Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, mid-April
A couple of belated appearances and the usual monthly ezines. The Good Story award goes to Paul Park’s verse narrative at Tor.com.
- Tor.com, April 2011
- Asimov’s, April/May 2011
- Abyss & Apex, 2nd Quarter 2011
- Strange Horizons, April 2011
- Fantasy Magazine, April 2011
- Lightspeed, April 2011
- Beneath Ceaseless Skies, April 2011
Tor.com, April 2011
It seems that April is Poetry Month at Tor.com, while the 2nd week is Dystopia Week. The latter gives us the story by Harry Turtledove. The conjunction is the work of Paul Park.
“Ragnarok” by Paul Park
A post-apocalyptic epic in Icelandic verse mode. Appropriately, a tale of heroes, murder, arson, rape and revenge. Especially revenge. Iceland has been reduced to something very much like the bloody age of the sagas, as the descendants of Ragni Magnusson defend their steading at Hvolsvoller.
Hard his heart, heavy his hand
Against the wretches in the ruined towns,
Bandits and skraelings beyond the wall,
Come to plunder, kill and spoil,
Over and over.
Thomas stands watch, wakeful and sure,
Guarding the hall with his Glock Nine.
How much do I love this? For the verse – not the courtly form of the king’s poets, rich with kennings, but something plain and strong in its alliteration, its hard beat resting mostly on single syllables of Anglo-Saxon, the language kin to the Icelandic.
Two beats, then pause.
Two more. Thumping heart,
Chopping axe, and again.
For its integration of contemporary terms into the language, the Glock Nine standing in for the viking axe. For its evocation of that earlier age, reviving its spirit and its voice, and for demonstrating how, in an oil-starved future, such days may come again.
“Shtetl Days” by Harry Turtledove
Alternate history. The Nazis have realized their ultimate goals, including the extermination of the Jews. But to remind themselves of their accomplishment, they build Wowolnice, a shtetl theme park staffed by German reenactors playing the parts of Jews and Poles. Thus Veit Harlan spends his days being the Jew Jakub Shlayfer, until he discovers he has become the role. Ironically, having exterminated the Jews, the Nazis have now recreated them.
Even if you couldn’t talk about it much, maybe especially because you couldn’t, this was better. It had taken a while for Veit to realize it, but he liked the way he lived in the village when he was Jakub Shlayfer better than he liked how he lived away from it when he was only himself.
Aside from depicting the attractiveness of the traditional Jewish way of life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, the story exhibits the spiritual emptiness of life under the Reich. The German who takes the role of the village’s rabbi used to be a Christian minister, which accounts for his mastery of Hebrew; it’s clear that there is no place in this world for such a vocation. In this spiritual void, the reenactors find a place for Judaism, which seems to be the only religion open to them.
However, I see several problems with the premise. It is clear that the Nazis do not want the actors to actually become Jews; not only Wowolnice is bugged, but also the actors’ cars and homes, to pick up subversive pro-Jewish statements. Once, an SS officer barges into Jakub’s shop in the village to demand an explanation of some remark. Thus I find it entirely incredible that actors would be allowed to dedicate their whole lives to these roles, and even more so that they would be allowed to bring up their children as Jews, rather than proper Germans. Indeed, I am dubious about the extreme authenticity of the reenactment project, recreating the Jews as they really were, not the stereotype of the Jew that official Nazi propaganda promulgated. I would have expected these Nazi reenactors instead to be draining the blood of Christian children and engaged in plots to defile the purity of Aryan virgins.
I am also quite doubtful that all the villagers would have so completely embraced the Jewish way of life, as the author suggests. The spiritual journey of Veit Harlan to Jakub Shlayfer is convincing because it is a personal, individual conversion; the rabbi’s transformation is also meaningful for similar reasons. But out of the entire cast, there would have had to be some who despised the roles they played, as all good Nazis were brought up to do, and definitely some who would eagerly betray any of their fellow-actors who might show signs of authentic Jewishness. What would a dystopian Nazi world be, without its informers?
