Monday, July 9, 2018

A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds, by James Beamon

★★★★★ Colorful setting, packed with action

(Military Steampunk) An orphan recruit on a Turkish airship tends the brainwashed monkeys that constitute one of their principle weapons. He fears them deeply, but the ones with mechanical parts he fears the worst. (5,990 words; Time: 19m)

Recommended By: πŸ‘GTognetti+2 πŸ‘JMcGregor+2 πŸ‘KBurnham+2 πŸ‘RSR+2 πŸ‘STomaino+1 (Q&A)

"," by (edited by John Joseph Adams), appeared in issue 98, published on .

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

Review: 2018.381 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: This is a coming-of-age story for Ozan, who’s just 14 years old. First he finds the dangers of battle to be frightening enough, but the monkeys scare him too. Then the cyborg monkeys are even worse. And yet when Ruhiz dies, Oz ignores his master’s orders and gives him the blood sacrament after all. His sense of right and wrong is stronger than his fear--even of his master.

We see further evidence of his strengthening sense of right and wrong when he has a chance to abandon ship in Trabzon (Trebizond), and yet, despite his fears, he knows his place is on the airship now, and he hurries back to avoid being left behind.

In the final conflict, when Hezarfen is killed, Oz hesitates only a bit before he picks up the organ and summons the monkeys to swarm down the lines and attack the Voina Gulag. He knows who he is, and he's comfortable with that.

At the very start, he confidently predicts that when he turns 15 and becomes a man, he won't be afraid anymore. At the end, he's still two months shy of his 15th birthday, but we know his prediction has already come true, and that's extremely satisfying.

Aside: The story appears to be set during the Crimean War of the 1850s.

Con: Hezarfen is a cardboard character, whose unrelenting harshness to Oz seems irrational.

Sails would be useless on an airship, with a few specialized exceptions.

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5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Interesting setting and characters. But it seems odd that the number of cyborgs in the monkey army starts at zero and swells so quickly. When the first monkey is saved, it's clear from the engineer's reaction that something like this has never been done before. So what starts off as a poignant sub-plot about a wounded animal quickly loses its poignancy as more and more cyborgs are introduced. In the end, I'm not sure what the point of the story was.


    1. Well, the plot is "Ozan becomes a man." As far as any underlying message, that's one of those things I don't go looking for. I know high-school and college English teachers ask students writing book reviews to answer questions like "what is the author trying to say with this story? Does he/she achieve it?" but I think that makes for dull reading unless the message is really, really obvious. (In which case, the message detracts form the story.)

      In this case, I suppose there's a message that you shouldn't try to run away from your problems, and that if you work hard, you'll eventually succeed.

    2. I'm highly critical of English teachers in general (what happened to grammar and rhetoric?), but I can play by their rules if I think an author is doing the same, as in this case. When a story deals with souls and their traumatic loss, I assume that the author is aiming for some deeper meaning. So when the story ends without any real exploration of those themes, I feel like the author has failed to live up to his own premises.

  2. Worth reading but also un-settling.

    The picture that goes with the story really catches the tone and feel of the story, and if you don't like the picture (or find it off-putting), chances are you are not going to like the story that much either.

    What is it with the white face paint? There was no reason for that. I thought it was going to turn "horror" on me at that point.

    Best guess for the organ grinder's behaviour is that the music used to control the monkeys has side-effects on humans if exposed too much to it.

    Shows animals getting killed or maimed. Lots of military action.

    1. It does edge onto horror, doesn't it? I don't think it quite gets there, but the mutilated cyborg-steampunk monkeys are definitely disturbing. (Look closely at the cover picture.) Whatever else the story does, it doesn't glorify war. Or child exploitation, or that matter.

      Good point about the effect the organ grinder has on you. It does say that no one knew what it did to a person.

      I assumed the face paint was meant to make the organ grinder look like the monkeys. War paint has a long military tradition, so I didn't think any more about it.