Coppelia is not quite a thief and not quite a con-artist. What she is, or could be if she were living a different life, is an artist. A builder who could create function and beauty from raw materials, but only in a different life. A life where her parents hadn’t been taken to a workhouse, leaving Coppelia to be sent to an orphanage. A life where she hadn’t fled that orphanage with only the clothes on her back, left to scrape out a living on the streets of the Barrio in Fountains Parish. But living on the street has made Coppelia both a thief and a con-artist, and it has also given her one advantage that no one else has: her friends.
Living in the Barrio, Coppelia has discovered tiny, puppet-like creatures of varying humanoid shapes made of all sorts of materials. They are intelligent and expressive, and she has entered into a type of partnership with them. She is able to help them with repairs and with constructing bodies for new members of their community. They assist her with her small time thefts and she splits the “earnings” with them evenly. She relies on them, but they don’t entirely trust her. So far, it is a mutually beneficial partnership. That is until Coppelia’s talents for crafting miniatures draws her into a theft much more involved than anything in which she has participated. And this job may change the Barrio forever.
In Made Things, Arthur C. Clarke & British Fantasy Award winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky tells an enjoyable short fantasy story that touches on some large and complicated issues.
Tchaikovsky focuses his story on characters that are “artificial,” as opposed to biological in nature. They are primarily, or at least initially, created by humans and brought to life using powerful magic. Since they are not biologically created, they have no sex and do not procreate biologically. However, they do have strong senses of gender identity, although their expressions of those identities sometimes confounds Coppelia. Over the course of the story, she navigates this potential minefield with them through conversation or, more commonly, simply following their lead and using the terms and pronouns her small friends use to describe themselves. The result is a powerful, if limited, lesson in gender politics that makes perfect sense within the story.
Tchaikovsky also comments on the growing inequities of wealth in our world by creating a world where magic is the primary source of currency. Those who have magic do well and have more. Those with less magic, or no magic at all, are left in servitude to those who are prosperous. The divide is represented physically in the way the Siderea is separated from the Barrio, the lives lived by those within those two regions of Fountains Parish, and how they feel about the lives they are living.
The fact that these issues are addressed within the story should not put off readers looking for a bit of fun. The characters are nicely drawn, the heist is nicely pulled off, with a few unexpected twists and turns and everything comes to a more than satisfactory conclusion. Made Things is a wonderful and fun novella with a bit to ponder, once the reader is done.