(There is a moment in A Leg to Stand On by the late Oliver Sacks where he describes emerging for the first time from his hospital room and realizing that long confinement has distorted his sense of perspective: everything further than where the walls had been looks "flat as a pancake, and seemed to lie like a giant Kodachrome in the air, exquisitely colored and detailed, but perfectly flat. [...] I was still enclosed, visually, in a transparent box, about nine by seven by six feet, the precise size of the 'cell' I had occupied for twenty days. [...] I could observe, even measure, the parallactic displacements which are normally seen as 'depth,' but noting this, knowing this, did not restore depth.")
Thus, as just one example, the vocationally radiation-obsessed narrator tells us about the "lovely green glass colored with uranium" that was so cheap in the 1930s that "they handed it out free at the movies"; then about her "hurt friend" who, in the hospital, looks "like a broken, greenish piece of glass" (no way to miss this one); then later, taking advantage of a readymade double meaning, points out that this glass is called "Depression glass." On top of this, the mention of Depression-era radioactive products branches off to the "Radium Girls," poisoned to death by their work (and by their at-work recreation); the color green points back to the meaningless "environmentally friendly" stickers; the glass, to the glass the narrator works behind. Even when the story reaches out and down into the earth itself it is only to set up a meaningful but surely misleading equivalence between the narrator's cyborg implants and the earth's mineral composition; even when it reaches out and out and out to the sun it is only to set up a meaningful but surely misleading equivalence between solar radiation and industrial radiation.
I no longer feel, or even comprehend, the desire for another world, that passion which produces both marvels and monsters, both poisons and cures. Like the woman in this story, I understand that there is no other world. There is only the one we have made.A significant portion of Samatar's work seems to involve this sort of feeling: the need to come to terms with the way things are: to weep, and accept. And it seems to me that one of the questions she, and we, are struggling with in this work is how to do that without complicity, how to do it on the way to resistance. The last paragraph of "Tender" exits the claustrophobic metaphor system and just presents a past — but one that cannot be reclaimed, cannot be a source of hope or joy (which the narrator has just a moment ago associated with her beloved poison — beloved in the sense of φιλία, "nearness and dearness" in John Jones's rendering). It's cut off not only from the story's inward-facing metaphor system (which it replaces with another) but from the outward-facing metaphor that is reality. But what the narrator cannot do is not, or does not have to be, what we cannot do. It was fascinating to re-read this story while immersed in the rhetoric emerging from the astonishing Ferguson Is The Future symposium — in which Samatar participated —, so much of which revolved precisely around the necessity of imagining, desiring other worlds. To see this story as a contradiction of that would be to misunderstand art, of course; better to see it as — I'd rather not say "cautionary" — perhaps: complementary.