I am extremely curious about what the “mouth” inhabitants of Ellen Denham’s “The Mouths” would think of the exorbitant cosmic delicacies of Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Dim Sun”.
Surely, they would implode by the vastness of perspectives, if the black hole dim sums don’t end up killing them.
Here are my thoughts on the two stories I read.
Dim Sun – by Maria Dahvana Headley
What an incredibly vivid story with a badass female protagonist (President of the Universe!) that manages to make immensely unpalatable celestial objects like Saturn’s rings, Red dwarf soups, Comet Ice and even Black holes seem cosmically tempting.
Dim Sun is a story narrated by a side character Rodney, assistant to the notoriously unwelcome inter galactic food critic Bert Gold as he has an uncomfortable meal with his ex-wife and now President of the Universe, Harriet Gold. The story revolves around the three main protagonists over a meal at the popular inter galactic restaurant Dim Sun. Before describing the author’s excellent portrayal of the three contrasting characters, I must remark that Dim Sun is an excellent pun on Dim Sums. Maria Dahvana Headley uses the inspiration to extend to all sorts of celestial delicacies, described with mouthwatering analogies. The author in her conversation with Jude Griffin says that the story is about all kinds of hunger.
1. Rodney: is perpetually hungry, also seen by his subservient role in latching onto Bert’s notorious reputation to satisfy his literal hunger.
2. Bert Gold: is ego-hungry for status. He demands respect as a food critique that prides himself in being able to make or break establishments.
3. Harriet Gold: is a power-hungry inventor, that has risen to the position of President of the Universe. She is deliberately not young or beautiful to please the patriarchy, flaunting her power unabashedly as she clashes with her ex-husband Bert at the Dim Sun restaurant.
My favorite world’s inside this short story that keeps on giving.
1. Portal through the universe: It is interesting that this is rightly described as a Welder’s job (also a female character).
2. Botanical Singing: This is personally my favorite artifact giving music an organic voice through the plants. It is funny to note the contrast when Bert complains about all music being organic and that he misses synthesizers. The botanical inspiration continues further with,
3. Hedge of Sins: where spitting sins (far from the sinner) is literally converted into plants and vines full of sin. Bert is also initially described as a horticulturist of the stars. I specifically love the constant grounding of these outlandish concepts to real sensory perception by talking about the bad taste of the sins.
4. Cosmic food: One of the main highlights of the story is the celestial food often described with human food analogies (courtesy Rodney’s nostalgia). The author paints a very vivid image of what it would mean for a human to consume these cosmic phenomena – (a) the nothingness (and everything-ness) of consuming a deadly piece of black hole and the (b) time-space stretching consequences of eating a wormhole.
5. Dream Eating: A restaurant where you consume your meal while sleeping by dreaming it up.
6. Celestial Textile: Harriet has been described to be wearing somebody’s literal “Sky” wrapped around her like a toga.
The Mouths – by Ellen Denham
The author presents a sci-fi world, where the inhabitants/creatures have only a single sense organ to perceive their surroundings. This allows for very interesting alternatives to think about communication, storytelling, mating and even plain recognizing each other. The author comes up with a very interesting almost synesthetic way of baking information into crackers. Each cracker encompasses, in its taste, stories, poetry, music, smells and even videos. This artifact proves to be a very efficient way of communication in a society of mouths and would be very interesting to think about in our world. – A camera for the Eye inhabitants, a Speaker for the Ear inhabitants, an actuator jacket for the Skin/Touch inhabitants, an Olfactory dispenser for the Nose inhabitants etc. Converting various streams of information into a single sensory input is an active area of research for assistive technology for differently abled humans. Completely limiting the input to a single sense is an interesting constraint for exploring all the possibilities of said sensory input.
The author then provides an ‘allegory of cave’ like story of a single inhabitant that breaks the norms of communication. While the usual categories of communication (within crackers) are celebratory stories of ancestors, the idea of self-reflective commentary is taboo. A single individual that breaks this norm, much like the escaped prisoner in Plato’s allegory of cave, is killed by a society that fails to understand a completely novel world view. This idea of the suppression of a novel (and often introspective) viewpoint by society, is a constantly recurring reality. This story immediately reminded me of Copernicus’ widely unpopular Heliocentric ideas and the great efforts of suppressing the same.