This is the part of my 100 Short Stories in 2014 challenge. This story is one of the Hugo Nominated short stories and I am reading it in the voting pacet. I have decided to review everything I read for the Hugos.
I do not normally review stories that I do not like on the blog. I normally try to keep things positive, but because of it’s nomination I will review it.
The Ink Readers of Doi Saket takes place in what seems to be current day Thailand. I better state that I have no ties to Thai culture and makes no claims to speak for them. This review is purely my opinion on the story.
This story made me uncomfortable. I am not a buddhist and I do not know a lot about Thai culture. I can not tell what part of the story that are made up and which parts are based in real life tradition or real rituals. I am sure that is part of why this story is making me uncomfortable. And it isn’t making me uncomfortable in a crunchy kind of why where I am facing my own biases. It is making me uncomfortable because it is using religious rituals and beliefs of real people in a culture that is not the authors. And it is not using them in a way, that I feel is all that respectful or really all that interesting. To me it felt like cultural appropriation. I am not saying it necessarily is that, but it felt like that to me. What made me uncomfortable is among other things the constant questing of the folk religious practices of the people in the story.
If a lot of this is based in fact, then it is more of an anecdote than a fantasy story – if not it fell somehow disrespectful. I am an artist, which to me means that I personally do not believe in gods, spirits or other other worldly powers interfering in our everyday life. However, I respect that other people make sense of their world in that way and I accept that at least some of the followers of religions (organised or not) genuinely believe in their religion’s teachings. This makes me believe that we have to treat all religions the same – as long as they are not actively harming their believers’ life. Ok there that is my biases on religion.
So it makes me uncomfortable when folk religion or religion of other cultures/times are not taken as serious as organised religion – which is my felling of what is going on in this story. Again I am not saying that the author is actually disrespectful or set out to be. I am just saying that it made me uncomfortable reading it.
It might of course also be that this is a totally typical Thai way of telling a miracle story. I don’t know.
I do not like stories that question whether there is magic in the story or not (or rather – I am yet to find a story of that type that I like), so the story was working uphill from the start. If you don’t believe that anything special is going on here (and you are not really trying to tell a character’s story either) why the crap tell the story anyway? To me that feel like the stupid campfire tales you tell each other as children to scare each other. It is a copout way to end a story. Especially one told in 3rd person by an otherwise all knowing point of view. If you as a storyteller know people’s innermost thought, you do also know if a miracle is really a miracle or just pure happenstance.
As other stories that questions if what happens is magic or not, I question if that kind of story is really a part of the fantasy genre – even as part of it’s cussion genre magical realism. To me one of the hall marks of fantasy is that it takes the magical at face value. It does not make excuses for the magical/supernatural things in the story – they are just a part of the world that the characters is a part of. If I understand magical realism correctly that is also the premise of magical realism – fantastical things happens and is a natural part of the real world. The storyteller in The Ink Readers of Doi Saket however does question the magic of the wish ritual at every turn.
The plot itself is pretty simple really. A young boy is drowned. Before he drowns he wishes that he had something he desired. His village is in the middle of a big yearly wish ceremony.
I didn’t really care about any of the characters. The story didn’t tell me enough about the main character to me really interested in him as a person and most of the other characters seemed like the kind of characters you find in anecdotes.
I didn’t particularly like the style of writing. The story is written in 3rd person and is told from an all knowing point of view. It very much as the feel of storytelling. Inserted into the story are some weird short poetic description of wildlife. There are little anecdotes about the village drizzled into the story.
There were a few moments that were probably meant to be funny but I was too distracted by all the things that didn’t work for me to appreciate them.
Clearly this is not a story for me. I didn’t hate it, but I found it very hard to find things to like. Half way though the story I felt like I should read the story again, because I wasn’t getting what was going on. It might of course be that the story is told in a storyteller tradition I am completely unfamiliar with and that is why I am not conecting with this story at all.
Published: 2013 by tor.com
Read: June 4th 2013
Length: 6110 words, short story
The author: white, male, Dutch
The central character: Tangmoo, male, child, thai