REVIEW: “Watch Out, Red Crusher!” by Shel Graves

Review of Shel Graves, “Watch Out, Red Crusher!”, in Glass and Gardens: Solar Punk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri, (World Weaver Press, 2018): 51-66 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

In the world of Aberdonia, citizens have nanites injected beneath their skin. These nanites help power the community, but they also glow in colors reflecting the owner’s moods. I’m not sure if Graves intended this to be a terrifying set-up, but I certainly found it to be so; one of the benefits of being an ordinary human (in my point of view) is that one can use one’s physical body to mask one’s inner turmoil. Certainly Andee, whose nanites glow a “despondent blue” (p. 52), would prefer that her fears and worries not be betrayed so clearly to all who see; in fact, it is precisely so that she can learn to hide her feelings that she is visiting the mind-matriarch, Madame Morell.

Andee isn’t the only one visiting Madame Morell; one of her childhood classmates, Irwin, is there too, seeking to change the shade he glows. But while Andee wallows in blue despondency, Irwin’s shade is the red of anger. As we learn more about Andee and Irwin’s history, the more sinister the notion of our feelings and dispositions being on display for everyone becomes; for it was quite literally an accident that made Irwin red in the first place, and once he gained that shade he has not been able to escape it. Andee’s generation is the first to have had the nanites injected at birth, before consent could be offered, and thus it is the first generation to see the consequences. Andee’s mother only sees the benefits: “Now we can see them coming” (p. 65), the dangerous people. But Andee wonders if maybe there isn’t another way…