Review – Skin in the Game by Sabrina Vourvoulias

Author: Sabrina Vourvoulias

Publisher: Tor.com

Publication Date: 3 December 2014

Format: Short story

Read it: free online at Tor.com


Starting 2015 right – an amazing story by Vourvoulias and one that is so very relevant to current events.

This short tells us about Jimena Villagrán, a police officer in Zombie City – a grimy downbeat precinct home only to addicts, dealers, and the homeless. But this is a city with magic and monsters of the supernatural variety as well the as the mundane kind. A spate of gruesome murders brings up a personal history that Jimena would rather stayed hidden and forces her to confront her heritage and question her place in her community.

First up, this is unquestionably a beautifully written piece. Vorvoulias is masterful is her creation of vividly realised characters and settings within such a short space. The story unfolds gradually, slowly leading you through each revelation until you see the whole. There were a remarkable number of characters but not one was under-described or without purpose, not one line felt out of place. Such is the beauty of short fiction.

The themes that this story deals with are difficult; racial and cultural heritage, identity, police relations to non-white characters, corruption and brutality, racism. That’s not a list of issues that I’d like to try and encapsulate in just a few thousand words. But I think this story manages to capture so much and with surprising delicacy and elegance.

One of the overwhelming images was that of complex identities, of multiple, layered selves that escape definition. This related to both the characters (” It’s not my name, but what she calls me…I’ve got more nicknames than I can keep track of”), the places (“…maps are pure fantasy. What is real doesn’t fit on a grid.”), the language, and the histories. And it made me think about how the news, and other stories we tell ourselves, seek to represent these things simply. But again and again things defy simplicty, they deny easy labels. Things are fluid, multiple and complex.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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