Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, late March
Some of the usual magazines, plus a print anthology and a novella chapbook. The Good Story award goes to Robert Reed, who has two stories this month in online venues.
If all goes well, we’re also trying something new: direct links to stories published online. I’d like to know if readers find this feature helpful. If all goes well.
- Interzone, 233 March-April 2011
- Fantasy Magazine, March 2011
- Strange Horizons, March 2011
- Lightspeed, March 2011
- Beneath Ceaseless Skies #64-65, March 2011
- Fables from the Fountain, edited by Ian Whates (NewCon Press, May 2011)
- Tor.com, March 2011
- The Heavenly Fox, by Richard Parks (PS Publishing, April 2011)
Interzone #233, March-April 2011
Several dark and depressing scenarios, featuring a novella by Nina Allen.
“The Silver Wind” by Nina Allan
Allan’s characters live in a dystopian future London where people are sometimes never seen again if stopped at a checkpoint for curfew violation. Martin is an estate agent and sometime antique dealer who acquires a clock made by Owen Andrews, whose instruments are sometimes said to be time machines. Martin conceives the crazy hope that perhaps he could turn back time to before his wife Miranda died. He decides to visit Andrews, despite the fact that the government has the clockmaker under surveillance and he lives in a dangerous neighborhood near a government facility where sinister experiments are said to be carried on – experiments that involve altering time. Andrews convinces Martin that what he wants is impossible.
“Some of the people they send through never come back. Some never seem to leave, but their contact with the stasis seems to alter their substance. They’re incomplete somehow; like underdeveloped photographs their colours are muted. They flicker in and out of existence, like ghosts.”
Allan’s prose is precise and clear. The characters and setting seem perfectly realized. She does not overwhelm the reader with the horrors of the totalitarian regime that rules her London; her characters cope with the situation without excessive complaint and try not to dwell on what is happening, even their conscience might perhaps tell them to leave their job with the Home Office. At the end, however, I found myself with a few quibbles: if anything is least likely to be unaltered from one reality to another, it would have to be barcodes and unique computerized IDs. And it’s hard to believe that Martin could exercise such self-restraint in the matter which once was the most important thing in his world.
“Tell Me Everything” by Chris Butler
As in the Allan story above, Mack is suffering from the death of his beloved wife, which he believes was caused by the powerful figure called the Summer Duke. His problem is that in this world, people emit spores which identify them and display their moods and their status. Even though Mack is a policeman, the Duke’s spores make him naturally subservient when in his presence. Then Mack discovers a man who emits no spores at all.
For me, trying to deduce Crowe’s mood from his voice and facial expression alone was difficult to the point of being exhausting, but I supposed he was just as intimidated by the Duke as the rest of us.
A neat and original idea, well worked-out. Though I can’t help thinking that there should be a better word for the phenomenon than “spores.”
“Tethered to the Cold and Dying” by Ray Cluley
It’s not at all clear where we are, but it’s definitely a bad place, perhaps a colonized world. Something has happened, the survivors call it winter, but it seems to be ash covering the ground, not snow, at the atmosphere is full of deadly radiation. There are a few people barely surviving at isolated outposts; at Two-Nine, Jackson lives with a woman he calls Mother, though she is the younger, suffering from some degenerative illness. A stranger comes, bringing news that the space elevator at Two-Twelve is still operating. Jackson is determined to go; Mother doesn’t want him to leave her alone, but distrusts what the stranger has told them. Jackson knows they will both eventually die at Two-Nine if he does not.
Two-Nine is hilly terrain to cross on foot. It’s tiring work, and treacherous in the dark, but I have to keep going to charge the kind-gen. Without it, if the batteries die I die with them. Even in full outgear. As it is, I’ve got regulated temperature, zero grade rads, and a nav-com that crackles too often but is otherwise fine.
The absence of background detail may be a bit [a lot] frustrating to readers, but the story doesn’t really require it. We know the current situation, and that’s enough. It is the most bleak scenario and hopeless scenario in the issue, despite Jackson’s determined faith that things will eventually work out.
“Crosstown Traffic” by Tim Lees
The narrator works as an errand runner for a shady guy who deals with some of the aliens hanging around New York. There seem to be a lot of them. They go to a place where a man is having something extracted from his nose in a scene that looks a lot like torture in a dentist chair.
They all let go of the guy in the chair. Somebody laughed. They laughed! Everyone was grinning! The guy in white held up his hand. He had a set of callipers, and there was something twisting on the end, just wriggling back and forth.
