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Tag: R.B. Lemberg

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Title: The Four Profound Weaves
Author: R.B. Lemberg
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Format: eBook
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: I pre-ordered it from Kobo before its launch on Sept 1, 2020

I was first introduced to R.B. Lemberg’s Birdverse stories when their novelette “Geometries of Belonging” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The prose is striking: delicate and measured, yet somehow pulsing with pain underneath, as we learn more about the main character’s past and how they try to heal both themselves and others from trauma.

Next, I read “The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar“, a story with a much more hopeful outlook. However, it deals with similar themes of loneliness and people aching desperately for connection. It ends with the two title characters finding each other and travelling together.

Lemberg’s Birdverse stories have always been imbued with a strong sense of compassion: they deal with questions of how to heal from war, how societies that accept trans-ness do so in different ways, and how to build connections between people. Birdverse is constantly interrogating issues surrounding bodily agency and consent, and how abilities that aren’t traditionally considered “strong” are still vitally important to the shape of the world.

The Four Profound Weaves, Lemberg’s debut novella set in the same world, continues that tradition. However, The Four Profound Weaves also foregrounds two other emotions: sorrow, and righteous anger.

Sorrow: the two main characters, Uiziya and nen-sasair, journey through the desert to find Benesret, the master weaver who can weave from death. Uiziya looks for her because Benesret is her aunt, and was promised forty years ago that she would learn her aunt’s secrets; she’s waited for Benesret’s return to no avail, and is tired of feeling incomplete without this knowledge.

Nen-sasair’s sorrow springs from having to hide his trans nature for a similar length of time. Forty years ago, Benesret helped him by spinning a weave of fabric that would allow him to change his body (female-presenting) to match his self-identity (male). But his lover, Bashri, refused to let him transform as he wished. Now that she’s dead, and he’s used the cloth that was denied to him since his youth, he hopes that Benesret can do him one last benediction and also bestow him with a new name.

Benesret’s sorrow is that she can’t do either of the things that Uiziya and nen-sasair wish: she can’t teach the art of death-weaving, and she can’t bestow a new name. And that’s because her greatest weave was not one made of death, but made of hope.

Righteous anger: Benesret made the hope-cloth at nen-sasair’s request so that he could take it the King of Iyar. The King, a famed collector of art, insisted that this was the only payment he would accept in exchange for releasing nen-sasair and Bashri’s other lover. But he killed her before they could return with the weave, and took it from them anyway.

That hope-weave has been sitting in the king’s vault to this day, its glories hidden from the world. And now nen-sasair and Uiziya have been tasked with retrieving it so that Benesret can regain the hope she lost, pass on the art of death-weaving, and help nen-sasair find a fitting name.

When they return to Iyar, they discover that treasure is not the only thing hidden in the king’s vaults. And when they both realize the true horrors that the king is responsible for, they seek to undo his horrible acts.

Ultimately, despite the sadness, despite the anger, this is a story of hope. Some wrongs can’t be undone. Sometimes, you just need to wait for the person holding you back to die before you can become who you were always meant to be. But change can’t be denied, no matter how long and how hard people fight to restrain it. And I think that core of hope is something central to Lemberg’s work. I look forward to reading more Birdverse stories as they are published.

An Alphabet of Embers, Edited by R.B. Lemberg

alphabet_of_embers_coverTitle: An Alphabet of Embers (An Anthology of Unclassifiables)
Editor: R.B. Lemberg
Publisher: Stone Bird Press
Format: eBook
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: I was offered an Advance Reader Copy for review

(Note: The editor of An Alphabet of Embers now goes by R.B. Lemberg. The body of this review has been changed to reflect this, but the URL and the associated image still show the name under which this anthology was originally created.)

I saw the Mad Max movie The Road Warrior for the first time this year. As I watched it I was entranced, because it exhibits an unusual trait: it’s a movie that is very happy to be itself. Whatever its references and antecedents are, it incorporates them so well that it transforms them into something completely unique.

I got the same feeling when I read An Alphabet of Embers, an anthology of short stories edited by R.B. Lemberg that will be launching later on this week at the Nebula Awards conference. Lemberg’s goal with An Alphabet of Embers was to collect a variety of “very short tales and prose poems showcasing evocative and startling language.” Looking over stories contained within, it’s very fair to say they’ve succeeded.

I say this because despite the variety of tones, textures and voices, Embers maintains a consistent and cohesive feel throughout: it stories are literary and poetic, with a fluidity of style and theme that borders on slipstream and the surreal. Reading them, I felt like I was encountering instances of dream logic — even if the stories didn’t make sense on the surface, they contained the kind of truth that exists between sleep and wakefulness.

This sense of fluidity is tangible in both the contributors’ prose and as an overarching theme within the collection itself: many of the stories’ characters inhabit liminal states or move between states. A few examples:

  • The protagonist of Mina Li’s story “Dreaming Keys” gains the ability to hop between different worlds/dimensions if she falls asleep wearing keys on her person.
  • In “Everything Under One Roof” by Zen Cho, the protagonist visits a trendy restaurant that the local food bloggers are going gaga over, only to realize that the restaurant literally has everything in the cosmos under its roof, including unseen mementos from her late father.
  • Both “An Awfully Big Adventure” by Nisi Shawl and “Telomerase” by Ian Muneshwar deal with the ultimate example of crossing a threshold by featuring narrators who are on the verge of death.
  • In “The River’s Children” by Shweta Narayan, a gender-nonconforming prince marries a river goddess who can manifest as both male and female, and their children display similar abilities.

However, the anthology’s focus on short, dreamlike works with vivid prose often results in pieces that seem more like vignettes than stories. Sometimes these vignettes are successful, like “Absinthe Fish” by M. David Blake. However, at other times they result in works that are too fragmentary and experimental for me to successfully grasp, like “Some Silver Wheel” by Kari Sperring and “One Testimony (m. Lao)” by Ching-in Chen.

I appreciated the following stories in particular:

  • “The City Beneath the Sea” by Sara Norja
  • “An Awfully Big Adventure” by Nisi Shawl
  • “Everything Under One Roof” by Zen Cho
  • “Absinthe Fish” by M. David Blake
  • “Dreaming Keys” by Mina Li
  • “The River’s Children” by Shweta Narayan
  • “Telomerase” by Ian Muneshwar
  • “Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • “Rhizomatic Diplomacy” by Vajra Chandrasekera

Most of these stories are clustered in the middle of the anthology, and I found the first and final few stories to be hard going as I acclimated to the overall tone of the collection. However, even with its occasional missteps, An Anthology of Embers is unapologetically itself, and worth a look for its consistency of tone. It feels like a cohesive whole.

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