Friday, 13 March 2020

Deal Me in Challenge: Tideline by Elizabeth Bear

Card Drawn:

"Tideline" is my first introduction to Elizabeth Bear and if this poignant short-story is any indicator of her talents as a Science-Fiction writer, she is definitely someone to keep an eye on. She seems to have embraced the "show, don't tell" methodology because this is a tightly woven story without excess or dense details. A subtle and delicate work, Bear's understated approach requires the reader to fill in the gaps of an otherwise ambiguous narrative. 

The premise is quite simple--a wounded battle robot named Chalcedony washes up on the shore of a beach where she befriends an impoverished young boy named Belvedere. The robot is programmed as female and her motherly instincts kick in to protect and nourish the boy. The isolated beach setting produces a post-apocalyptic vibe. There is the suggestion of a war going on in the background or perhaps it is over but none of the details are ever made clear. All we know for sure is that some kind of battle took place and Chalcedony is the only survivor. The story demands for a more inferential understanding, openly inviting the reader to resolve its many dissonances. Badly damaged along with her backup fuel cells running out, she has taken on one final mission to make "mourning jewelry" out of different shipwreck beads, pearls, sedimentary rocks and shells for all her fallen comrades before she is swept away by the tide. The dramatic tension springs from Chalcedony's race against time and her ostensibly innocuous task becomes charged with meaning. She wants to preserve the memories of her fellow soldiers with the necklaces but also by sharing their heroic stories with Belvedere.

What constitutes the story's subtlety and reliance on inference is that we only get Chalcedony's limited point of view. The elliptical story-telling allows the author to focus less on plot and more on a compressed style of deep characterization. Chalcedony's anthropomorphic personality and nuances are so fully realized that she almost seems human. Her evolving relationship with Belvedere forms the crux of the story, which is heartfelt and very moving. Bear displays a deft hand at developing a convincing and empathetic protagonist with a brevity of style inherent in the short-story form. 


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