The narrator’s job is to deliver this wriggler to a certain address, but his boss doesn’t figure he has the need to know what or why. This is probably a mistake.
Fantasy Magazine, March 2011
The official relaunch of this ezine under new editorship, which makes me even more cranky than most change does, as it means one of my favorite venues for interesting fantasy will now be posting only half as many original stories.
“The Sandal-Bride” by Genevieve Valentine
The narrator is a traveling spice merchant approached by a woman who wants a ride on his wagon to a distant city to join her husband. She offers a rich reward, and he is reluctantly tempted. But over the course of the long journey, he is moved by her plight, and his life is changed forever.
Her thin mouth pressed tighter as if she was afraid of the words getting out. “I have no story,” she said. “I was born hidden, and grew hidden, and I married hidden, and now I go to Okalide.”
There is an obvious course that this rather short story might have taken, but happily it took a higher, less-traveled road. I’m not quite convinced, however, that Sara, married to a shoemaker, would have been so rich as it appears, or that the merchant could have given away so much of his spice as to impoverish himself.
“The God Orkrem” by Tanith Lee
The narrator is a disillusioned warrior who decides to confront the god who so made the world that life is pain.
He it was too who had fashioned humankind out of some supernal wax, forming our ancestors with slow, spiteful pinches of his fingers that had viciously hurt them. So that, ever after, we knew pain first and best, and our own babies were borne in pain, screaming and weeping even before they had the water for tears in them.
The editor tries to mollify me with Tanith Lee, who is always worth reading. Most of the story here is the journey and the voice it is told in, which has a rather interestingly quirky diction. The ending is a revelation, and a bleak one, on the theme of being careful what you wish for.
Strange Horizons, March 2011
Sometimes I’m surprised when I encounter a piece of hard science fiction here, such as the deLeon story.
“The Last Sophia” by C S E Cooney
A world into which some sort of fae, known here euphemistically as the Gentry, have invaded. For some unclear reason, they impregnate human girls, including the narrator, Esther Aidan. But everything is unclear to Esther.
Since then, it’s been fumes and nostrums, narcotics and elixirs. I have existed in a kind of padded dream designed by the Abbot’s wizards to protect me from further Gentry meddling — although, if you look at my record, these potions hardly seem worth their weight in piss. I have now borne three Gentry babes in as many years and will any day deliver myself of a fourth.
This narrative unreliability makes for a very strange work, one with many questions and few clear answers. Who or what is the vine at the window, to whom she relates this tale? Why do the Gentry leave their children in the hands of humans, who do everything possible to scrub the magic out of them? A reader may long to know, but must only guess.
“Trouble” by David M deLeon
On a space station where children are only remotely connected with their fathers [nothing is said about mothers] the narrator likes to study the molds or fungi that grow around the station, which no one else seems to have any interest in. He befriends a refugee girl about his own age, and they share personal dreams that there seem to be no one else to share with. Things don’t seem to be going well anywhere in this lonely universe.
I named it after her cause it means it’s not going to last. So when you see it you know it’s not going to last, don’t go tell anyone. Just sit with it a little. Sit with it so when it’s not there anymore you can remember it and you can wonder what it could have been.
A depressing story of emotional isolation.
“Rising Lion, the Lion Bows” by Zen Cho
The title is given first in Chinese characters and I assume this is the English translation. A lion dance troupe is called in to do a performance at a hotel, but the real reason for the gig is ghost-busting. There is a haunted antique cabinet in the hotel’s best room. But when they encounter the spirit, it is not what they have expected.
Mostly about the lion dancing.
Lightspeed, March 2011
Stories of human attachment and loneliness.
“Woman Leaves Room” by Robert Reed
A man stands in a room. There is a woman in the room, but suddenly she receives a message and has to leave. The man waits for her. Almost forever.
Behind me is another door. I could turn and see what it offers, but I don’t. I am waiting. She is gone but will return, and she has to appear inside the first door, and I spend nothing, not even time, waiting for what I remember best, which is her pretty face.
This is a story of love. It raises the questions of identity and emotion. Can we create a copy of a person so perfect that it feels what the person once felt? Can we recreate what is humanity? Is love real when it can not change? Reed is a master of the short form, and this one is beautifully, simply done.
