And we return to Alexander Jablokov.
I came across this when reading the July/August 2017 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
No, I was not diligently keeping up with my magazine subscriptions, there were other stories in this issue which will be covered in some future posts.
Review: “How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry”, Alexander Jablokov, 2017.
In some ways, Jablokov’s City of Tempest is a return to the type of setting he and other writers used for the shared world Future Boston.
It’s rife with strange alien races, or “nations” as they are called here, and intrigue.
But whereas Boston is a human city estranged by aliens showing up, Tempest is an ancient city, mysterious in origin, rife with aliens, where humans are just another nation.
As far as the aliens are concerned, humans, Oms as they call us, are natural bureaucrats:
This was how a lot of us Oms made our living in Tempest: we’re known for our ability to sit still for long periods and do work that makes other nations want to rip off parts of their own bodies. It was a known fact in the city that, no matter how simple the initial setup, once humans got hold of it, it became a complex, mind-numbing nightmare.
Our heroine Sere Glagolit isn’t a bureaucrat. She specializes, or did until her boyfriend dumped her and took her business, in finding useful and hidden objects in the terraced City of Tempest.
The plot centers around a real estate deal one woman, Mirquell, wants to make with the mysterious aliens known as the Case. She’s acerbic, impatient, and blunt, and was my favorite character. She’s not as rich as she used to be, but she’s better off than Sere, our narrator. Sere offers to find out who actually owns a piece of land to get a fee from Mirquell.
But the plot that follows feels equal part a detective story and a fantasy quest story.
We meet an Extirpator using some really heavy weaponry to get rid of some seemingly insignificant pests. There’s the aliens who go into undesired sexual heat at the smell of bread and other aliens that like to eat their meals on the fly. There’s a spooky alien pet gone feral, and the hunter trying to track it down in the earth of the City of Storms. There’s the aliens who insist on wearing garments to go out into public, garments decorated with lethal amount of heavy metals – and those aliens need to go to a zoning meeting. There’s also the elevator monopoly.
There aren’t really any villains or heavies or vast conspiracies though.
As you would expect from Jablokov, the plot is intricate and its whole interested me less than some of the scenes and characters. Plot threads are wrapped up, but a whole lot of mysteries about aliens and their motives remain.
Despite myself, I did become rather fond of Sere who admits she’s not as smart as she thinks she is, not as observant as she should be.
Jablokov has said he plans to write more about Tempest and Sere’s adventures.