Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Mark, by Abi Hynes

[Interzone]
★★★★☆ Rich and Complex

(Dystopia) In an all-male world, the first woman born in living memory flees a home village that she fears will never understand her. (4,461 words; Time: 14m)

Recommended By: SFRevu+1


"The Mark," by (edited by Andy Cox), appeared in issue 275, published on by .

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

Review: 2018.302 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The challenges faced by a young girl growing up in a world that has forgotten what it means to be female makes for an interesting what-if. It reminds you how many things women learn from other women; the narrator suffers a great deal for lack of that information, as does her newborn child.

I say "girl," but the narrator isn't human; she's some other primate. The story talks about "hairless men" but also about "the fine, dark hair on my body" and how "we are born to climb." We also learned that her uncle "made" all the young ones and that after he was gone, there would be no more. The "Crab Men" are presumably a different near-human group but with shells instead of fur.

It seems likely this is some sort of experiment, based on the "huts where machines still flickered and buzzed." In that interpretation, the Silencers, whose raids start with a hissing sound that starts as loud as crickets but grows into "the furious shaking of a hundred rattlesnakes" are the experimenters, who sometimes collect a specimen for study. At the end, we get the same description of the noise (probably a flying vehicle), so that's clearly who picked up her and her child.

Con: Is the narrator trying to get away? If so, climbing a mountain seems very much the wrong way to go about it. Is she trying to kill herself? If so, she’s at great pains to avoid falling.

It's not clear that "rescue" by the Silencers is a good thing, since we don't know what they're going to do to her.

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Abi Hynes Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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8 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I'm sure that's not what we're meant to take from it! Notice how small her world is, as she can see when she climbs high enough. It's not the whole world.
    It was obvious to me that the other kinds of "men" the villagers have encountered are humans, probably still mortal and still using technology for something other than reproduction. The villagers kill them efficiently enough that they've given up trying to take back the valley, but they can rescue anyone who gets out. Perhaps it's a reserve for the Wild Men.

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    1. That's a much happier interpretation! :-) But how do you get that? Can you cite a passage or two?

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  2. "Soft, slow, furless men who carried flashing tools" are obviously humans. I assumed the Crab Men and Silencers of Isi's stories are also humans, using different kinds of tech support.

    On the last page, there's a sound ... "A low hiss, growing louder, growing nearer." That's a vehicle, an aerial one from the context, which "doesn't feel so loud" later, presumably having landed, before she feels hands on her arm.

    (by the way, it says Select profile but it'll only let me pick my Blogger profile which I refuse to fill in because dammit, stop connecting everything, Google. If I sign out I don't know what else, that I actually use, it'll sign me out of. I'd use OpenID if this plugin offered it)

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    1. We're hoping to get off of Blogger by the end of the year. There's no point reporting bugs in it to Google; they just explain that it has the bug because that's how it works. I gather they've got few or no developers working on it anymore.

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    2. If you move away from Blogger, what will happen with comments and saved ratings?

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    3. It will all be moved over. That's part of what's making it take so long to do: being sure nothing is lost in the conversion.

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  3. So, reading the story again, it seems obvious that the narrator isn't human; she's some other primate. It talks about "hairless men" but also about "the fine, dark hair on my body" and how "we are born to climb." We also learned that her uncle "made" all the young ones and that after he was gone, there would be no more.

    I had assumed they were descended from a lost colony, what with "huts where machines still flickered and buzzed."

    It also talks about the Silencers, whose raids started with a hissing sound that started as loud as crickets but grew into "the furious shaking of a hundred rattlesnakes." If we believe Uncle when he said they were just men--no forked tongues or tails--then it does sound a lot like a human research team that drops in on a flying vehicle to take specimens from time to time. And this is the same description at the end, so that's clearly who picked her up.

    My mistake was that I dismissed the descriptions of the Crab Men and the Silencers as children's tales. However, I find myself thinking now that this is a description of an experiment of some kind. And, presumably, the Crab Men were a different experiment (men with shells instead of fur). More thoughts?

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  4. Substantially revised and raised to 4 stars based on my reread and feedback from readers. Thanks everyone!

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