Jennifer Linnaea is somewhat of an old acquaintance in that I lifted her story “Pseudo-Tokyo” from the Interzone e-slushpile, and was quite happy to see it appearing in IZ #214 (and podcasted at Transmissions from Beyond). In “Pseudo-Tokyo”, she travels into a strange culture, then makes it even stranger.
Here, in “Arsonist” she’s also not afraid to venture into another culture. As with all such exercises, the risks are huge while the payoff can be tremendous. Even if they’re wrapped up in a deceptively quiet narrative.
Can we re-educate criminals (even if some say we shouldn’t even try), and prepare them for a return to normal society? The TBS system here in The Netherlands is controversial: on the one hand it has helped reduce the number of inmates so that right now we are actually renting one of our (empty) prisons to Belgium. On the other hand, every recidivist that returns back to crime is weeks-long headline news in all the newspapers (not just the tabloids).
The point is, I suspect, that this is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of solution, but an approach that needs to be carefully aimed at each separate person. Almost exactly as it is done in “Arsonist”.
NOTE: Jennifer read this story in full (OK: it’s not that long) at the DayBreak Reading at the last World Fantasy: as I mentioned of other readings, it was an eye- (or should I say ‘ear’-)opening experience.
The first thing that happened was they moved him to a larger room. When they left him there he stood, looking at it, wondering what it meant. The new room was as plain as his old room — a cot, a squat toilet, a recycled plastic chair and a table for writing — but it was … different. It had been freshly whitewashed. The furniture was, not new, but without the quality of neglect that his old had. His new room had a window that looked out on an empty lot. Weeds grew through cracks in the concrete. He lay down on the cot and closed his eyes.
The second thing that happened was the old man. A prisoner like himself, in a prisoner’s green clothing. Green, the prophet’s color, the color to remind them of God, that they might repent. The old man came into the lot one day and gave it a long, hard look. He and the jailer exchanged words — their mouths moved but the sound did not carry.
Beyond the empty lot, a high fence topped with razor wire and punctuated with guard towers. Beyond that, a world that the man, whose name was Jamil, tried to forget about. It had changed. The skyscrapers had been dismantled to reveal the hills beyond. The call to prayer still sounded, but the other noise — the highway into downtown Amman that ran past the prison walls — was less. He wanted to wonder what these things meant, but he did not dare, for to wonder was to care, and to care only led to suffering. Continue reading