Karen Burnham Reviews Creative Surgery by Clelia Farris

Creative Surgery, Clelia Farris (Rosarium Pub­lishing) September 2020.

Creative Surgery is Italian author Clelia Far­ris‘s debut collection (with translations by Rachel Cordasco and Jennifer Delare), and it’s a great start. The first story, “A Day to Remember” is an extended meditation on living in a world that feels much smaller when circumscribed by cli­mate change. We follow an artist in a post-flood Italy as she tours her community by boat, barter­ing for what she needs while altering people’s memories to their preferences. They’re disrupted literally overnight by an extreme freak weather event, and we repeat the tour at speed as we see how everyone we just met has been affected by this new crisis. No one escapes unscathed, but some personal change is positive; nothing is ever an unalloyed negative. My two favorite stories in the collection, “Secret Enemy” and “Rebecca“, both have protagonists trapped in a single room for reasons that are hidden until the very end. In the first, a male character seems to be a doctor of some sort, forced to provide treatment through a mirror/portal to an eccentric billionaire. The nar­rator obviously loathes his patient and practices bonsai to keep himself calm and centered. We watch as the man in the mirror becomes increas­ingly unhinged after a bad relationship, and it only takes subtle nudges from the “physician” for things to go even further off the rails. “Re­becca”, on the other hand, is trapped in a single room of a huge estate owned by her ex-husband, which seems to be experiencing some very odd physics. She’s continuing some level of physics research by scribbling on whatever paper she can find, but it’s not until her husband’s new wife comes visiting (á la Bluebeard) that we learn just what’s going on. The final story of the collection provides the title, and it imagines a future where “Creative Surgery” allows for the creation of all kinds of grotesque chimeras. In a world where medical students will assault people for any kind of biological tissue to work with, Vi Stern is a successful engineer of these hybrid creations and the narrator is a tech well suited to help her cause. The fact that the tech is also embezzling most of the profits from the ventures for their own body modification program seems to cause Vi no trouble at all. In this story no one is quite what they seem, and Vi’s dramatic disappearance at the end causes many threads to finally unravel, to be tied up relatively neatly in the conclusion. This is a disturbing vision of the future, with multiple layers when it comes to the questions of what is “natural” and what is “acceptable.”

Karen Burnham is an electromagnetics engineer by way of vocation, and a book reviewer/critic by way of avocation. She has worked on NASA projects including the Dream Chaser spacecraft and currently works in the automotive industry in Michigan. She has reviewed for venues such as Locus Magazine, NYRSF, Strange Horizons, SFSignal.com, and Cascadia Subduction Zone. She has produced podcasts for Locusmag.com and SFSignal.com, especially SF Crossing the Gulf with Karen Lord. Her book on Greg Egan came out from University of Illinois Press in 2014, and she has twice been nominated in the Best Non-Fiction category of the British SF Awards.

This review and more like it in the February 2021 issue of Locus.

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