Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"The Jaguar House, in Shadow": Best Novelette?

“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” takes place in a future where Mexico, blessed by a Grandmother Earth who grants them maize, cotton, and nanomachines, has become the world-leading Mexica Empire. Their lead in technology, however, apparently doesn't prevent them from dressing themselves in feathers and giant animal heads and running around with obsidian daggers. I feel like there's a 2,000 year jump between ritual sacrifice and using nanobots to transform yourself into a super ninja. “Jaguar” straddles that small gap, feet firmly planted on either side.

In a way, it reminds me of steampunk, in that it's a completely irrational marriage of a specific culture and a specific technology to produce a fantastical setting. It's a very creative setting, though, especially in a genre where Earth's future options are usually limited to:

1) Robot Rule
2) Scorched Earth
3) Warmed Globe

The novelette's names themselves are exciting. The three principal characters are named Onalli, Xochitl, and Tecipiani. I know what I'm going to name my baby boy! (Actually, those are all girl names. But I'm sure you knew that.)

The real main conflict in this story is between that of activism and preservation. (This is also the real main conflict when I leave my left-overs in the fridge for weeks at a time.) The Jaguar House has killed all resistance from the other animal houses (insert Marx brothers joke here) and emerged as the main power in Mexica after a bloody civil war. Are all of House Jaguar's despicable acts justified by its desire to preserve itself for the future?

Let's just say the story doesn't leave much of a blank for you to fill in. I find it odd that of all the horrible things that are apparently going oin this setting -– human sacrifice, burning enemies alive and suffocating them, and so on, the most outrageously evil things are interrogation and compromise.

They don't even call it torture; it's just interrogation that's bad. What would you say if I told you, dear reader, that I've interrogated you while you read this? No less than two times, in fact. (I suppose you could argue that I've tortured you, too.) Hopefully a Jaguar Knight doesn't climb up the side of my house tonight with her nano-enhanced fingernails and cut my gullet with a knife for it.

If we're going to get all political up in our noveletteteering, I say we use correct semantics. Interrogation is the act of asking questions. Torture is torture. /englishmajor

As far as robots are concerned, I'm not quite sure how to score this one. Nanotechnology technically involves robots, but they're such itty-bitty robots, and how am I supposed to count them? They are pretty spiffy, though. So I'm going to settle with the ultra-specific Robot Rating of lots of spiffy nanobots.

You can read Aliette de Bodard's "The Jaguar House, in Shadow" here.

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