“Two Dreams On A Train” by Elizabeth Bear: A “Rewired” Review

Copyright © 2007 by Tachyon Publications.

My reviews of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology continue with “Two Dreams on a Train,” a story by Elizabeth Bear that was originally published in Strange Horizons in 2005.

Patience is a woman who lives in the caste-society of Lake Pontchartrain.  She knows that she can’t get beyond her current status in society, but hopes that her son Javier Alexander–or “Javye”–will use his gift to be an artist and have his own future.  Javye, however, would rather use his artistic talent to tag the sides of incoming and outgoing commercial starships with graffiti.  In the end, though, he and his friend Mad get caught by the police and Javye has to face his mother, whose hopes for his future are now dashed.

Like with a lot of these stories, the setting is just fantastic enough to create an interesting background: a Louisiana of the future where a caste system has emerged, identifying tattoos are common, and commercially-owned starships hauling freight are as prevalent as present-day trucks.  The opening scene of Patience getting a scar from a local skin artist is also noteworthy, receiving a very graphic description that’s treated like a routine exercise.

But it isn’t the fantasy that makes the story, but rather the central relationship between mother and son.  Patience is the archetypal mother, having made her choices and done what she could for her family; her only goal is to give her child the opportunities to make a brighter future than the one she got.  Javye, on the other hand, is a teenage delinquent.  He’s got plenty of talent as an artist, but would rather tag starship hulls with graffiti and goof off with his friends.  The concept of a “future” doesn’t interest him.  He’d rather put his talent to work on something he can touch and sense for himself, being the typical adolescent.

And it’s worth mentioning the significance behind the title as it links to the key theme.  The “train” in this story is the line of starships that come and go from Lake Pontchartrain.  They’re just props for the story, but they represent two different things to Patience and Javye.  To a worried mother, they’re a way for her son to leave town and make his own life in a better place; to her jaded son, they’re just another surface he can tag, so that everyone can see his artwork wherever the ships go.

I think this is a good story in general, but I’d certainly recommend it for anyone who wants to know more about the disconnect between generations.  If you’re a parent who wonders why your child could be doing more with his or her life, or a child who doesn’t get why your folks are so anxious about life, this story would be a good step to better understanding one another in its own tragic way.

Bibliography: Bear, Elizabeth.  “Two Dreams on a Train.”  Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology.  Ed. James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel.  San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2007.

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