Asimov’s, April/May 2011
No novellas in this very readable double issue, but a batch of four very long novelettes; almost a dozen stories altogether.
“The Day the Wires Came Down” by Alexander Jablokov
As twins Andrew and Arabella prepare to enter adulthood, they indulge in a day of adventure, the day the telpher lines are closed down. Amid far, far, too many coincidences, they explore an old mystery from the wild outlaw days when competing telpher companies were establishing themselves. And now, like their childhood, it’s all over.
Overhead, a horizontal metal wheel rotated slowly. It pulled a cable in, and then fed it back out, like a pulley. These moving telpher cables crisscrossed the city, pulling light wooden cars filled with passengers from rooftop to rooftop.
The interesting thing here is the setting, which some readers may automatically slot as steampunk. But aside from polished brass and a really neat system of tethered balloon transportation, the comparisons are minor. This is its own thing, an alternate history that suggests, perhaps, the early decades of the 20th century. The primary fascination is the rooftop cable car lines. The author has worked the mechanism out admirably, yet I have to wonder how practical such a system would be, if people had to be constantly climbing to the top of buildings just to travel from one to another. [You wouldn’t be getting me onto one of those cars, noway nohow, and that’s without the warring companies sabotaging each others’ lines.] Apparently it was once highly successful, but the lines have by now fallen into disuse; the establishments they once served are closing down as customers will have no way to reach them. Yet it is not clear what system is replacing them.
The story itself has rather less interest. There is a braid of several plots: Arabella’s imminent departure for school, the telpherman’s enigmatic pigeon egg courtship, and the old mystery. Andrew is apparently a telpher geek, but this doesn’t excuse his lengthy recitation of ancient telpher history or the improbable string of coincidences that tie the twins to it.
“Clockworks” by William Preston
Simon Lukic wakes to discover he has been abducted and given surgery to “fix” his brain, to “restore his moral capacity,” as his captor/doctor tells him. Reluctantly, he confronts his past as “Doctor Blacklight,” in which, as a neurosurgeon, he performed unethical operations on prisoners and other unwilling subjects, first for the Soviet military, then for similar organizations in the west. He now recognizes that he was a monster and recalls that he used to hear voices. But what worries his captors is the project he had recently been working on – which he can’t remember.
A lot going on here, and Lukic turns out to be caught in the middle of it. His captor definitely seems to be some sort of covert superhero [one whom I suspect is quite familiar], engaged in a war against the unknown forces that have whispered into Lukic’s mind. It’s hard to say if this is science fiction or at least in part some kind of Lovecraftian horror. But this doesn’t really matter, or how the mechanism of the malign project [the clockwork of the title] is supposed to work. The story is about Lukic recovering his humanity.
“A Response from EST17” by Tom Purdom
Two different human agencies have sent remote expeditions to explore the planet designated Extra-Solar EST17. The Betzino-Resdell Exploration Community was the first to leave Earth and the last to arrive. Its rival Trans Cultural arrogantly orders the other group to remain off the surface; this order is ignored. The remote probes of the two agencies attempt to sabotage each others’ activities. And the residents of EST17 have been watching the entire thing all along.
The two orbiters definitely came from the same source. Their species had obviously generated at least two social entities that could launch interstellar probes. That happened now and then — everything had happened now and then — but this was the first time Varosa Uman’s species had dealt with a divided visitation.
There are established procedures for visitations. But a rogue resident of EST17 has illicitly made contact with the Betzino-Resdell probe with the intention of causing trouble, complicating the situation even further.
This one engages directly with some of the basic sciencefictional assumptions regarding ET intelligence.
Any extra-terrestrial civilizations the human race encountered would be thousands of years ahead of us or millennia behind, Sir Arthur had opined. The odds they would be anywhere near us were so small we could assume the advanced civilizations would think we were savages.
Purdom offers an alternate hypothesis, and a society that has let stability deteriorate into stagnation. It is not the humans who are the center of this story but two factions among the residents of EST17, with their decision affecting not only the future of humanity but their own.