“Saying the Names” by Maggie Clark
Nia’s father left his family thirty years ago to study the alien Bo, but he has now been accused of murdering one, and Nia has come to Bo to aid in his defense. Everything she finds is alien. The Bo constantly sing; they abbreviate nothing in their speech, so that to listen is more than humans can tolerate. Nia’s father is alien to her, the man who abandoned his family for his science, for these aliens. Nia can barely stand being there throughout the trial, how could he stand it for thirty years?
My heart was pounding at his scrutiny, and I knew then that the anger I felt for him, the coarse utilitarianism of his first and only attempt to contact me — to use me as a tool of his own, meticulous construction and then cast aside again — had to be coloring my view of things. No human could be so cruel, I told myself — so cold. Everyone, I had almost convinced myself, had a soft spot somewhere. Even my Bo had been kindly, in its way, by the end.
The Bo push the limits of what we can understand as alien: never sleeping, never dying, regressing instead to an earlier phase in their evolution, no concept of absence or solitude. The contrast with creatures so far from human makes the nature of humanity stand out more clearly. A tragic story.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies #64-65, March 2011
The first pair of stories offers some fanciful light scenarios. The second pair is very dark. Naturally, I prefer the dark ones.
“Breathing Sunshine” by Garth Upshaw
A scientific project gone bad is emitting particles that cause humans to take fantastic shapes, with mixed results.
Pixie sucked an enormous lungful of air into her body. “Like breathing sunshine.” The scales on her face sparkled. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Easy for you to say.” I flicked a fingernail against the gauge. “I watched my brother grow roots.” Water dripped. “Wood beetles killed him.”
Desmond is one of a few human survivors determined to reverse the process. Protected by a breathing mask [through which he can still smell smoke?] he is trying to track the source. He picks up a fanged water pixie as a companion, who tries to convince him to relax and enjoy the change.
This isn’t the kind of scenario meant to be taken seriously, but the text suggests that the change is rather localized, not global. The real story is the dialogue between the two primary characters, who are a pretty engaging pair.
“Mr Morrow Becomes Acquainted with the Delicate Art of Squid Keeping” by Geoffrey Maloney
Humorous fantasy of manners, edging into the farcical, as suggested by such names as Madame Florabette Brackensfield. Madame has invited Mr Morrow to an exclusive soiree “for an evening of ‘scientific experimentation and enlightenment’.” Her late husband, the admiral responsible for the defeat of the alien Kraken invasion, had acquired certain spoils of the enemy, including a couple of tanks of small squids. Mr Morrow is disconcerted when he realizes that he is expected to swallow them whole and alive; the results are highly unexpected.
The mannered narrative is laid on pretty thick, including chapter headings:
Mr Morrow finds himself somewhat befuddled — Madame Brackensfield descends from her boudoir with a splendid beehive hairdo — The Major demonstrates the fine art of squid catching.
This is entertaining, but there is also a neat skiffy twist going on. While silly, it’s a fun read that fans of this subgenre should enjoy.
“Love, Resurrected” by Cat Rambo
When the sorcerer Balthus asked Aife to serve him after killing her Queen, Aife thought at first of revenge.
But a year passed, then another, and she found herself enjoying planning his campaigns, being able to use magics, technologies, of the sort her Queen never could have wielded. She had never been able to play at war on such a scale. Her victories pleased her. Made her even more famous.
So valuable as a general did she become to the sorcerer that he brought her back from death to a weary existence and refuses to let her go.
Here is dark dark fantasy, a world entirely hopeless in which there seems to be nothing but endless sorcerous war. It is a world in which even love turns to horror, as Balthus loves Aife and thus crowns her bare skull with a golden helmet. Effectively grim.
“Playing for Amarante” by A B Treadwell
Durand is a young, self-taught virtuoso on the armonica whose playing has brought him into the highest society of Paris, the company of luminaries like Hayden and Doctor Mesmer, who warns that the music of the armonica may cause insanity. Durand’s playing has begun to evoke visions – of himself, dead. And of a young woman, falling, who calls herself Amarante.
I don’t know if he sees them: Amarante weeping; behind her, row upon row of men with my face. Some are barely whiskered. Others are gaunt, weathered. Rich clothes, workmen’s clothes, exotic clothes, rags. Face upon face, no two the same.
A powerful tale of haunting insanity and obsessive love.
Fables from the Fountain, edited by Ian Whates
A British tribute anthology in honor of Arthur C Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart. There’s a pretty high-powered lineup of authors, all but one of them male, with eighteen stories in about 250 pp.
