Real Sugar is Hard to Find by Sim Kern

Real Sugar is Hard to Find by Sim Kern
Publisher: Android Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A collection of short stories by Sim Kern, Real Sugar is Hard to Find explores intersections of climate change, reproductive justice, queer identities, and family trauma. Whether fantasy, science fiction, or terrifyingly close-to-home, the worlds of these stories are inhabited by flawed characters whose lives are profoundly impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.

Arranged in a progression from dystopian to utopian worlds, the stories chart a path from climate despair towards resilience and revolutionary optimism. Even in the bleakest of futures, however, Kern offers reasons to hope, connect, and keep fighting for a better world.

Like Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners or Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Kern’s stories are unflinching, intimate explorations of trauma and our deepest fears, rendered irresistible through the infusion of fantastic speculative elements and a dark sense of humor.

What the world looks like generations from now depends on what we do today.

Jane developed the ability to hear the thoughts of trees in one of the first scenes of “The Listener,” and she was tormented by their suffering. The plot twists were clever and kept me guessing. At one point I literally had to suppress the urge to argue with Jane because of how shocked I was by one of her decisions. She had excellent reasons for her choices, though, and I enjoyed being surprised by them just as much as I did imagining what might happen to her and her family next.

While I deeply enjoyed this collection in general, there were some stories that I wished had been given more opportunities for development. “The End of the Nuclear Era” was one such example. It showed what happened when children were given the legal right to leave their biological families and live with other people if they so desired. I was intrigued by how such a system would work and yearned to learn more about the practicalities of it all. For example, how old would a kid need to be before they could make this choice? What made some of them stay home and others venture forth? How did they learn that such options existed in the first place? I would have happily gone with a full five-star rating if every tale was equally fleshed out.

In “What Can’t Be Undone,” a witch named Stitcher Lorra tried to fix herself and those around her who requested help with a crude form of magic that didn’t always work the way it was intended to. The world building was fascinating and made me yearn for more information about how magic worked in this universe and why so many people had unrealistic expectations of it. I also appreciated figuring out how Lorra’s deepest faults were related to her work and how far she was willing to go to correct her character. Those scenes were as thoughtful as they were realistic for her personality.

Real Sugar is Hard to Find gave me hope for the future.

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