“Becalmed” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Part of a series about the ship Ivoire, sent to investigate a planetary dispute involving a race called the Quurzod, which its enemies have charged with genocide. Mae, the ship’s top linguist, led a team of 27 to learn their languages. She was one of only three who survived and returned to the ship, covered in blood and without her memories of this event, that has led to war and damage to the ship, now trapped in foldspace. The authorities on the ship want her to remember; her dreams and her sense of guilt make her want not to.
The truth is that I am terrified of my own mind. The truth is that I’m afraid my memories will kill me. I’m afraid if I never access them, they will kill me, and I’m afraid if I do remember, I can’t live with them.
Another blocked-recollection story. In this case, the amnesiac/unreliable narrator is annoyingly misleading. We are supposed to believe that the ship’s authorities consider Mae a dangerous murder suspect.
They’ve posted guards, just like Leona told them to, and they made a point of letting me know. The guards—both big, muscular men—displayed the laser pistols attached to their hips, and gave me a stern look.
The warning was clear. If I tried to leave, they’d shoot.
But given the known violent practices of the Quurzod, this is never a real possibility, and in fact the captain knows almost certainly that it is not so. Mae’s guilt, if she is in fact guilty, is something entirely different. The story spends a long time going back and forth, back and forth, as Mae hesitates about accepting treatment. [There seems to be excessive concern for her rights, given the situation of the ship.] But after all this, her self-recognition does not really yield the truth. It turns out to be something the captain has known all along and reveals to her at the end. And that’s quite a bit less satisfying.
“An Empty House with Many Doors” by Michael Swanwick
The narrator is busy throwing away his own life after his wife’s death when he experiences a strange vision of a man strangling in mid-air.
He is twisting in slow agony on a frame of chrome bars, like a fly dying on a spider’s web. The outlines of his distorted body are prismatic at the edges, like a badly tuned video. He is drowning in dirty rainbows. His body is a cubist nightmare, torso shattered into overlapping planes, limbs scattered through nine dimensions. The head swings around, eyes multiplying and being swallowed up by flesh, and then there is a flash of desperate hope as he realizes I can see him.
A very short story that most readers will recognize as one they have read often before. But not quite like this. The difference is all in the telling.
“The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick
Jordan spends most of his time taking care of his wife Julia, who suffers from dementia, when his son arrives unexpectedly for a visit.
It was maybe six feet tall, its skin a glistening, almost metallic silver, with multifaceted bright red eyes like an insect. Its ears were pointed and batlike, and moved independently of its head and each other. Its mouth jutted out a couple of inches like some kind of tube, and looked like it was only good for sucking fluids.
Jordan has resented Philip ever since he underwent the transformation in order to live and study on an alien world. He denies that he is still his son. Julia, despite her impairment, is more tolerant.
A story of family, loss, and the pain of growing old. The author has previously written other moving and sensitive stories considering the effects of dementia. His portrayal of Julia’s conversation is heartbreakingly true.
“North Shore Friday” by Nick Mamatas
George reminisces about the days when he was a young man working for the Feds and their mind-reading computers, while his relatives were busy smuggling Greek refugees into the country and getting them married off to thwart deportation. Advice to the smugglers if they suspect the INS may be reading their minds: Think in Greek! Naturally, these things sometimes go wrong, whereby we have a new explanation for the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965.
The text is littered with Greekisms and random snippets of captured stray thoughts:
It’s illegal to threaten the president, but it ain’t illegal to think about strangling him, is it? Is this thing on? *tap* *tap*
The story suggests it would not be wise to trust the government, but then, we knew that.
“The Fnoor Hen” by Rudy Rucker
Vicky’s husband Bix is a freelancer programmer trying to get his clients to cough up a bonus for his latest morphon muncher program. But the clients have means of their own to enforce the terms of a contract.