The anthology is definitely true to the spirit of the original. The traditional requirements of this subgenre are pretty specific: the stories are usually a form of Tall Tale, more or less improbable, and either clever or silly or some combination, with, alas, a leavening of puns. As The Fountain regulars are science fiction authors and scientists, the subject matter of the stories they tell is science fiction.
Upcoming in May.
“No Smoke without Fire” by Ian Whates
Setting the scene: an introduction to the establishment where these tales are set and an homage to the time-honored institution of the British pub. The Fountain is one of those tricksy places.
It’s the sort of hidden gem you come upon unexpectedly when cutting down towards the Strand and Fleet Street without any clear idea of the way. You might stumble upon the Fountain and slow down, perhaps make a mental note to come back here sometime, only to never find the place again. You see, there’s little point in my explaining how to get there; either you will, or you won’t.
The title refers to the introductory tale: a clever little thing. The piece also shows that the editor has taken the trouble to integrate the various characters into a whole, as the regulars of the Tuesday night meetings.
“Transients” by Stephen Baxter
The transient customer, as opposed to a regular, reveals in the course of discussion that he was involved in the decoding of a transient SETI signal. Or, perhaps, he is one himself. The tale is fantastic in a very skiffy way. But, being transient, both signal, story and teller seem to have come and gone while the regulars debate what it all could mean. If true.
“And there’s no record of all this,” Mackintosh said heavily.
“Nor of the original neutrino pulses.”
“Sadly not. As I said, the circuits were blown.”
“Or of the translations – any of the stages of informationtheoretic and linguistic processing this stuff must have gone through.”
A scientific mystery in the form of a cosmological legend. Oh, and clever.
“Forever Blowing Bubbles” by Ian Watson
A tale of bubble universes and quantum foam – rather like the head on a pint of beer. One of the professor’s students conducts an experiment to form a mini-cosmos by introducing organic gasses into a chamber sealed by a soapy film.
Jones-Jones reckoned that carbon dioxide and organic traces should give the mini-cosm a good start in life. So with all the gusto of a rugby player he drank deeply from slightly shaken cans –”
“Cans?” I protested.
Very silly with a gross ending.
“On the Messdecks of Madness” by Paul Graham Raven
Raven explains why he left the employ of the Royal Navy Museum. It seems that the legendary Pepys Ledgers have gone missing, and the only scant bit of evidence points at Raven. Someone using his official account had queried their location. The only clue Raven can find is the mention of a treatise titled: Pepys & Newton – alchemist co-conspirators? It seems that Newton may have found the secret of the Philosophers Stone and transmuted a significant amount of lead into gold, which someone is now trying to uncover. Besides that, things get complicated, as when a Naval officer and Lovecraft fan identifies Ascension Island as R’lyeh. A lot of arcane trivia in a complex tangle that isn’t too credible.
“The Story Bug” by James Lovegrove
A group of SF authors at the pub run into a old fellow who used to frequent the place back in the day, along with “The greats. The ones who genuinely could write and, what’s more, were sticklers for their science.” He complains of being abused by the government and tells the tale of a sinister secret facility doing research into arcane and dirty tricks such as a truth serum.
This was a biological agent harvested from the DNA of some of the greatest novelists and poets alive. Samples had been covertly collected from hotel rooms around the world – hairs, saliva, sweat, blood – and screened and evaluated, and the relevant bits of genetic code had been snipped out and inserted into the genome of a virus.
Of course no one believes him. Until…
A triple-nested tall tale, humorously absurd.
“And Weep Like Alexander” by Neil Gaiman
Obediah Polkinghorn, uninventor, is a regular at the Fountain although no one ever remembers him. That’s his job. And he has finished it at last.
“I have uninvented everything that was on my list. I shall go home,” said Obediah Polkinghorn, bravely, “and weep, like Alexander, because there are no more worlds to unconquer. What is there left to uninvent?”
It seems, however, that Polkinghorn has not been paying close attention.
Silly, with a great concluding punch.
“The Ghost in the Machine” by Colin Bruce
Cedric makes a mind-reading machine with a screen that produces an image of the face the subject is thinking of. He does it to impress a girl, which greatly interests many of the regulars. The author doesn’t seem to be sure how his story ought to end, so he does it twice – going on after the stronger punchline to a weaker afterpunch.
