TITLE: The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound
AUTHOR: edited by Susan Forest & Lucas K. Law
RELEASED: September 2017; Laksa Media Groups
GENRE: Speculative Fiction
KEY INFO: disability and caregiver relationships, science fiction, diversity, anthology
REPRESENTATION: disabled, trans woman, people of colour, LGB, elderly, migrant, caregivers
CONTENT WARNINGS: grief, death, euthanasia, misgendering/misnaming of trans woman by father, chronic illness
The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound edited by Lucas K. Law and Susan Forest starts with a fairly simple premise. We are all caregivers. Whether we’re parents, children, elderly or young, hospital staff, soldiers, siblings, personal assistants or even pets, we all care for someone in some capacity and are cared for by others.
Released on the 8th September 2017, The Sum of Us is a brilliant, dynamic and diverse speculative fiction anthology which brings caregivers to the front stage and allows us to not only experience the vast variety of voices, experiences and stories of carers but does so in such a way which encourages us to reimagine care work and caregivers. Who are caregivers? What does it mean to care? How gendered, age and species related is caregiving? How do we define quality of life? Who can care (robots, humans, animals, aliens)? Where does the caregiver end and the non-caregiver begin?
As someone who has both been a caregiver and a receiver of care, I know that it can be easy for caregivers to fade away into the background so I was delighted to come across this anthology which seeks to look beyond caregivers as peripheral ghosts to recognise their personhood, with all of its nuances, complexities and emotions. With 23 different short stories in it, the Sum of Us does a wonderful job of bringing together so many different experiences and stories of carers who are LGBT, elderly, children, spouses, people of colour, disabled, non-human species and more.
In an anthology with so many stories, of course, there were a handful that I didn’t gel with (5 to be exact) but on the whole found it to be a really enjoyable anthology, something which surprised me as I really don’t read much short fiction. Despite dealing with topics which can be quite heavy going, I found that placing such topics in a speculative fiction setting reframed these stories in a way which made them much lighter, easier to read and more accessible. It did take me a while to get through everything but found myself constantly immersed in these witty, complicated and heart-warming worlds whenever I returned.
Interestingly, reading through reviews from other readers, many appear to favour the same stories over others and there were many stories which I loved which other didn’t seem to like as much (or enough to mention). So included below is a short list of my favourite short stories and a little summary of each.
Mother Azalea’s Home for Forgotten Adults by James Van Pelt – Takes place in a home for forgotten adults where the ill are cared for by robotic carers who “measure” their quality of life and make decisions to terminate their life when it drops below a certain level. This story though focuses on 15-year-old Rocky and the home director Brandt, as Brandt, through Rocky, learns to see the ill as individuals once again. It raises questions such as how do we measure quality of life? Should people who are suffering be euthanised by robots? Or, as in Rocky’s case, should we make the most of every second they have left and make their last hours of joy?
The Gatekeeper by Juliet Marillier – Follows Tariq, a former medical engineer in Afghanistan who immigrated to Australia where he now works at a home for people with dementia, and his relationship with a cat he rescued, Hamza. Hamza is no ordinary cat though, but a servant of the goddess Bast, who calls Hamza to the side of dying people at the home to keep them company as they join Bast to depart from this life. However, Hamza’s job is threatened when an administrator turns up who wants to get rid of him and Tariq must work to convince her to keep Hamza as a therapy cat. A beautifully written story which raises important questions about whether caregiving is restricted to humans or whether we can also think of animals as caregivers.
A Mother’s Milk by Heather Osborne – This was one of my favourite stories and is about two aliens who are orbiting earth, Dathas and her partner Cennil. Dathas is the equivalent of an alien anthropologist who is learning about human culture through a representative from Earth and is in the process of getting permission to visit. However, Cennil has other ideas and decides to get himself pregnant, which will effectively rob Dathas of her chance as she will need to stay on board the ship in water to nurse the babies who cling to her body. Yet, her human friend raises an interesting suggestion, why can Cennil not care for the children? Is there a physiological difference that prevents him from doing so? A Mother’s Milk cleverly challenges the belief that women always have to be the caregivers when there is no reason that men cannot do the same job.
Goodbye is That Time Between Now and Forever by Matt Moore – Another one I really enjoyed, ‘Goodbye’ follows an older trans woman, Catalina, who is accompanying her father on a tram from Barcelona to Boston, across a ruined world, where he seeks euthanasia. It explores the caregiving responsibilities of both a parent, who had to make a terrible decision in order to save his child’s life, and the caregiving responsibilities of an adult who is required to make a joint decision to help their parent die.
Number One Draft Pick by Claire Humphrey – Is another well-written story which focuses on dog handler Reshma and medical assistance dog Zuzu as they begin to work with a new client, young hockey star Ty Arthur. A running theme throughout the entire book, ‘Number One’ demonstrates the reciprocal nature of caregiving. Reshma and Zuzu do not just change Ty’s life, where he needs to adjust to having a severe health condition and a medical assistance dog, but also shows how Reshma’s life changes through the people she looks after (in this instance, finding out a new love for hockey). Yet, drawing on the name of the book, ‘Number One’ reminds us that caregiving is not the total Sum of Us but that we are allowed to have lives, aspirations, and loves outside of the person we care for.
Other favourites included The Dunschemin Retirement Home for Repentent Supervillains by Ian Creasey, Gone Flying by Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, and Blinders by Tyril Keevil.
Hopefully, this review has peaked your interest in the Sum of Us, and if it has I would really encourage you to read it. A huge thank you to Laksa Media Groups for letting me read this through NetGalley.
The beauty of an anthology, something I have only just discovered, is being able to just pop in and out of new worlds at a pace which suits you, and allows you to forego any stories you don’t enjoy whilst not detracting from the book as a whole. I’m very excited to follow some of the authors mentioned above, whose work I would love to read more of, as well as look into purchasing a copy of the Sum of Us and another anthology edited by Forest and Law ‘Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdog and Outcasts’ which looks at mental health through a similarly speculative lens.