“I’m here because of this crap,” snapped Vicky. She held up the bag of Ultra Egg. “It did something to our chickens, and they laid a weird egg with a black gremlin inside. Bix calls it a fnoor hen. The fnoor hen climbed into our attic and—and I think she swallowed Bix.”
Some crazy, good-hearted black magic. Even the devil is helpful, when approached in the right spirit. Fun stuff.
“Smoke City” by Christopher Barzak
A woman wakes, or perhaps she dreams, and knows she has to return to the city of her birth where she has another husband and other children who must all too soon be given to the dark satanic mill belowground,
where Eliza, the furnace, blocks the view of the river with her black bulk and her belching smoke. They are all female, always. They have unassuming names like Jeanette, Edith, Carrie. All night long, every night, they fill the sky with their fires.
This piece is many things: a dream of mortality, a vision of Hell, a reversal of the Persephone myth, a metaphor for the capitalist system of yore. Its oneiric quality is clear, as the narrator says: “They are long here, the years in Smoke City, even though they are finished within the passing of a night.” Thus is it probably missing the point to wonder why some women are allowed to leave Smoke City and others are doomed to the mills, or whether the narrator will return again, now that her circumstances have changed. A dream is eternal now, never why.
“The One That Got Away” by Esther M Friesner
One hustler meets another. It’s obvious from the beginning that the narrator isn’t a typical saloon hooker, with her teeth filed to points, but her actual story is a fantastic one, although familiar to any movie-goer. And the innocent sailor she takes at first for a mark isn’t without an ulterior motive, either, or an arcane origin. But the thing is, the two of them like each other.
An amusing meeting of myths.
“The Flow and Dream” by Jack Skillingstead
A colonization expedition gone bad. Monitors were supposed to wake the Sleepers when the terraforming was complete. But only Bale remains, escaped into deep meld, where
he dwelt mostly in dream, where the others hadn’t died. In dream, Sten hadn’t brought the alien virus back through the interlock. In dream, Celia touched him and their voices murmured in the close darkness. In dream, his daughter Kayla laughed.
Occasionally, open sky and light-drenched vistas intruded — non sequiturs. He pushed the vistas aside and clung to the close murmuring dark.
At last, Ship takes matters into its own hands. Or rather, hands that it makes its own.
A depressing scenario: a futile journey, and a world wasted. Makes me think we ought to stay home where we belong.
Abyss & Apex, 2nd Quarter 2011
An online quarterly that didn’t make it into the last column. The theme is human transformations.
“Fermi’s Plague” by C W Johnson
As totalitarianism tightens its grip on the world, Marta illegally takes her sick daughter to the Colonel, the paranoid ruler of Colombia, for nanotreatment illegal in the US. In exchange, she works for him as a data analyst, trying to make a pattern from the coded files sent up from an isolated bunker by an oracle called Cassandra.
“That’s why those people are in the bunker, imprisoned, to keep those awful stories from getting out. They sterilize the files, slice out forbidden words and phrases. And that goon squad, who keep order down in the bunker, they’re deaf-mutes. Illiterate. Whatever awful tale it is la Cassandra spins, the Colonel doesn’t want anyone else to hear it.”
After the Colonel says her daughter has died despite the nanotreatment, Marta becomes obsessed with the notion that she is alive and imprisoned in the bunker, and Cassandra can tell her the truth. But the real truth is something even more ominous.
The author effectively evokes the atmosphere of terror and paranoia under dictatorship, both mad and bureaucratic. The actual secret is less convincing.
“Demonfire Ash” by Helen E Davis
Journeyman* wizard Geoff Bowman wakes in a dusty bed to discover that he has become an old man. His last vague memory is of a brother wizard attempting a spell to summon a demon. Apparently the spell worked, because the hall is half-ruined, the wizards long dead, and the library ransacked.
And his plants, which he had spent years collecting, plants he had named and counted his personal companions – were masses of blackened refuse. Demonfire Ash, some dull with age but some glistening fresh, oozed over the remains.
