|Art by Kuri Huang|
September brought three new fiction releases from Tor's digital arm, two short stories and a novelette with a bit of a mind-bending feel to them. From the "real world" slipping into fantasy to scientific proofs of life after death to a kind of disease that takes away people's sleep cycles, the works explore things happening that completely change how people live. How people adapt. How people strive for something better, even when they are afraid, and challenged, and tired. To the reviews!
“The Hundredth House Had No Walls” by Laurie Penny (4393 words)
No Spoilers: The King of Myth and Shadow is bored. Bored because ruling well for five hundred years has...well, it hasn’t exhausted his supply of stories to tell, but it’s left him without much of a challenge. Everything is too easy, his life just a series of successes that don’t really have much in the way of stakes anymore. So of course what’s a king to do but travel to New York and see if there’s something that will kickstart his excitement. Turns out there is. This is a rather charming story, told with a touch of the surreal, a blending of fantasy and reality, speaking in some ways to how some artists handle success, and how some handle relationships.
Keywords: Stories, Music, Relationships, Dating, CW- Pregnancy, Magic
Review: It’s hard for me not to read into this story a take on art and success, where the king, Colin, is someone who’s basically always found success rather easy. He has a gift, a touch of magic, and so his stories always struck a chord. They always landed right, and they brought him wealth and influence, even if that’s not really what he was looking for. But it’s also made him bored. Bored despite the fact that he can still create stories and those stories seem to still be able to maintain his lifestyle and position. Which I mean I’d guess is a fear for artists who might reach a place where they’re not just okay but doing well off their art, this worry that there will be boredom, that there will be something vital missing, even while there’s the comfort and ease. The story finds the king finding what’s missing for him in a romantic partner. Which might not be the healthiest way of doing things but the story is something of a romance so it makes sense here, showing the whirlwind nature of this budding relationship, the way that the two play off each other, the way they inspire and entertain each other, challenging each other out of their respective funks so that they’re able to enjoy life again. But for all that he’s still kind of stuck in his ease, too used to everything happening that he wants to happen, not used to being told no, to being denied. And he does have to learn a bit how that works before he can fully “make it work” with his new love, even as “making it work” means just sort of living with the mess. The piece is interesting, and I wish a bit that it had explored more that behind all of the king’s ease and success have been women doing labor for him that he never really thinks about, even when it’s in this relationship. There are times he shows his true colors here, his carelessness, and yet he’s still passed through, and I gotta admit that definitely makes this less romantic in my mind because that never fully gets addressed. It gets brought up, though, and maybe the point is to let that linger with the readers, to let them decide if this is at its heart a happily ever after story or if there’s something deeper and darker going on. Certainly a piece to spend some time with, though, and a fine read.
“The Vetting” by Michael Cassutt (6685 words)
No Spoilers: Bruno is a lawyer doing pro bono work trying to help immigrants who have been detained upon landing at LAX. His most recent client is a man named Ruteb, a researcher who has been studying the science of the afterlife, and who has some insights into it that kind of shatter Bruno’s view on...a lot of things. Of course, having that kind of information isn’t exactly safe, and the piece veers into action as Bruno is pulled into something much bigger than he expected. It’s a slightly philosophical piece but it doesn’t really have time to fully explore all the implications, as it’s also a story that ramps up the pacing once shit hits the fan. It’s a piece that packs quite the punch, complicating the idea of death and souls and science in some interesting ways.
Keywords: Death, Afterlife, Souls, CW- ICE, CW- Suicide
Review: This is a weird story, and not just because it involves what sounds like a university somehow funding the most successful terrorist attack on an American airport ever. Rather, it’s strange because it asks readers to imagine that the afterlife was no longer a question of scientific doubt. That there was proof that there was an afterlife, that a soul lives on after death in some form. Or, well, that a soul can live on after death. Or it can be annihilated if the death involves the body being vaporized, because the soul is actually something physical, is a collection of particles that the body releases at death. It brings up a lot of questions, because it makes death not exactly the great equalizer, if some deaths are “better” than others, if some destroy your very soul. And it’s information with some huge implications, though the story doesn’t really explore that too much. It does shake Bruno to his core, though. A cancer survivor who still is looking at a greatly shortened lifespan, he’s stared down death before, but never with the idea that how he died was actually important to his soul. And the story does show that it’s an idea that many people have some extreme reactions to. The action is rather intense, and the piece looks in some ways at the different ways people can react to the news, be it by taking their deaths into their own hands to prevent annihilation, or trying to stay alive in order to do something meaningful in life, even if it carries the risk of the ultimate loss. It’s a fascinating premise, and certainly a piece to spend some time with!
“Zeitgeber” by Greg Egan (10335 words)
No Spoilers: Something has happened that has thrown off the sleep cycles of a lot of people, including Sam and Laura’s daughter, Emma. At first they think maybe it’s just a fluke, or a temporary illness. But over time, as the condition spreads more and more, it becomes obvious that this isn’t some random event. The effects on the family are profound, as are the effects on society as a whole, as huge numbers of people find that they are out of sync with the rest of humanity. What follows are Sam’s attempts to come to terms with what has happened, to try and work to change things so that those like his daughter aren’t left behind and cut off from the rest of the world. It’s something that’s complicated by the origins of the change, though, and the push to return things to the status quo.
Keywords: Time, Sleep, Family, Parenting, Schools
Review: The sleep aspects of the story are certainly interesting, and I like how they are explored, the repercussions to great because the world works in part based on this shared concept of sleeping and waking. Take that away, and so much falls apart. And I love how the story shows people adapting to this, people having to figure ways to run schools so that all children are being served. It’s a little disappointing that the victims of this whole thing, those who find that they cannot cope with what’s happened, whose business are not able to be switched over, adults who find that they are completely fucked, are really shown. And that comes from centering the story on a character who isn’t effected by the change directly. Sam has to deal with what his daughter is going through, so there is a vicarious element to it, but otherwise the story doesn’t explore the impact on adults. The way that they are even more penalized than children because of the heavy financial burden adults carry. We get to see Emma start to have an identity tied to her new status quo, but I wish there had been more voice given to the people who would embrace this as adults, or would want to, or would find it works better for them, only to have it all taken away. Still, it’s a fascinating situation, and one that allows the story to show what it does to the family of Sam, Laura, and Emma. Really the story becomes about parenting, about listening to children, and being open to see that the system might not be working for everyone. Of course, that it takes so much for even these people to want change when it’s their own child being effected sort of speaks to how hard substantive change is likely to be, but the story does leave some hope that maybe some people at least would choose what’s best for a person over what’s best for capitalism. And through that it comments on the need for adults to address how the system is broken for a lot of people, and needs to be fundamentally shifted in order to reach for something more just for all. And that’s something. A fine read!