raucous verve. The idea of home was a recurring theme. These stories are full of characters leaving and returning, finding a way out, or finding their way back, or learning to live with what’s left.
“Actualities of Souls” is striking for the beauty of its sentences and its sense of place. Its characters are caught in the dreamy mutability, between worlds and lives and iterations of themselves and how they might find an anchor.
“Cannibal Club” reveals itself in its title (I want to suggest switching it to “Fetch A Dog A Bone”), but it doesn’t matter a damn, because it’s a slick and wicked and gloriously fun SF morality tale, with the best-named antagonist I’ve ever come across: TikTik Dahlia.
The other, most straight-up science fiction story is “A Man’s Work,” in which a girl named Kai is finally recognised as a boy when he finds a place crewing the deck of a cargo ship shuttle with no name. It’s a little bit Han Solo, a little bit James Barry, interrogating notions of gender and being through piratical high adventure.
“Awaited” and “Practical Applications of Machine Learning” are both love stories, one told in a letter that finds a tender hope through the pain of homophobia and the lightning strike of loss, the other through a social media slideshow picked out by a callously cruel algorithm, that ends in a personal apocalypse. “Oscar” also explores racism and homophobia, and how we re-brick the walls ourselves, that keep us locked in.
The poem, “Boxing Day Blues in Bellevue East” and the uncomfortable short story, “Everything and Nothing” are full of the loose-limbed frustration of young men adrift in society. These characters are poisoned with malaise and contempt, and, in Alejandro’s case, the self-loathing machismo born out of longing to be more, to be seen at all.
And finally, two poems: “Curiosity” is full of the sweet melancholy and stars-away loneliness that echoes across this collection.
But it is “Cariad” that’s going to haunt me, urgent, full of terrible love, and bone-grating as its final image. “Cariad” is too late. The violence is done.
It’s a reminder that we must resist, through art, through stories, through words that help us to get at the difficulty of reality. We write because it’s the fire we light against the darkness. Because it’s what we have. We read because we might find each other through it.
Lauren Beukes guest edited Issue 3 of Type/Cast. She read ten pieces selected by the Editorial Collective entirely “blind,” with no information about the authors provided at all.
Lauren writes “novels and things.” Her books include The Shining Girls, Zoo City (winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award), Moxyland and Broken Monsters.