Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Concessions, by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

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(Near-Future SFF) Bilqis, the only real doctor in a dying community of religious exiles, finds something strange when she examines a pregnant woman. (8,315 words; Time: 27m)

Rating: ★★★★★ Sophisticated and Moving, with Good Characters
Recommended By: JStrahan

"," by (edited by Niall Harrison), appeared in issue 03/06/17, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Bilquis wants a child, and she wants her old life in Ajutine back. But she doesn't want to lose Sule, and she wants to be faithful to her religion. Ultimately she accepts that she cannot have what she wants without making compromises.

She has already compromised her principles somewhat by dealing with the witch, Miriama. This is both a religious compromise and a scientific one, since the "ether" that she manipulates is pure magic. Still, she justifies it as necessary for the health of people in the community and on the grounds that she only uses it for good, never for evil.

When she learns she might be carrying a viable child and goes for the ultrasound machine, she puts Isa and herself at risk--all because she won't compromise and just go to the city. To save herself and her child, she makes the ultimate compromise, drawing on her own reserves of evil to use the magic destructively.

At that point, she decides that going back to the city of Ajutine where the child has a fighting chance really is the right thing to do, even though she foresees that she won't see her husband again. She tells them she's ready to make concessions, but, of course, she's been making them right and left through the whole story.

Every event is nicely foreshadowed. For example, we're warned about the "catchers" long before we meet them. Bilquis moans that the hinterlands aren't fit for good fruit (i.e. a child) and Miriama tells her the fruit doesn't need to stay put (i.e. she could move away). And Sule brings her the paper telling her that people like her are welcome in the cities again.

The entire story is rich with metaphors. For example, Bilquis already has several "children": Isa, most obviously, but also children of families she's helped, like little Bilquis.

In the short space of this novella, some of the characters become very vivid. Isa, Sule, Miriama, and Bilquis herself. And the narration and dialogue are perfect.

Trivia: It's probably just a coincidence, but Ajutine is the Estonian word for "makeshift."

In his recent article, "The Benedict Option" (New York Times, March 14, 2017), David Brooks the argument that religious people do much better to make concessions to the real world rather than trying to live a pure life in isolation.

Con: The fact that she co-developed an anti-cancer drug that seems to have triggered a world-wide catastrophe doesn't fit the story very well.

What is an exiled Catholic community doing next-door to an exiled Muslim one?

The juxtaposition of magic and technology is a little awkward.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 03/06/17)
Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Thanks for recommending this one!

    (It seems to be "Bilqis," not "Bilquis"...)

  2. Impressive! The characters and their relationships are so well realized. Because of this, you can really see how truly agonising a decision this is for her -- between her husband, her community, her faith and her child, her profession, her duty.