Wednesday, January 15, 2020

I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter, by Isabel Fall

★★★★☆ 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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7 comments (may contain spoilers):

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

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

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

  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.

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

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

    2. Not available any more: "

      This URL has been excluded from the Wayback Machine."