A fairly nice example of the sort of story in which the protagonist — and the readers — have to discover exactly what has been going on. Usually the readers get there first. There are a sufficient number of twists to make it interesting.
-*- I suspect that Geoff was actually an apprentice.
“Something Wild” by Manfred Gabriel
The narrator goes running every day after work.
Five miles of running, of freedom, it isn’t much, but it’s enough to keep me from entirely reverting into something other, something wild. They try to wean addicts off heroine with methadone. Running is my methadone.
But today he has an encounter that reveals what he might revert to, if he lets go.
This is a short work, but too much of it is taken up by details that are at the same time irrelevant and unspecific. He works in “a waste management facility,” he runs through “the town.” While his secret is not really a surprise, the reveal comes in an interesting way and the conclusion suggests a major alteration is likely.
“Bots D’amor” by Cat Rambo
Linus is having trouble with his ship bots. They’ve been messing around with the chips salvaged from some AI toys, and they’re getting out of hand. And it’s been too long since he’s talked to a real human – or other biological sentient. Time for some R&R.
He thought, I’ve been out here too long. I’m talking to the ship, to the bots, as though they were old friends at the corner coffee shop. A dull throb behind his eyes pulsed in time with the irregularities of the ventilator fan, going high and low in a reverberating whine that seemed to drill into his skull’s center.
A story about finding out who your real friends are. The bots are kind of cute.
“Concrete” by Nathaniel Lee
Trent has two problems: his control-freak boss and a spot on the sidewalk near his house. Whenever he steps on it:
It was just… happiness. Vibrant, shimmering contentment that filled him like a bowl of crystal-clear water, thrumming in tune with the heartbeat of the universe. Trent felt the connections between himself and all the living creatures around him, tenuous silver threads that sparked with unseen energy. He could feel the city, all around him, and through him, and in him. He breathed in the tainted air and tasted joy. He was at peace.
But the piece of concrete follows him home in the form of a pleading statue. It invades his dreams; it follows him to work. Trent is being haunted because he doesn’t know what his real problem is.
A moral story, taking a very odd and not entirely credible form.
“Hail to the Victors” by Dr Philip Edward Kaldon
Military SF. Team 84632, like the rest of the surviving human units, is on its own. Lt. Eddie is leading it towards the coast, for want of any better strategy. He’s in command by default, in the absence of any higher authority.
“We’re still operating under General Order One - drive the aliens off this colony world. That’s good enough for me until I hear the bastards have either surrendered, died or left.”
An exploration of the [human] military mind. Readers will automatically expect that this situation will not end up well, but there are a couple of surprises. The question is whether the situation they find at the end makes sense.
“Trans” by Paul Rogalus
A new twist on the dating game in which singles use miniature copies of themselves as surrogates. They see if the minis hit it off with one another before the actual humans give it a try.
On the table the miniature replicants dance to edgy guitar music and speak in a very musical but unintelligible language. On the far side of the table two replicant males are fighting over one female. One clearly wins the fight and walks off with the female to a box on the corner, apparently to have sex.
I’m not sure what the levels are all about, or what the pills do, but the story speaks of the fear of rejection and the difficulty in making bonds.
Strange Horizons, April 2011
We’re down to just two stories this month, as the Shawl is split in half. It is accompanied by an interview and an article by the author – an array that seems to be meant to intimidate.
“Pataki” by Nisi Shawl
Rianne is a woman trying to escape from her past, when she was a social worker of some kind, falsely accused of child molesting. She stood her ground and won a countersuit, but then fled to California to start over in a new field, as a diviner based in the Orisha religion of Yoruba. Naturally, her first client is a young girl; worse, the child’s mother is hostile. Rianne is terrified that this woman will unearth her past and she will have to leave again, despite her innocence. Yet she feels an obligation to her client. A dream promises an answer, but she doesn’t understand it until her mentor gives her a Pataki, fable used as a guide to interpretation.
