Riding in Mexico
Brenda Cooper is — among many other things — a futurist with an upbeat vision (and I especially agree that we need more education, and more clean water), even when she does a talk for the US army. Quite often, when I mention the term ‘optimistic SF’, a lot of people immediately interpret it as a kind of über-Utopia, an idealised future where things are so close to perfection people die of boredom. Brenda, though, immediately sees ‘optimistic SF’ as a complex and interesting future, where some of today’s problems are being addressed while new challenges arise. This is the kind of future I have in mind when I’m looking for stories for Shine, DayBreak Magazine and @outshine.
When reading Brenda’s fiction and non-fiction, and especially after meeting her at the last World Fantasy Convention in San José, I got the impression of a well-travelled lady who hadn’t let the inevitable scars — physical and/or emotional — of bad experiences in the past mar her vision of a doable future. (And also one of the growing numbers of writers — and other people involved with writing and/or publishing — who don’t quit the day job and do all the crazy SF stuff when they have the time, meaning they’re extremely busy all the time.)
This mixture of a certain youthful élan (which one can have at any age, and can easily be mistaken for naïveté) with a more adult trepidation is what also drives Isa — the main character in “Riding in Mexico” — and while her host Valeria (the Mexican girl being ‘ridden’) seems to have more of the latter than the former, both women need to come to grips with the fact that sometimes in a grim situation one needs tough measurements…
My host, Valeria, barely noticed the Mexican sun sparkle on the Caribbean, gold on brilliant blue. The salt scents of the sea and her sweat sat thick in my head, laid over with unfamiliar flowers, and a trace of animal — pig? She barely reacted to heat that made it hard for me to breathe. Her right knee sent shooting pains up her back whenever she stepped on an uneven patch that turned her foot inward. A chronic injury? She didn’t let the pain slow her. She turned from time to time, looking back over her shoulder. The thick wooden handle of a machete rode loosely in her fingers, like I might carry my car keys or all-in-one, like part of her. We rode host’s senses, not feelings, not true emotions. That’s what they told me, anyway. But right now, I felt her. I felt what she felt. I knew she was frightened of whatever it was she kept turning to look for, frightened of something or someone who could leap out of the jungle at her.
I had been told that it would be hard to ride a far-host, but no words had told me how foreign another woman in another place could smell and move and even see. And yet how close she would be to me, how much I felt like she and I walked through the heat and the thick scent of green and rot and dust all together.
I faded slowly away from Valeria’s senses, trading the Mexican Riviera for the plastic chairs and scuffed tile of a small classroom on the University of Washington campus. For the first few breaths I felt as if I were still in Valeria as well as in me, Isa. Continue reading