Wednesday, January 15, 2020

I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter, by Isabel Fall

[Clarkesworld]
★★★★☆ Provocative and Thought-Provoking

(Military SF) If gender has always been a construct, then why not construct new ones? Why not weaponize it for military use? (7,726 words; Time: 25m)

Although the author chose to withdraw this story following a sequence of attacks on Twitter, it is still available on Kindle to Clarkesworld subscribers.

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 160, published on .

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

Review: 2020.030 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Barb (the narrator) and Axis (the gunner) are not cyborgs. On the outside, they look like more-or-less ordinary military folks. What’s happened is that someone has figured out how to repurpose the part of the brain that handles gender identity and adapt that to making Barb a better helicopter pilot and Axis a better gunner.

The story operates on at least two levels. First, it describes a raid by the US government against a splinter republic in what used to be the US southwest before a combination of climate and biological disasters broke the country up. This part of the story has a good bit of tension and excitement, but it also has its share of laughs. E.g. the splinter government is descended from a credit union.

On another level, it describes what it feels like to have your gender identity modified in this way. Barb tries to explain it to us through a wide variety of analogies, making the whole experience feel very real. Perhaps more important, it makes Barb feel very human.

On a third level, I think the author is trying to convey to cis people a bit about what it means to be trans, and she does this in a very different way than anything I’ve ever seen before. However, I should note that although this story really speaks to some trans people, it also rubs some people the wrong way.

Beyond that, the story is well-written, with transparent narration and good dialogue. Despite the risk of infodumps in a story of this kind, I found it a smooth, captivating read.

Con: The story didn’t make me feel anything. Barb is a very prickly character (as you’d expect from that handle), and nothing in the story made me feel any emotion about her or anyone else.

On the technical side, I wonder why Barb doesn’t feel acutely uncomfortable outside the helicopter—as a naked person might feel.

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Isabel Fall Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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6 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. The story is also available if you subscribe or purchase the issue from Weightless Books.

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    1. Out of curiosity, I downloaded a new copy of the issue today, and this story is now removed from the ebook as well...at least at Weightless Books, can't say for other vendors.

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  2. What bugs me is all the SFF writers speaking out against this story, then admitting they never even read passed the title.

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  3. It is also available via Kobo, if you buy Clarkesworld Issue 160, which I just did.

    I've read about 2 pages so far and it reads like Military SF, and quite good writing too.

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  4. This fantastic story is still available via the Internet Archive:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20200111194207/http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/fall_01_20/

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I'm really hoping the author relents and lets this one get reprinted.

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