This one follows the usual pattern in which solving the professional problem results in solving the personal. This is evident in the first line, when the child asks for justice. The word, repeated, is supposed to signify that Shinel is mature and has carefully thought through her request. But in fact what Shinel really wants is her father back; or, failing this, to know where is and to ensure that he is safely out of the clutches of evil. More abstractly, what she wants is to assert her right to her father, particularly against her mother who lies to her about him. Justice is what Rianne wants – specifically, recognition of her innocence. But in the words of Mick Jagger, what she needs is self-confidence.
The use of Michael Jackson as a dream figure is interesting, given the accusations made against him; his place within the interpretive scheme of the Pataki is clear. I am not sure, however, why the author was so coy about his name, calling him only “the singer,” while making his identity so obvious. What I like here is some of the prose:
Light rode through the open window, coasting down from between the branches of the big willow in her back yard.
“Items Found in a Box Belonging to Jonas Connolly” by Laura E Price
As a child, Jonas Connolly and his mother were rescued at sea from a hydra by the legendary yet secretive airship captain, Trinity Holdstock. As an adult, he devotes considerable resources to tracking down whatever is known about her.
—T.H. spent time as a mechanic at PAA, but was dismissed when it was discovered she was a girl. Note in manager’s log for June 15, 1893 states that he fired her under protest, as she was “a good mechanic, and promised to be an excellent one.” T.H. vanishes from public record for several years at this point. (Send bottle of brandy to Allen’s assistant for finding the log.)
He is looking less for Holdstock than for his mother. The items begin with the notice of her death at age 47.
The stories of two lives assembled from fragments, so that we can glimpse only fleeting images through the eyes of others, and it is our imaginations that fill in the gaps between them to try to form a whole. This is a feminist work, one that mourns the what could have been of women’s lives, so restricted by social convention in the years they lived. I find it interesting that the author chose to place her story in a world with hydras and airships, as if she is saying that it could not have taken place in the past we know. There is a special poignancy in the supposition that these items may have been revealed only at Connolly’s death. As we live on in memory, so we fade.
Fantasy Magazine, April 2011
A couple of very different original stories: one a metafiction, the other a genre mashup.
“Choose Your Own Adventure” by Kat Howard
In the mode of the “Choose Your Own” books of yore, which gives the author the opportunity to address the readers directly on the subject of stories and choices and life.
Are you brave enough to begin? If so, turn to page 1. If not, remain safe. Close the book and return it to the shelf. No one will think less of you.
“The House of Gears” by Jonathan L Howard
Part of a series featuring a steampunk-era necromancer. Johannes Cabal pays a call on a M Samhet, apparently to discuss professional matters, and finds that Samhet has abandoned necromancy in favor of cybernetics as a means of defeating death. He has, in fact, transferred his mind into a vast mechanical computer.
A moment’s experimentation showed that a steel punch would push through a grill towards the rear of the table corresponding to the position of the stylus over the symbols. A little more searching turned up stack of plates made from thin steel. Placing a plate snugly over the grill allowed a pattern of holes to be punched out with little effort. So, Samhet had needed some plates with permanent information stored upon them before he submitted himself to his automated surgery.
Unfortunately, Samhet also plans to transform Cabal into one of his robotic servants, which he can not allow.
I am not sufficiently familiar with this series to know whether it typically employs the tropes of steampunk aside from the setting, but this one certainly fits the mode, which might make it steampunk horror. The most prominent feature is the mannered prose, which can be quite witty, but which the author lays on with a sometimes too-heavy hand.
Lightspeed, April 2011
Another fine story by An Owomoyela.
“All That Touches the Air” by An Owomoyela
When humans showed up to colonize Predonia, they found another species had shown up before them. When the two made a treaty, the Vosth claimed the status of dominant species and included the provision: “All that touches the air belongs to us.” The Vosth are capable of colonizing and taking over a human body, which they find a great convenience. The narrator, having seen this process as an impressionable child, develops a phobia and wears her envirosuit even in the sterilized atmosphere inside the colony’s airlock. But while she hides from all contact, other members of both species are adapting.
