Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Quick Sips - Tor dot com May 2019

Art by Gregory Manchess
Well what started as a large month at Tor.com sort of tapered off quickly, with only one short story and one novelette in May. Both works are linked by being part of larger series, though, the first one of the Mongolian Wizard cycle starring Ritter and Freki, the other one a new work in the Wild Cards universe. Both do interesting things with the settings and characters, featuring people on missions that…aren’t quite what they seem. If that means a journalist who ends up uncovering a story he wasn’t prepared for or a detective solving a crime that never happened, the pieces are all about the unexpected. My role in all of this isn’t, though, so as usual, let’s get to the reviews!


“Murder in the Spook House” by Michael Swanwick (3916 words)

No Spoilers: Our favorite member of the Werewolf Corps is back in a new murder mystery. That’s right, Ritter and Freki are investigating a new perplexing case, this one hitting rather close to home—the murder of his supervisor and friend, Sir Toby. The setting once more imagines an expansive war between several European powers (the British Empire taking center stage) and the forces of the Mongolian Wizard, who seems bent on world domination. At the moment the war could go either way, with both sides relying on unconventional means to try and turn the tide in their favor. This piece focuses a bit more specifically on the use of precogs and others who can look into the possible futures to try and pull out useful technology. Which somewhat complicates things, but doesn’t do much against a man, his wolf, and their nose for mystery.
Keywords: Wolves, Murder, Investigations, Alternate History, Technology, Precognition
Review: This installment in the ongoing Ritter stories (The Mongolian Wizard series) seems a bit shorter than normal, though that might seem because it’s very focused. Ritter goes in and gets things done, not really taking much time to sift through evidence or interrogate suspects. With a wolf he can communicate with and act through, he’s sort of a walking super detective and the story certainly doesn’t argue with that. Which in some ways could be disappointing because there’s not much in the way of complication to what happens. Yes, it’s not exactly what it seems to be, but the revelations here are rather abrupt and seem more about showing the competence of Ritter in the face of the tactics of his superiors that he doesn’t necessarily agree with. That’s what I do like about the story, though—that it’s really about this very fundamental difference in how Ritter approaches the conflict as opposed to British Intelligence. For them, they want this technological advantage that will allow them to fight back against the Wizard and hope to win. Where Ritter doesn’t really trust the new tech, nor the methods that they’re being gathered. He seems to me to go along with it because he doesn’t see much of a choice, but in his investigations he dismisses the technological advances and trust his own ways. Which is actually a mindset more on display with the Wizard rather than the British. Which is slightly unnerving, not only because he has to ask himself if he is playing into the Wizard’s strengths by not embracing the technology, but also because if he doesn’t trust himself, if he just goes along with the British without voicing his objections, it seems like it’s a slippery slope where ruin is only a small step away. The story itself is fun and does a quick job of showing Ritter at work, but more I feel it sets up things for the future of the setting, where this pursuit of future tech is risking unleashing something even more dangerous that the Mongolian Wizard. A fine read!

“Long is the Way” by Carrie Vaughn and Sage Walker (10169 words)

No Spoilers: Jonathan Tipton-Clarke is a journalist on the trail of a former terrorist who had something to do with a massive attack back in the 90s. He manages to track her to a perfume manufacturer (or a scent manufacturer?) in France, where he confronts her and asks for her story. Which she shares. The piece is a nested narrator, framed by Jonathan’s trip but largely narrated by the woman he was sent to find, Zoe Harris. It slips back in time to follow her road toward trying to redeem herself, and trying to find ten good people to justify all the pain and corruption she’s seen in her life. It’s a dark story, full of death and difficulty, but it focuses on working for good in the face of evil, and cultivating compassion and hope in the face of despair and destruction.
Keywords: Journalism, Insects, Superpowers, Wild Cards, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth/Death
Review: Of the Wild Cards stories I’ve read, this is one of the harder ones to get into as someone who only casually follows the setting. Not that each one needs a special introduction, but that there are quite a few names dropped that I just don’t know very well and I probably would have benefited from knowing a bit more about them going in. That said, it’s not impossible to understand what’s going on. Getting all of the implications probably is beyond my ability as a casual reader, but it’s easy to feel that there’s history to this story, and a lot of paths overlapping. If finds a person who was involved in some Bad Shit realize just what she was a part of and then lose herself a bit to the grief and pain. It takes a friend to draw her back and ground her with something that goes beyond her, that puts responsibility on her in a way that means she _has_ to do good. And it helps to put her on a much better road. Now, there are some upsetting elements of the story, which I think it handles well, but there’s definitely a vivid child birth scene followed quickly by the death of the woman who gave birth, which is never light or fun. It’s heavy, and followed quickly by a father who can’t cope and there’s a part of me that wishes the redemption arc didn’t need a child for Zoe to mother, but I think the piece works, and there’s certainly a lot of moving parts, and I really enjoy the framing and outer story of Jonathan and his story. As part of a larger series, I think it does a very nice job of fitting in and showing that amid all the pain and death there are these moments of compassion and hope. And within that larger framework I think that the elements I personally struggled with would be smoothed out by the weave of the overarching narrative being told. And in any event, it’s a fine read!


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