“A Bird in the Hand” by Charles Stross
Stross takes on the “oestrogen-deficient” nature of the group by walking in a female biologist who has recently had a very bad experience. It seems she was hired by a mad creationist who wanted to reverse-evolve a dinosaur from a modern Muscovy duck.
“Think of a duck that stands two to three metres tall, weighs a quarter of a ton – about the same as a male African lion – and has a beak like an axe-blade. Bullockornis was a predator, a giant flesh-eating duckckck.” She made a choking noise with the final word, and paused to take deep breaths before continuing.
The puns and bad jokes that follow from this one are in dreadfully bad taste, including dinosaur bestiality. Quite fitting.
“The Hidden Depths of Bogna” by Liz Williams
Bogna is The Fountain’s Polish barmaid. On the occasion of the story, the narrator finds himself in the pub’s cellar, from which a passage leads to the long-covered River Fleet, and discovers the source of The Fountain’s name. And learns a secret.
I went carefully around a corner. Below, rough steps led to the river, and water was gushing from a spout in the wall. Closer examination revealed that this was in the form of a lion’s head. It looked extremely old. The splash sounded very loud in the darkness.
Another story with a biological tint, although most readers will call it fantasy. Besides being the only tale by a woman author, it’s the only one in which a story is not told.
“In Pursuit of the Chuchunaa” by Eric Brown
Another female with a tale to tell. Eva claims that after she published part of her account in a science fiction magazine, the Russian authorities have come after her to try to stop her from revealing the rest. It seems she had been on an expedition in search of the eponymous Chuchunaa, the Siberian Wildman, but discovered a creature even more fantastic.
At last its word entered my head: ‘I wanted to tell you my story. Communication, to my people, is of vital importance, the modus operandi, you might say, of our existence. Reality, to us, lacks essential quiddity until we have shared it…’
Except that after she has gone, the more discerning regulars discover a flaw in her tale and suspect a different truth.
“The Cyberseeds” by Steve Longworth
A very tall, very familiar tale. It seems that a dull fellow named Jack went to work at an RAF base, and at the base pub he ran into a fellow who claimed to be an American pilot who had flown a reverse-engineered alien aircraft. Furthermore, he had other secrets.
Angling his hand so that only Jack can see what he’s holding in his palm, he slowly opens his fingers to reveal five bean-sized, oval, metallic objects that seem to throb gently with an eerie green glow.
Totally groan-worthy, with a truly execrable closing pun, in the classic mode.
“Feathers of the Dinosaur” by Harry Gee
A sequel of sorts to the previous dinosaur story. One of the regulars has encountered a fossil of a modern bird from the Triassic Era, from before the appearance of dinosaurs. Which implies that evolution has gone in the other direction than previously supposed. The regulars put their heads together and figure out a possible explanation.
This one is too far under the top; a rather stunted tale with not much of a punch.
“Book Wurms” by Andy West
A ratty-looking stranger to the pub tells a tale of a young couple who find a strange book in an antiquarian shop. It reminds the husband, Tom, of William Blake, but he thinks it also has Satanic tones.
Many of the pictures and symbols seemed religious in nature: gory crucifixions, saintly figures striving against darkness, inverted crosses and such, though the full subject matter varied widely.
Eve becomes obsessed by the book and begins to produce a version of her own, while Tom tries desperately to discover the secret behind the book. But as the stranger tells his story, the regular called Raven recognizes it and realizes what the book must be.
The term “book wurm” is pretty clearly derived from ear worm. This theme of self-replicating books seems to be in the air lately. It was treated with much more sophistication by Darin Bradley in his enigmatically titled “∞”. While the story’s narrator insists it is scientific truth and the barflies spin their usual theories, I would class it as fantasy.
“The Pocklington Poltergeist” by David Langford
The Tuesday group has a guest, a famous psychic investigator, despite the strong skepticism of certain of the regulars and some of the students. Nonetheless, as Dagon Smyth speaks, there seems to be a certain aura in the pub.
Michael found himself checking the location of the short, heavy truncheon under the bar: the wise publican’s friend, very rarely needed and never before so much as contemplated at a Tuesday night meeting. But nothing was wrong. Nothing at all.
Michael checked it again.
In this case, what seems at first to be a tale of the occult turns out to be purely scientific and mundane.
“The Last Man in Space” by Andrew J Wilson
One of the Fountain’s regulars spends some time in Edinburgh, where a similar group of “readers, writers, researchers” likewise meets for storytelling. There, he hears a story of the Scottish Rocketry Society of the 1930s, now defunct. During the war, this group patriotically worked to develop a unique type of nuclear warhead.
