“The Red Thread,” by Sofia Samatar

“The Red Thread,” by Sofia Samatar. Lighspeed Magazine.

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The Red Thread

8 thoughts on ““The Red Thread,” by Sofia Samatar”

  1. I liked this one!

    An intriguing exploration of boundaries and borders.

    The Movement is a very cool concept, and I really loved how the were presented ambiguously – you can understand the faithful; you can also understand those who aren’t. Very idealized in some ways, very noble ("You defended your own homes? NO!"), but owing its power to necessity, not choice – society being reduced to a point where people CAN’T hold on to the things they value any more; giving up on anything that stays put.

    I like how the story touches on different kinds of borders, each inescapable in their own way. Geographical borders; the lines of lineage; Sahra’s messages to Fox; Sahra’s original "Red Thread" installation.

    A cool point I noticed (that I didn’t catch on my first read, but skimming again I did) was that their idea of isolation really does sort itself out, or so the story seems to indicate. You have the inner circle of the isolation zone. And who lives closest to there? Not the isolated people, but the ones who *are* willing to fight back. Further on? People who have accepted "the new way", but see it as forced on them, as harmful. There’s a sense to that. It’s a good argument for the system actually manage to function.

    Fox gets constant attention in the story, and we never see just what the payoff is. "I got your message" — but are we supposed to anticipate what significance it his? I’m not seeing anything clear in the text. Any thoughts?

    1. I was puzzled, myself, what the reason was for building the story around an absence. Maybe the significance is just that Sahra kept writing to Fox even though he might never reply, even when she was mad at him for a while?

      Sahra says she draws visible lines with her art, and Fox draws invisible electronic ones. Connections between people are invisible lines; to Sahra, it’s important to keep thinking about people who once were important to her, like her father and Fox. That’s drawing lines, and so is reciting her father’s fathers (a pity they don’t memorize names of mothers). Lines that connect, unlike the invisible dividing lines of borders and ethnicities.

      It is an interesting attempt at an anarchist utopia, but it didn’t necessarily convince me it would work. After all, people are still living by scavenging pre-collapse supplies. I didn’t think we were shown enough hardship and starvation, although these are hinted at. We’re supposed to believe that Sahra and her mother WALKED across South and North Dakota in the winter?? Distances are vast and bleak in that part of the country.

      Be that as it may, the setting makes a fine springboard for Sahra’s ruminations on connection and belonging.

  2. Of course I had to look up all the symbolisms of read thread. Surely this can only be a reference to the East Asian idea that fate/the gods connects two people who are destined to have an important relationship (almost always lovers) with a red string. All other uses — as a luck-charm or blessing in Israel; as a blessing at certain Indian temples; as a figure of speech meaning "the central idea" in German — don’t seem relevant. The symbolism isn’t quite the same as the red ropes in Kat Howard’s story either.

    1. Maybe Fox was referring to that giving her the bracelet? How should we know if it.s the kind of idea he’d have, since we know essentially zero about him.

    2. I’d assume so; otherwise why that gift?

      We also don’t know Fox’s race or ethnicity, and this IS "POC Destroy…".

  3. I’m trying to tie together all my thoughts about Fox, who the story seems to dance around.

    – His primary characterization is as being intelligent and science-oriented – "I found one of your old slates covered with equations," "we both wanted to draw lines over the land, mine visible, yours in code."

    – He left Sahra and her mother, knowing the mother was dying. He stayed completely out of contact.

    – But we know that he still cares about Sahra, because he gives her the red string, symbolizing that Fox and Sahra are *connected*.

    – Whatever the reason for his silence, he eventually breaks it – he’s not dead or unreachable.

    – The last argument between Sahra and Fox seems important, at least to Sahra. (It might not be *why* Fox left, but it seems like it might illuminate his character.) We don’t get a lot of particulars, but the element that gets repeated is Fox’s enthusiasm over family lines, vs. Sahra’s rejection of holding on to them.

    – Sahra’s final reply to Fox is curt – "Dear Fox, Hey. It’s Sahra. I got your message." There may be more to the message than that… but there might not be. We’re not seeing any joy at re-connection here; whatever it was that Fox wrote, we are not seeing Sahra as being happy about it.

    —–

    So, trying to fill in the gaps between all these…

    It seems to me like Fox is not on board with the Movement the way that Sahra is. He’s eager to form and recognize permanent connections that Sahra shies away from.

    His ability as a scientist/programmer implies, at least by narrative logic, that he might be capable enough to help with some technological change that will have profound effects on the world. His long absence, and eventual return, with something Sahra is not pleased about, may well be a project he’s on the verge of completing.

    And an early scene laid out a very explicit thesis: that the Movement has been adopted out of necessity, not choice. If whatever Fox is working on will *restore* people’s ability to form long-term connections — maybe sustainably, maybe not — that could be the end of the Movement, bringing about long-term prosperity, or a return to the same life of chaos and aggression, or both.

    These puzzle-pieces feel like a decent fit to me. Thoughts?

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