Friday, July 14, 2017

Random Reviewlet

Concessions by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, a novelette published in two parts in Strange Horizons.

The story concerns a doctor living in rough conditions and her choices regarding survival versus her faith. Warning: some spoilers may be ahead.

The idea of a society that banishes anyone who professes to any religion isn't as abhorrent to me as it could be. I've always felt that faith is something people ought to keep close to their hearts, despite growing up in a religion that is all about proselytizing. Maybe it's because of that background that I feel faith should be something kept to oneself unless asked about. That said, I know some people who get great comfort from the rituals of their religion, and I would be uncomfortable with a society that refused to even allow the signs of that religion, which is what that society seems to be.

Admittedly, we don't see much inside the society itself as most of the story takes place among the banished folk. There's a careful layering here, present in all good stories, that first gives us an idea of the way life is being lived, then why it's being lived that way, and of the dangers of this life (beyond just starving to death). The real action, when our main character goes to find tech to help her with a case, has been set up in such a way that the reader knows something is going to happen.

As for the concessions... well, this whole story is about making concessions to one's faith in order to live. It's made clear early on that the main character uses a bit of magic, which is forbidden in her religion. She also is allowed into compounds controlled by other religions - a concession on their part in order to get good health care. Her final concession doesn't really seem that great compared to the sacrifice she makes... but then, I'm speaking from the point of view of someone who believes religion cannot be taken away from a person even if the trappings of that religion are stripped away.

If I have any complaint, it's the way the guilt of the main character is presented. While the science of what went wrong seemed clear enough, I couldn't quite figure out how it related to everything else, particularly the Creed War. She's clearly feeling a great deal of guilt, but the timing seems off. I guess I couldn't make the connection between the Creed War and the science issue.

There's also a very strange sense of survivor syndrome. Just how many people did the Creed War affect, and what happened in the rest of the world? Are these people all that's left, or are there enclaves with people banished into the wilderness all over?

Conclusion: A good story, one that makes me think.