Transporting the Soul: Review of T. K. Lê’s “2086”

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I am teaching an introductory literature course on speculative fiction this semester, and I always feel a responsibility to teach my students a broad range of perspectives and approaches in the class. So, instead of primarily teaching the “classics,” I like to present a mix of new and old stories. A week or so ago, I paired a couple of new stories, Ken Liu’s “Paper Menagerie” and T. K. Lê’s “2086,” since there are a lot of a thematic strands that weave them together: navigating emotional ties to a mother figure, dealing with loss, struggling with both personal and systematic racism in America.

“2086” can be read in the January 2019 issue of Strange Horizons, a publication that encourages stories that make us think and “critique society.” They are also dedicated to presenting a “global” and “inclusive” picture of speculative fiction, an effort supported by their sister magazine, Samovar, which solely publishes non-English and translated work.

Lê’s story is a powerful examination of how America’s treatment of immigrant and non-white communities is a problem past, present, and future. “2086” examines the emotional and physical fallout of this treatment (represented by Bà Ngoại’s disappearance in a new transportation system rolled out in marginalized communities) through an intensely personal lens. How does a family deal with the loss of a mother and grandmother? And what does loss really mean? Do we actually lose family?

The answer that Lê presents is poignant. And it does not let us forget the larger systemic problems as we dwell in the intimate and personal. A good and provoking read.

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