Saturday, January 13, 2018

Don't Press Charges and I Won't Sue, by Charlie Jane Anders

[Boston Review]
★★★★☆ Thought-Provoking but Exciting Too

(Dystopia) In a near-future ruled by conservatives, an organization called “Love and Dignity for Everyone,” kidnaps Rachael in order to “fix” her. But she doesn’t want to be “fixed.” (7,410 words; Time: 24m)

Recommended By: GDozois+1 RHorton+2 JStrahan+2

"," by (edited by Junot Diaz), appeared in issue Global Dystopias, published on by .

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

Pro: The surface plot comprises Rachael’s attempt to escape the Orwellian-named “Love and Dignity for Everyone” facility. The story's main theme takes conservative opposition to trans people to its logical, absurd conclusion: they’ve developed a system that can transfer a person’s “life force” into a body of the socially approved gender and change the person’s soul at the same time.

Rachael has her flaws, but she’d rather be the person she is than be transformed into someone completely different, and it’s heartening to watch her fight for herself. The escape scene adds plenty of action and tension, and the comments on Rachael’s art career provide just the right amount of comic relief.

The story also explores childhood issues that never got resolved between her and Jeffrey, including how Jeffrey ruined Sherri’s life at school by sharing naked pictures of her on the Internet. Since he couldn’t have her, he tried to destroy her. As Rachael says, “True power is being able to destroy others with no consequences to yourself.” This suffices for us to understand Jeffry’s motivations and yet to have little sympathy for him when Rachael stabs him.

Rachael’s escape is bittersweet, though. A man has stolen her voice, he’s in hot pursuit, and he wants her soul too. We leave her planning to “hide under a rock,” even though she knows that won’t work much better for her than for the crayfish she remembers she and Jeffrey once set free.

The scene where Sheri and Rachael come out to each other in high school is deeply moving.

Con: Although I found myself rooting for Rachael, the story made it hard to like her. By the end, I felt sorry for her, but I didn’t feel any real emotion at the outcome.

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6 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Charlie Jane Anders confirmed it's a short story (7,430 words), contrary to its categorization as a novelette in the Locus list.

  2. I really liked it. It is a 5-star for me.

    This is a serious work, despite the bits of comic relief in it. Rachael is not dis-likable. We see her mainly in a crisis predicament, with flash-backs to her childhood.

    The way I read it, Rachael is not planning to be caught alive.

    Free to read online and worth reading.

  3. I liked it too. Heartbreaking and I imagine very personal for Anders. I interpreted the ending as June did.

  4. Yesterday I attended a Workshop titled "Nonbinary & Trans Characters in Sci-Fi and Fantasy" hosted by the Seattle Nonbinary Collective, and I offered this as an excellent example of a short story with a trans woman protagonist. What's surprising is how rare such stories are.

    1. That sounds interesting! Another good story that comes to mind with a trans woman protagonist is "The Heart's Cartography." But that's the only other recent one I can think of off the top of my head.

    2. That was the only one I could find at all since January 2015.