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If You Take My Meaning is an English language science fiction short story, in the colony world subgenre, by American writer Charlie Jane Anders and published as a "Tor.com Original" in February 2020.

The protagonist, Alyssa, formerly a reluctant participant in a violent revolution which ended with the installation of a brutal tyrant, travels to a remote location to acquire bodily augmentation from the Gelent aliens who live there. The Gelent inhabit a cave system inside a mountain, and due to the absolute darkness inside, it is necessary for visitors seeking augmentation to place complete trust and reliance on the aliens. The augments allow a human host to interact telepathically and empathically with other beings, as well as extending the physical senses far beyond their conventional capabilities.

Initially, Alyssa desires the augmentation as a way to become closer to her partner, Sophie, who already has telepathic augmentation. Another human seeking the same goal, Jeremy, has grander intentions in mind, hoping to eradicate homophobia and other forms of bigotry by using his augments to show other people each other's lived experiences, fostering empathy between them as a kind of psychic journalist and activist. Due to the incommunicability of the experience, Alyssa is not sufficiently prepared for it, despite Sophie's best efforts, and the augmentation process proves so traumatic that Alyssa partially sabotages it for herself, and Jeremy suffers his own conflict and guilt after reacting violently toward a Gelent whose emotions he found too overwhelming. Before the end of the story, both these characters gain new priorities, in a way that could be interpreted as empathising so strongly with each other's experiences and values that they actually exchange places in society. The plot also offers a few emotionally affecting twists regarding the nature of the Gelent and their relationship with the human colonizers.

If You Take My Meaning is a sequel to Anders' Locus Award Finalist novel, The City In The Middle Of The Night, which has Sophie (Alyssa's partner) as its protagonist. I recommend If You Take My Meaning to anyone who enjoyed To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers, The Word of Flesh and Soul by Ruthanna Emrys, or Semiosis by Sue Burke, as well as anyone who enjoys the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. In fact, Andrew Sean Greer, 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning author of Less, has called Anders “this generation’s Le Guin,” and while I feel there are many contenders for that title (most of whom I have named above), Anders has an undeniably similar tone and related themes to the works of Le Guin. Considering her numerous nominations and wins of Hugo and Nebula Awards, she is getting due recognition as a rising star in speculative fiction, and this short story is an excellent introduction to the quality of her work.

The full text can be read here.

Iron Noder 2020, 27/30

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