Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nancy Kress' "Second Arabesque, Very Slowly"

Why, it's almost Christmas Eve again. Man, those years fly by. Personally I am of the opinion that the world would have been a better place if we celebrated Christmas the traditional way only every second year; and in the years between we could, instead of spending gazillions on expensive gifts and food and glitter, you know, donate some money to help people who don't have the opportunity to partake in such gluttony. It would also help save the environment if we suddenly decided not to wrap stuff every second year. Trees could live a year longer. And, the kids would look even more forward to it if there was a little more time between each such Eve. Today's kids (and this is my subjective view of course) in this part of the world don't know what to wish for, dammit. They already have so much. So I'm not fighting that elusive "war against Christmas" I see mentioned here and there on the web but more of a "war against overindulgence".
As most years since '99 or thereabouts, my own Christmas wishlist is rather modest. I would be extremely happy with a new A Song of Ice and Fire book. This year, The Winds of Winter would've been a great treat. Imagine enjoying that one surrounded by the restful spirit of Christmas. Now in case this wish won't be granted (the Santa is a fickle god), I still have about half of Dangerous Women to read, and it's been a treat so far, so I'm happy with that. My second wish is not that modest. I still desperately want a powerful new computer. Maybe in 2014, I'll somehow manage to get hold of one. If not, it's not that big a deal, either. As Christmas movies are wont to remind us, there are more important things in life than, you know, stuff.

Which is exactly the kind of feeling you're left with after reading Nancy Kress' Second Arabesque, Very Slowly. Behind the curious title lurks a post-apocalyptic tale of a group of people keeping together against the adversarial environment around them, but unlike other post-apocalypses I am aware of, this one doesn't feature lots of cool tech and a decidedly heroic main character. Instead, this story is told from the point of view of an elderly woman (that's the second old woman POV in the anthology, statistic freaks), who is part of a group because she is useful to the group as a nurse. The mentality of the male characters is pretty rough, and women have been degraded to sex objects (there is even a "Sex List", with the alpha male on top); the story goes that most girls and women have lost their fertility, so any woman who is fertile must have sex with all the men in the group to increase the likelihood of getting pregnant. Rather dark, then, as it should be in a post-apocalyptic tale, but I'm not a big fan of the notion. Fortunately the author also shows us a male character who isn't worried about being on the Sex List, and would rather learn ballet. Well, that sounds kind of strange, perhaps, but when you read it you'll understand how it all fits together. I found myself mostly enjoying this story. It's not a genre I'm particularly familiar with, but the setting was vividly described, and it has a certain nerve that kept me going, wondering what was going to happen next. Most of all I felt sorry for how the girls were treated. The ending was perfect, though, giving both closure and some 'openendedness' (did I just invent a word?). In a way, this story was a bit movie-like in the way the scenes flowed together.


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