Wrapping up my overview of the short stories and novelettes nominated for the Ignyte Awards (see also “The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim, “Emergency Skin” by N. K. Jemisin, “Omphalos” by Ted Chiang, “Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy” by Neon Yang, and the short stories), here’s a look at “While Dragons Claim the Sky” by Jen Brown…
Omani Sdyha is a practitioner of hair magic: “I’m the best coif mage you’ll find in Gyrisë”, she says. “I’ve mastered healing coiffery, and I even made up a new kind of magery when scalp divination and strand summoning didn’t suit me.” This new form of hair magic, she explains, “[m]olds your wildest wishes into the fabric of our world, so they might come to life.” She strives to study at the Imperial College of Allied Mages but, although her application has been accepted, she has nobody to cover the cost of a scholarship. And so, she makes a wish…
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The Ignyte Awards have come and gone, but I haven’t quite finished covering the short stories and novelettes that got nominated. Today, I’m looking at the Best Novelette contender “Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy” by Neon Yang…
The main character of this story, Lynette, grew up in the circus, her mother being a performer. After she was orphaned as a teenager, Lynette was left at the mercy of a harsh environment: “The other women in the circus tried to project me as much as they could, but I eventually found out what people were willing to do to young girls when they no longer had the protection of a lion tamer.” Alfous, an escape artist, tries to rape her; when she struggles against him, he throws her into a water tank. Nearly drowning, Lynette meets a strange sight:
I thought I was going to die, until I saw that there was a boy in the water. He looked my age, with dark eyes and dark hair and skin yellow as the moon. “You can do it,” he said. I didn’t know him, but seeing I wasn’t alone calmed my panic.
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Having covered four of the Ignyte Award finalists for Best Short Story – “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen”, “And Now His Lordship is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas, “Dune Song” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa and “Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan” by Christopher Caldwell – I’m wrapping things up with a look at the fifth and final contender in the category: Rebecca Roanhorse’s “A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy”.
Included in the anthology The Mythic Dream, this story is set in a future where virtual reality is more immersive than before; where the famous can have their images projected into space, leaving them visible in the night sky like stars of a more literal sort; and where medical technology can keep a person alive for a century and a half – if they can afford it.
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Having bought his freedom, ex-slave John Wood has started a new life as a ship’s carpenter on board a whaling vessel. Once at sea, the crew are imperilled by forces of nature in the form of the stormy waters and the mighty whales. But there are other powers at play – supernatural forces – which may just lend John and his crewmates the protection they need.
“Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan” is a story steeped in myth – more specifically, in different types of myth which, rather than forming a mere backdrop, clash against each other like the ocean waves that toss and hurl the ship’s crew. The setting of a nineteenth-century whaling ship is, thanks to Moby-Dick, ingrained in the mythology of American literature. Images of whales and sailors also have Biblical connotations, something acknowledged by the story’s title. In more literal terms, the themes of myth and spirituality are also embodied by the differing religious perspectives of the characters.
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