Caren Gussoff Sumption Reviews Dreams for a Broken World by Julie C. Day & Ellen Meeropol, eds.

Dreams for a Broken World, Julie C. Day & Ellen Meeropol, eds. (Essential Dreams 978-1-95536-005-0, $20.00, 304pp, tp) No­vember 2022.

Wherever you stand, by nature, on the spec­trum between optimism and pessimism, it’s hard to argue that right now, the world is deeply troubled. Systems we’ve come to rely on are fractured. More and more often, politics and economics divide us. Things are, well, broken.

Now, none of these wounds and damage are literally reflected in any of the 24 stories in Dreams for a Broken World, the second installment in the charitable Dreams anthol­ogy series, this time guest-edited by Ellen Meeropol along with series editor Julie C. Day. But symbolically, emotionally, we can see clearly bits and pieces of our reality in the genre-bending shards included within – from the social cost of consumer culture to the continued oppression of women and female-identified people, a pandemic that isolates the world to child trafficking – current issues are deeply explored in fresh ways by a refreshingly diverse set of authors.

In their introduction, the Meeropol and Day compare the anthology’s aesthetic mis­sion to the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, in which broken objects (usually ceramic) are repaired using lacquer and gold dust. This process does not try and disguise damage, but, instead, calls attention to the repairs and, through making such repairs beautiful, redesigns the object as well as mending it. The object is not quite the same object it was before the damage. But the use, wear, and repair remakes it fresh, as well as usable again. Not only is this an elegant metaphor for the anthology’s theme, it is, perhaps, the best encapsulation of the subgenre “hopep­unk.” Though hopepunk is never used as a descriptor in the book, it’s apt. The stories are not concerned with Pollyanna views of our future – an incorrect assumption about hopepunk itself – but are, instead, tuned in to the ways in which we cope and adapt to hardships, oppression, marginalization, fear, destruction: how we have broken our world, and the various ways we can remake the world in spite of, or because of, this damage.

The stories are consistently strong. While, of course, there are some that stood out for me (based on my taste), there are none that lag in quality or depth. My favorites included Usman T. Malik’s 2014 story “The Vaporiza­tion Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” and “Subscription Life” by Marie Vibbert. While these were my top two, they could not be less like one another in style or subject. Malik’s story is a marvelous, painful, messy magical realist tale, set in present-day (or thereabouts) Pakistan. Multiple tragedies, some the result of actual historical events, af­fects and breaks the two surviving members of a family. However, these siblings also happen to possess somewhat monstrous special rela­tionships between fire and their blood. This power is never fully explained, but frames how each of the sibling’s decisions and coping mechanisms lead, inevitably, to the dramatic concluding showdown.

Vibbert’s story is more of a meditation on how gated communities, curated experi­ences, and economic strata separate people into bubbles: echo chambers of “like” minds, artificial communities built to work without the friction and challenge of the “other.” It looks at how a “good” person, one who values their fellow human and feels invested in social justice, can still find themselves questioning what levels of safety and comfort they are will­ing to trade for a life in line with their moral­ity. The piece is quiet, but perfectly paced and discrete, with a zingy ending reminiscent of the best Twilight Zone episodes, while never feeling canned.

Another story worth remarking upon is the brutally emotional “Why Mama Mae Believed in Magic” by Cynthia Robinson Young. A child is snatched from Africa and brought to America, enslaved. As she grows up, she adapts and accepts her fate, until she meets someone who dredges up her memory and pushes her to find her identity. It’s a hard read, but a melodically composed and beautifully written one, and is a fresh take on some painful truths.

In fact, the same may be said for most of the other stories included in Dreams for a Bro­ken World. They’re beautiful, they’re fresh, and they are painful. This is not an anthology that begs to be read in one sitting; not that it doesn’t merit such a binge, but because each story requires a breath between them, and, frankly, deserves to be savored.

Another note on the anthology: the di­versity of authors and genres represented is a pleasure. There’s, as mentioned, some magical realist slipstream, some tightly wrought soft SF, and historical spec fiction. But there’s also a good amount of fantasy, harder science fiction, and the genre-bending literary piece tossed in for good measure. The authors include writers of both African and African American heritage, as well as Asian, South Asian, Asian-American, Latinx, and other backgrounds – lending a wide variety of voices and perspectives to the volume (as well as a nice mix of established names and up-and-comers). For all the self-exploration and questioning the anthology demands, it never ceases to also be a pleasure to read. Lastly the anthology puts its proverbial money where its mouth is – all proceeds from this can’t-miss book benefit RAICES, an organization that serves low-income immigrant and refugee families and children.

Caren Gussoff Sumption is a writer, editor, Tarot reader, and reseller living outside Seattle, WA with her husband, the artist and data scientist, Chris Sumption, and their ridiculously spoiled cat-children.

Born in New York, she attended the University of Colorado, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Clarion West (as the Carl Brandon Society’s Octavia Butler scholar) and the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop. Caren is also a Hedgebrook alum (2010, 2016). She started writing fiction and teaching professionally in 2000, with the publication of her first novel, Homecoming.

Caren is a big, fat feminist killjoy of Jewish and Romany heritages. She loves serial commas, quadruple espressos, knitting, the new golden age of television, and over-analyzing things. Her turn offs include ear infections, black mold, and raisins in oatmeal cookies.

This review and more like it in the February 2023 issue of Locus.

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