Monday, January 15, 2018

The Hydraulic Emperor, by Arkady Martine

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(SF Adventure) Mallory Iheji would do anything to watch her favorite artist’s lost movie, “The Hydraulic Emperor.” But what would she really sacrifice for it? (6,601 words; Time: 22m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average

"," by (edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas), appeared in issue 20, published on .

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

Pro: In terms of the surface plot, Mallory comes to the auction with a few precious things to give away, but to win the box, she ends up giving away the very thing she sought in the first place. She gets to hold it before the Qath take it, but she never gets to view it.

“It hurt badly enough that the Qath—the nearest one, slightly more pink in its swirling grey, glitter-eyed, horrible and lovely—came over to me, and put the fucking box into my hands.” By the time this happens, we understand Mallory enough to realize just how much it really does hurt.

Con: But why does she do it? It’s a complete loss for her. She’d have done better to let Averill win and then try to find a different way to get the copy from Lilla.

And what motive could Averill possibly have? If he won, he’d have sacrificed himself and be beyond any possible human reward.

It’s a cool setup, but the outcome is just a little hard to believe. The humans are as hard to understand as the aliens.

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5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. From my reading, after Averill's first bid, her goal was to protect Skemety (not to gain access to the Hydraulic Emperor). She cared less that she won, and more that Averill lost. She desperately wanted to see the film, but in the end protecting Skemety's life and legacy was more important to her.

    1. Well, she protected Skemety's location, but how did that protect her legacy? I didn't see that she feared the Hydraulic Emperor was so bad that it would damage Skemety's legacy. (And, truthfully, when a writer or other artist produces a bad work near the end of their life, no one seems to care a whole lot.)

    2. I don't think it was about preventing people from seeing the Hydraulic Emperor. I felt like that only mattered in the story because it was a sacrifice for Mallory. Her thoughts on the location sacrifice:

      "All of her famed reclusiveness, gone. Everything exposed. In her last public interview—only voice, and with all the location markers scrambled—she said that she couldn’t stand to be seen anymore, that she couldn’t bear being known—the films were enough. The films were already too much."

      She was respecting Skemety's wishes and respecting her ability to maintain her legacy as "that reclusive filmmaker who made some immersive films and then mysteriously vanished from the public eye forever."

  2. What Allie said. Keeping Skemety's location secret was more important than seeing The Hydraulic Emperor. Averill did it to push her that far. He knew she wouldn't let him win. Maybe all three bidders were hired by the same company since Averill had just the thing to push the woman with the jade disks into working with Mallory.

  3. Some author notes: