April 09, 2011

Saturday Storytime: Fragments of a Painted Eggshell

Alexander Jablokov writes fiction that is...odd. That's a compliment. Futuristic science fiction is supposed to be odd, in ways you don't quite expect. An excerpt:

"But she'd be someone else then. Not Rue."

"Contrary to what you might have heard," he said, "it's not actually that easy to change a personality by sticking in false past memories. The old personality wants to continue to exist somehow, like a vampire that won't be killed. The new memories get rearranged to justify the old personality. Sometimes people contract for memories that make them make sense to themselves. Gives them an excuse for being what they are. Obnoxious, unpleasant, distant from those who love you? Create memories of mistreatment by your parents. It all makes perfect sense then."

His despair hung around him like a swarm of gnats, making him squint and squish up his face. He had real memories back there somewhere. He seemed very attached to them: an odd, regressive sentiment.

"We all do that," she said. "Freelance and untrained. We have to...."

"Bah," he said. "That's childish. All of it is. You're just avoiding the main issue. Tell me. Do you love your daughter?"

He barked the question, and thrust his face into hers like an interrogator in a concrete-walled basement cell trying to extort a confession. His eyes were flat planes of meanness, and for an instant she couldn't think of an answer, as if the reply was something complicated, easily screwed up.

"Yes!" She choked in a breath. ''Yes, I love Rue. I love my daughter!"

"Why?" His voice was suddenly gentle. The interrogator was sure he had broken his prisoner.

"Why? Because ... I do." She looked away from his harsh gaze. A streetlight had been captured in the countless independent drops on the window. Each had its own vision of the light, and each was exactly the same.

He shook his head. ''You love your daughter because you were programmed to. It's...natural." He lingered contemptuously over the syllables. "A complex preset behavior evoked by a releaser. Evolution, survival. Well, you know the drill."

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