Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
Hot on the heels of “The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly,” I started “Fade to Gold.” I think I like this one even better. It is definitely a more straightforward narrative, and it feels like some kind of fable. Benjanun Sriduangkaew delivers a sucker-punch kind of tragedy: a lone soldier, a woman, is making her way back to her village when she encounters a fellow female traveller. But the traveller is actually a krasue, and herein lies the conflict.
Sympathetic monsters are nothing new in fiction, but what matters is how they are used to interrogate our own humanity. Is the monster sincere in its declaration of peace? Can a monster be redeemed, or is it monstruous forever? Sriduangkaew’s protagonist kills the krasue because she feels that it cannot be trusted, that its instincts to feed would have ultimately won out despite its assurances. This is usually the rationale for killing the sympathetic monster: like the scorpion of the fable, it cannot but help its nature.
Sriduangkaew plays the trope straight, but to good effect. The protagonist’s horror at discovering that her travelling companion is a krasue is palpable. Suddenly this small world has unravelled around her, and she is faced with the dilemma of how to confront this creature. Although mere paragraphs pass between her dispatch of the krasue and the conclusion of the story, it’s enough for us to understand the conflicted feelings that she has about what she has done—and, in the end, that razor-edged sense of conviction that she has made the right choice. It’s this kind of deft characterization, so difficult to get right in so few pages, that makes me enjoy Sriduangkaew’s writing from the start. We get a strong sense of how this woman has succeeded as a soldier (despite having to conceal her sex) through a ruthless commitment to courses of action that she might otherwise have regretted or wanted to avoid.
This is quite a cool little short story, and if it were nominated for a Hugo itself I might even be voting for it. As it is, it has definitely boosted my already favourable opinion of Sriduangkaew as a new writer.