“The ‘Buzzard’, as they called it, was intended to be a primitive atomic missile. There was to be no warhead since the explosion caused by the hydrogen-fuelled rocket’s impact with the intended target would be more than sufficient…”
While the device was not developed for use in the war, the Scots rocketeers continued to develop their invention until at last, twenty years later, it was launched. With unforeseen consequences.
A particularly neat skiffy tall tale.
“The Incredibly Multiplicity of Phaedra Lament” by Peter J Crowther
George and Rose’s daughter Phaedra was born with Downs Syndrome and died of pneumonia at age nineteen. Afterwards, George began to research the multi-worlds theory, “fascinated by the whole idea of an infinite number of variants on our own universe and, more specifically, our own Earth… not least because he reasoned that there would be many in which his beloved Phaedra was still alive and perhaps even able to communicate fully.” George succeeds and the story comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but the author runs over with meditations on Quantum Theory and its implications.
“The Girl with the White Ant Tattoo” by Tom Hunter
The storyteller works in marketing and is rather a geek, so he’s surprised when the girl with the white ant tattoo strikes up a conversation, and invites him to her brother’s club, the White Ant. He googles the place and discovers that
what Takeshi Takato was putting out there live on stage was the kind of remixing it’d take most musical engineers nights of studio time to orchestrate. And it did seem that he was doing it live. People were checking, trying to catch him out by demanding obscure tracks or reordering his playlist, but rather than tighten security he was inviting the challenge.
The secret turns out to be something quite incredible. A towering tale.
“The 9,000,000,001th Name of God” by Adam Roberts
How the stars went out. It seems that some Tibetan monks commissioned a computer program to derive the nine billion names of God, and, as it happened, one of The Fountain’s customers was involved in the project and can explain its complications.
What are the names of God that have never been recorded? How to sift the actual names of God from the random noise of permutation? Because not every name is a name of God, you see.
A rather bogglingly far-out homage to Clarke, including puns.
Tor.com, March 2011
Only one original, standalone story this month, although there are a couple of novel excerpts and a piece from Brust’s epic Dragaera series.
“Our Candidate” by Robert Reed
The liberal party can find no candidate willing to stand in the upcoming election against the incumbent governor until a retired chemistry professor volunteers. But the campaign message that Morris Hersch delivers isn’t what anyone wants to hear. He predicts imminent worldwide doom and disaster, for which the state will need to be prepared.
“The National Guard is a start, but we’ll need a militia and training and officials making informed decisions. There’s going to have to be road blocks on every highway, and refugee camps that can be effectively policed, and that’s just part of what has to be done.”
His message, in fact, is so unpopular with his own party that it threatens to bring in another candidate. But the incumbent, who knows that Hersch is the best opponent he could have, makes him a deal. And Lo! the doom and disaster comes to pass.
This story is a kind of sleeper. Most of the narrative relates, in the most matter-of-fact voice, the story of the political campaign. So that when the ending comes, again in that matter-of-fact voice, it make take readers a moment to see what is actually happening.
The Heavenly Fox by Richard Parks
A novella from PS Publishing’s chapbook series. Readers may be familiar with this author’s work dealing with Japanese folklore, but this one is based on the Chinese version of the fox spirit. I don’t usually comment on cover art, but this one just knocks me out with its gorgeousness.
The fox spirit Springshadow will attain her goal of immortality on her next birthday, in just three days. But to reach it, she must drain the life force from her current lover, Zou Xiaofan. As a fox, Springshadow is not generally troubled by a conscience, although she understands that Xiaofan’s spirit might be resentful. She is more disconcerted when the Goddess of Mercy brings her a message from Hell that he understands what she did and still loves her.
“Would it help him if I asked you to tell him that I love him too? And that I’m sorry for what I did to him?”
“Is either true?”
Springshadow thought about it. “I don’t think so. I had some affection for Xiaofan, but I killed him to get what I needed, which does not sound like love to me. As for the second, definitely not.”
For a while, it’s nice to be floating on her cloud in the Celestial City as a Heavenly Fox, but now that Springshadow has attained immortality, she begins to wonder what the purpose of it all is, which is exactly what the Goddess has been waiting for.
A charming fable, mixing a karmic moral with a wry narrative voice. I can’t help wondering why some characters are known by names like “Springshadow” and others by Chinese names.
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