|Art by Richard Anderson|
"The Glass Galago" by A.M. Dellamonica (7084 words)
Well it's always a great experience to discover a new world, and this story conjures up all the awe and mystery and magic of such a discovery. The setting is sweeping and dynamic, a city made up of sailing ships where taxis are gliders and the politics are deadly. Gale is an investigator of some sort, or perhaps more like a fixer, or perhaps more like an interloper, asked by her cousin to help sort a sticky situation. Along for the ride is Parrish, a beautiful man with a dark past and a great reluctance to ask for help. They make a good pair, and it's rather clever that their names, first letters transposed, are Garrish (as Parrish is always being noticed) and Pale (as Gale is always overlooked and, well, pale, like a ghost almost). The plot follows nicely enough and is more about setting up the relationships of the setting, between Parrish and Gale, between them and everyone else. It's a bit procedural, as the mystery of the piece is reserved more for the setting and the characters. Who took the inscribed bottle isn't really that much in doubt, but what happened in Parrish's past and what Gale actually does (as well as what Erstwhile is…Earth perhaps?) are left here to be tantalizing secrets the readers must pursue elsewhere. I thought the character work was solid, though, and the setting invigorating. To me, the story is a solid popcorn fantasy, interesting and entertaining and just deep enough to not be boring. There's much room to complicate, but as an introduction to the characters and the setting I thought it worked very well. A fun read!
"Two's Company" by Joe Abercrombie (7255 words)
Well this story is rather cute. Perhaps that will sound strange for a story that is primarily about killing people, but I think it has a certain slapstick appeal and enough zingy dialogue that it falls firmly into the cute camp for me. It follows two women, Shev and Javre, as they make distance from their enemies and come across Whirrun, a huge man of the North, as he's headed in the opposite direction with much the same goal. Of course, Whirrun and Javre turn out to be the same side of the same coin, both brawny warriors with codes of honor and all that, leaving Shev as the odd-woman-out and the voice of reason. Or, if not reason, then at least sulkiness. It all adds up to be a rather fun story, a series of one-liners and an impressive array of violence and crude humor (which I must say I did find mostly funny). Again, it's not exactly difficult to see where the story is going to go once the meeting on the bridge happens (though a part of me was almost expecting the story to go completely dark just to fuck with reader expectations). Still, the getting there is rather nicely done and it's a story that oozes a certain kind of humor. Shev makes the wise viewpoint character, the straight-man (kinda funny, too, as she's the queer woman) to Javre and Whirrun who are the ridiculous barbarian-type characters. It works, or did for me, and while it's not really something to provoke a lot of deep thinking, and while I thought it could have been shorter and maintained a bit more of its punch, it made me smile. So yeah!
"Finnegan's Field" by Angela Slatter (10716 words)
Well any chance of having three fun and upbeat stories rather died a bloody and appropriate death with this story, the longest of the early January offerings. It's a story steeped in loss and grief and, I suppose, being Irish in a general sense. The mythology, after all, draws from Ireland, draws from dark fairies and missing children. The plot involves the mother of a missing girl who has, mysteriously and almost magically, returned from being disappeared for three years. And yet the mother, Anne, is not wholly convinced that her daughter is her daughter. There's something…off, something that is confirmed when Anne follows her daughter at night when the little girl goes "sleepwalking." It's an unsettling story about grief and about ancestry, though it does perhaps put a little too heavy an influence on the blood-Irish aspects of the magic for my tastes. Just that, I suppose, it makes being Irish seem rather magical which for whatever reason made me vaguely uncomfortable. Still, I think the story does a fine job of showing the magic boundaries all around us, the dangers and pain. Anne's plight is compelling and her actions a nice spiral away into some dark waters. The descriptions are particularly chilling at times and as a work of horror the story does a fine job capturing the feel of uncertainty and anger and despair and Otherness that the fairies represent, that unseen threat always ready to take someone away. It's an interesting story and digs deep into Anne's character, revealing a very complex set of hurts and desires. A nice way to close out the first half of Tor's January 2016.