Sunday, January 29, 2017

Short Fiction Month: Old Paint - Megan Lindholm

These days, pretty much everything that is being published by this author, appears under the pseudonym Robin Hobb. Once in a while a story under the name Megan Lindholm appears. It doesn't seem likely that we'll ever see another Lindholm novel again, but some of the short fiction she writes just doesn't fit the epic fantasy Hobb is associated with. Old Paint appeared in Asimov's in July 2012. It has recently been reprinted in Clarkesworld. If you want to explore Hobb's work published under the Lindholm name, this story is not a bad place to start. It is probably closer to Hobb in style than many of her earlier Lindholm works are.

Sadie is a young girl growing up in a poor distract of Tacoma, Washington. She lives with her mother and older brother on a small income. None of the niceties of 2030s living are for them. One day, Sadie's grandfather, who she doesn't know at all, passes away. Her mother had a complicated relationship with him but he has left her in his will. Besides some run down furniture, they inherit a car. It is old and hopelessly outdated but well maintained. Her mother decides to hang on to it.

I suppose the reason this story reminds me of Hobb is the technique she uses to tell it. A first person narrative, witnessed by a young girl with a limited understanding of the situation, related long after the events have taken place. It is basically the way she started Assassin's Apprentice (1995), the first book in her Farseer trilogy. What is distinctly different is that she doesn't heap nearly as much misery on her characters as what Fitz has to endure.

In the story self driving cars are an accepted part of life. The car Sadie's mother inherits is one of the early models. It can drive itself just fine and possesses (by our standards) sophisticated AI. Society wasn't ready for it though, and all sorts of restrictions were put in place to make sure a person with a license would have to do the driving. In hindsight, such restrictions seem ludicrous to the characters. A nice bit of social commentary given the developments in this field in recent years. Lindholm isn't blind to the risks though, and uses one particular risk to shape her plot.

In the end, Old Paint is not really about technology. The relationship between the mother and her father is the core of the story. By using a young character to relay the story, our understanding of that relationship deepens gradually. The car is just a piece of machinery, but one that comes with a strong emotional attachment. It is a story that ends with both an understanding of how an object can evoke such strong emotions and a feeling that things turned out for the best. It's a very satisfying read.

Story Details
Title: Old Paint
Author: Megan Lindholm
Language: English
Originally published: Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2012
Read in: Clarkesworld, Issue 112, January 2016
Story length: Novelette, approximately 10,000 words
Awards: None
Available online: Clarkesword

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