|Art by R.B. Lemberg
“The Splendid Goat Adventure” by R.B. Lemberg (~5600 words)
Marvushi was an interesting presence in “A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power.” As an advanced student of the Old Royal, they were a bit of a ray of light, fun and full of mischief. And here they get to have a much more prominent role in a story that is told entirely through a series of letters. Mostly, the letters are between Marvushi and Tajer (who played large roles in both “A Portrait...” and “Geometries of Belonging”), though a few slip in to or from the Old Royal themself. Through the letters the reader is brought up to speed on what’s going on and how Marvushi gets themself into a very goaty situation. Because what begins as a trip to investigate the potential of magical animals quickly turns into a series of misadventures featuring academic rivalry, bouncing goats, and very, er, novel ways of passing a magical test. The tone is infused with fun, Marvushi joyously running straight for adventure and not letting something like danger or the possibility of embarrassment stop them from getting all up in some weird business.
The story reveals a great feeling for some of the life of the characters and the setting outside the action in the previous BirdVerse stories. As Marvushi steps into the spotlight, the reader is treated to some of the lesser-known facets of the world, like the academic rivalries between the southern universities, which Marvushi steps right into. There are glimpses of some of the quieter aspects of Tajer, as well, from wine making to dramatic mail deliveries. And through it all there’s just this sense of magic and wonder that is incredibly refreshing and fun. Any story that can work in bouncing, magical quasi-goats is a story that I can fully endorse. Now, because it makes the focus this rather ridiculous journey and fallout from Marvushi’s actions, it perhaps doesn’t hit quite as hard as some of the other BirdVerse stories. But there is a bit here about innovation and about learning and about trust. In that, it echoes some of the themes of “A Portrait...” quite well, showing the Old Royal hesitating to step into the wasp nest of their rivalry with some of the other southern universities, which allows distrust to put its roots in deeper. It takes a character like Marvushi, who embodies this incredibly will to learn and to make learning accessible to all, to cut through some of the conventions that keep the universities insulated and, by extension, keep knowledge from advancing.
And, of course, part of how they do this is by acting, is by confronting the academics with their skill and their flare and their lust for life (and I must admit I loved Marvushi passing the old goat’s test by their extensive knowledge of binding techniques they’ve picked up for...intimate reasons). By pushing around those conservative elements who are more concerned with academic politics than opening learning to all, Marvushi is able to start building bridges and, through that, making the healing of old wounds possible. It’s not something that they manage to complete in this story, but it’s something where the seed for progress has been planted, and as a sequel has been announced, I’m guessing it’s something that will be explored more. And people, just read the story. It is the sort of happy, hopeful SFF that I sometimes need, and it pairs with the rest of BirdVerse so well, deepening and brightening the setting a bit. I mean, BirdVerse is all about hope for me, about people helping people overcoming prejudice and fear and doubt. But sometimes it’s nice to have something so...well, bouncy as this story and Marvushi to act as a reminder that there’s still fun and laughter to be had, even in dangerous and delicate situations. So yeah, give this story a read and give what support you can to BirdVerse!