Another fine work from this new author. I like such terms as “Ocean of Starve” and the depiction of the narrator’s psyche fraying at the edges.
I started staring at the airlock, expecting to see his face squashed up against it. Maybe he was just outside, seconds away from getting some idiot like Endria to let him in. People walked past me, and I could hear them talking in low tones while I watched the airlock, like maybe I’d gone into an absence seizure and they should get someone to haul me away.
I particularly like the devious methods she uses to cope with the colony’s humorless and overbearing bureaucracy.
“Mama, We Are Zhenya, Your Son” by Tom Crosshill
To pay for her hospital treatment Mama has sent Zhenya and his dog Sulyik to work for Dr Olga. Dr Olga is not an ethical researcher. She believes that because Zhenya is only eight years old, his mind will be flexible enough to develop quantum pathways. This works, in a way, but it would have been better if it hadn’t.
The aunts and uncles and Dr. Olga didn’t believe me because they couldn’t see the bad little fast things. Dr. Olga said they had Gaigar counters and eye-on chambers and there was nothing there. She said I had to use the treasure to get energy from other Moscows because only I had a qantumikal brain and the whole world was waiting and anyway Sulyik wanted me to.
The epistolary form with its faux-childish voice is supposed to make readers sympathize with Zhenya, but I find it annoying and distancing. Zhenya and his plight don’t become real, as they might have if this had been written in another mode.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, April 2011
Only three stories, as the Brennan was split into two parts.
“The Fairy Gaol” by Heather Fawcett
The narrator is imprisoned, awaiting execution for her part in the assassination of the Fairy King. Her cage happens to be situated among humans, whose presence taunts her, as does her lover/betrayer, who comes to bid her farewell.
For any fairy, the gaol is the worst kind of punishment. The human smell is so rich, so enticing, their clumsy movements as charming as a baby bird, and as delicious. More than once I catch myself reaching one clawed hand through the bars towards a golden fall of hair or dimpled ankle. But I am bound by the magics of the gaol; I can’t even touch them.
But they are not real. The narrator and her lover are both changelings, magicked into pseudofairies. It is even possible that with the death of the Fairy King, there are no more of the true kind left. It doesn’t seem like a great loss, even to the fairies.
A particularly enigmatic piece. It doesn’t make any sense that the fairies would jail their prisoners out in the open among humans, where some will always have the sight to see.
“Dancing the Warrior” by Marie Brennan
Seniade is an apprentice sacred dancer, or, as the story has it, a Dancer, a point of punctuation which always puts my ears back. At age twelve, she is training to Dance all aspects of the Goddess, but the only one that really interests her is the Warrior. She is taken as a trainee by the Silverfire mercenaries, who serve only the Warrior Aspect.
Hunter schools might have begun as Warrior cults, but that was a long time ago. Aside from the small shrine Kerestel had shown her — very small, honoring only the Goddess’s fiercest Aspect — there was little sign that they remembered their religious origins. Sen, for one, was determined not to forget, but she wondered if she should still pray to the other Aspects.
The other trainees resent her for being allowed to start her training late, and her red hair means they suspect she is a witch. But Sen is determined not to let them drive her out, and to discover the perfection in this form.
A prequel to the author’s novels featuring this character. Readers of the series, or readers who haven’t previously read another thousand apprentice-fighter stories exactly like this one, may find it of interest.
“Memories of Her” by Greg Linklater
The narrator has been turned to stone as a soldier of the warleader called the Chemist, but the transformation is not complete until he has been purged of all his human memories, everything that used to make him himself. There is one he refuses to relinquish, no matter what the consequences.
“The point is to have the memories bled, like a poison from the brain. This form of dementia locks them away. They become… inaccessible.” The psychiatrist with the friendly face writes something in his notes. “Do you often find yourself confused as to where you are?”
This outtake from a larger work-in-progress gives a tantalizing glimpse at an intriguingly strange warring world. I wouldn’t mind at all seeing more of it.