Thursday, December 31, 2020

Quick Sips - Tor dot com December 2020

Art by Micah Epstein
Just one novelette to close out the year for December’s Tor dot com, and it’s a return to a familiar setting for regular Tor readers. Wild Cards is a fascinating project, a world explored by a range of authors across a long stretch to alternate history. This story keeps things contemporary in that history, checking back in on Rustbelt and his adopted daughter as things in Jokerville get a bit…political. The story might lack some of the big spills that make the setting often rather action oriented, but it provides an interesting mystery instead, and a lot of character work. And before I give too much away, let’s just get to the review!


“Hammer and Tongs and a Rusty Nail” by Ian Tregillis (15169 words)

No Spoilers: Wally, aka Rustbelt, has been keeping more of a low profile since adopting his daughter, Ghost. It’s taken him away from some of the tragedies that have been happening internationally, and here it gives him a chance to consider when someone approaches him to run for a newly open seat on the City Council. Given that Wally isn’t exactly the sharpest tack, for all he’s a big metal man, he takes his incredibly earnest self in search of a campaign manager, and might find just the person in an ace who might be the strongest man alive. The piece jumps between perspectives, but keeps from and center this rather quiet, rather slice-of-life tale of one honest politician.
Keywords: Wild Cards, Superpowers, Politics, City Councils, Family
Review: This story really goes all in with Wally being just about as earnest as good-meaning as possible, a would-be politician who is perhaps something of a palate-cleanser for those dealing with the continued...political situation domestically in the US. It’s both where the story manages to be rather fun and good natured and where it might fail a bit to really complicate what is a number of very difficult issues. Because, well, Wally isn’t exactly a character who is good at tackling subtlety. And so you get moments where he makes sure to ask Mordecai, a Black man, to...forgive him for not saying a racist slur. And the moment is...well, Mordecai seems to understand the deep uncomfortableness of it, but it’s still just seen as Wally being earnest, caring what people think of him. And...there’s that cost of that, where Wally leans on seeming to be white-coded, despite being made of metal. He’s an example of a good-hearted guy who seems to do his best for himself and those he cares about, who tries to do the right thing, but who definitely treats things in this simple way. He can’t be racist, he’s too pure. And it underlines how truly awful he would be in politics, where at best it seems like he’d be a tool used by other people to move policy and at that point it doesn’t seem as much of a victory. And I mean, the story is fine, the plot and the action fun, and I like the relatively low stakes here. For all that it might be a balm for some who find modern politics to be too contentious and mean, though, it’s not a balm for those whom politics has always failed, regardless of how earnest and ho-hum it seemed. But still, for fans of the setting it’s a fun little read and otherwise I certain recommend checking it out and making up your own mind. Indeed!


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