Review: “Ambiguity Machines: and Other Stories,” Vandana Singh

Pros: Winding and beautiful
Rating: 5 out of 5

Vandana Singh’s Ambiguity Machines: and Other stories is a slow, winding collection of beautiful short science fiction stories (at least one story has overtones of horror, and more than one can be considered dystopian). Some seem more like, or are reminiscent of, folktales. Past, present, and future twine together seamlessly, with a near-constant infusion of culture and atmosphere redolent of India. While I’m sure there were cultural references I didn’t get, I never felt like I was left out in the cold. Note that there’s a brief bit of bloodiness and a little low-detail torture.

In With Fate Conspire, scientists are trying to use a machine to change the timeline by establishing a link to the past–but only one woman is capable of using it. She’s supposed to be spying on a poet, and passing along any unpublished poems he might come up with, so when she makes contact with someone else, she has to start creating her own poems in order to fake it.

Peripeteia introduces us to Sujata, a physicist. She was just left by her lover Veenu. She’s plagued by visions and strange ideas:

She liked to invent complicated explanations for straightforward phenomena, a kind of intellectual Rube-Goldbergism, just to thumb her nose at William of Occam.

Lifepod involves a bunch of humans in cold sleep, and the aliens who captured them. “The Eavesdropper” is the one who watches over them and explores their thought-clouds. Another far-future SF story is Oblivion: A Journey. Vikram’s world-shell was ruined, and they were tortured. They dedicated their lives to taking vengeance on Hirasor, a man who was responsible for both atrocities.

Are You Sannata3159? is SF in setting, but horror in nature. A young man tries to eke out a living while his mother and sister are hired by the brand-new slaughterhouse in his neighborhood. He starts to believe that there’s something terrible going on at the slaughterhouse, and he’s determined to find out what it is.

Ruminations in an Alien Tongue explores a man going through a time-loop on an alien planet, through the eyes of the woman who takes him in each time he shows up from another universe. It’s a lovely exploration of love, aging, and relationships. Sailing the Antarsa is about a woman who is from a planet colonized by humans, trying to reach another planet that humans were supposed to have colonized. She is awoken early, and finds herself surrounded by strange beings.

We seek to feed within us the god of wonder, to open within ourselves dusty rooms we didn’t know existed and let in the air and light of other worlds.

Cry of the Karchal is a story of how a man who–at the behest of a dead woman–treats others’ lives like stories, manipulating them so they will come out right. Several of the storylines come together in a way that feels like a folktale come to life. Requiem is a stunning story of a woman who goes to Alaska to collect her dead aunt’s belongings, only to get a fascinating look at life in the Arctic, the whales her aunt took inspiration from, and how everything is changing due to climate change.

These are slow-paced stories. While there are sci-fi aspects to all of them, they are primarily about people, and culture, and storytelling. There are also a couple of lovely same-sex relationships presented in here. I absolutely loved this collection.

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