Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Quick Sips - Tor dot com November 2020

Art by Red Nose Studio
November brings two short stories and a novelette to Tor, and a sense that each is playing with history in some interesting ways. The first is historical fantasy, looking at a past where vampires not only exist, but must police their own in the face of certain corruptions. Another looks at a world touched by the strange and otherworldly, a history turned familial when one character learns of their own connections to the sea, and to the beyond. And the final story deals with alternative history, with increasingly drastic attempts to change something that seems so small and simple, except that nothing is small or simple, everything large in the lens of humans lives. So yeah, to the reviews!


“Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law” by Lavie Tidhar (5712 words)

No Spoilers: Judge Dee has been called to a distant mountain by a vampire who’s lost his brother, and so the judge, a member of a shadowy vampire Council, responds...with his human companion, Jonathan. There are laws, after all, that govern even vampires, though they are not human laws by any means. But the man who summons them insists one concerning vampires murdering vampires has been broken, and he demands satisfaction from Judge Dee, who is compelled to investigate. All is not as it seems in the vampire strongholds, though, and Judge Dee has to figure out whether his judgments are needed at all while Jonathan mostly just suffers along and looks forward to opportunities to eat.
Keywords: Vampires, Judges, Titles, Laws, Food
Review: I like the vaguely Holmes/Watson relationship that Dee and Jonathan have, the way that Jonathan is a bit out of his depths, struggling along, while Dee is mostly aloof, a bit stuck up, but also a keen observer. Dee is the detective while Jonathan is there in part of give the human perspective on the goings on of vampires. Including giving their adventures adequately Watsonian names. And so much of the piece seems to come down to hungers, to restraint and lack thereof. It carries through in the way that Dee kinda judges Jonathan on his eating, on his hungers, without really realizing that humans are not vampires. That hunger effects them differently. For Dee, hunger is something he knows how to deny, to live with. And so he sort of assumes that others will be the same way. But he also has endurance, has strength, has things that Jonathan does not, and doesn’t really give Jonathan credit for being just as strong willed as he is. In that way Dee opens himself to be surprised, because he doesn’t understand human hungers, because to him they must pale in comparison to vampire ones. Only...that doesn’t play out, and I love the way that works. That here the hungers are not always for food. Sometimes it is for justice, which Dee should also understand, but just like human hungers miss him, so too do human laws, because he in many ways sees vampires as above those. When, as the story underlines, that’s not strictly true. It’s a story with a nice mix of action and cold deduction. With a bit of a twist that is interesting and keeps Dee on his toes. To the point that he does in some ways become an instrument of justice, just not in the way he anticipated. It’s a fun read and I hope there’s more from the setting and characters!

“On Safari in R’lyeh and Carcosa with Gun and Camera” by Elizabeth Bear (10974 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story, who is not named Greer Griswold but who is going by that to protect her true identity, is a physicist and, it turns out, might be part of something she didn’t know existed. And she, along with her geneticist friend Roberts, get rather involved with a strange but exciting discovery, all because of an at home DNA test that Greer did that yielded some...unexpected results. And it’s a gateway that leads down a rabbit hole of weird shit happening, the eldritch rubbing elbows with Greer’s own desire to belong. Plus, you know, tentacled monsters trying to eat people’s faces. There’s a bit of that, too. And it’s an interesting, careful story about discovering some strange, non-Euclidean branches on the old family tree and...making a kind of peace with that.
Keywords: Lovecraftian, Transportation, Genetics, Seas, Transformations
Review: I like the energy of the piece, which is at the same time tired and excited. Greer has been not unhappy exactly with the trajectory of her life. She’s done it, largely on her own terms, and she’s achieved some measure of success. But there is a sense of...yearning for something that pervades. She wants something, feels a lack, but really isn’t sure the shape of that. She wants a connection and, what’s more, probably to awaken a bit more from the slump she’s hit with her career, where she’s a professor but doesn’t seem plugged into any new project outside of that. She’s curious, but doesn’t have much cause to really fully engage that. And this adventure promises to sort of give her a way to do all of that. To find connections she never knew she wanted or could have. To find a project that will challenge her in unexpected and new ways. To find a place for herself, or at least to find a place to start looking for that place. In many ways the story follows a series of accidents, but it’s no accident that she goes looking and keeps looking. And without that, she would have stayed safely at home. No, despite the haphazard nature of her journey, it’s one where she is driving, just into the unknown. Every time there’s an off-ramp, she keeps going, because there’s something about this that compels her. Not just the blood in her veins and the way the ocean will eventually shape her. But because it’s what she does when she’s presented with a scientific puzzle. She wants to explore it, to study it, to prize it apart. And it’s a fun and neat way of coming at the mess that is Lovecraftian mythos. Not focusing on the ways it breaks people, makes them feel insignificant, but on the people who are faced witih the possibly violent unknown and push forward into it, their curiosity driving them to whatever discovery, or ends, they will find. A great read!

“No Period” by Harry Turtledove (2664 words)

No Spoilers: This story unfolds around the personal history of Jack, the narrator, as well as his increasingly intricate thought experiments to imagine a world where he and his ex had stayed together. Which isn’t exactly where the story begins, because it’s also a bit about his conversation with his daughter about relationships, about love and hurt, about breaking up. About the bridge that’s often too far to communicate across generations. And it’s a strange, fairly conversational, more stream of consciousness story that loops, utilizing its form, and the promise of no period, or no terminating punctuation at all, to underline its message.
Keywords: Stream of Consciousness, Alt-History, Relationships, Family, Though Experiments
Review: This story is a bit of a strange one, tying itself formally to the idea of no periods. No period, to match this sense that the narrator has that there is no world, no history, which exists or could have existed that might have seen him and his ex work out. Which in some ways is an exercise in futility, this thought experiment, because of course that would be the case. If there’s no way in this history, where they at least almost made it, there wouldn’t be a world where changing things would benefit. Because they’d never even meet, most likely, and even if they did they’d either be the same people at their cores anyway or so different that it wouldn’t work out whatever. And I like how the story frames itself as this loop, because for me it sort of conveys the frantic pace of a doubt, a lingering fear, an insecurity. It’s a mouse running the little wheel, going nowhere but still compelled to run. And for the narrator it seems that he just can’t get over this thought of his ex, the person he wasn’t destined to be with, the person in fact he doesn’t want to have been with, but that he worries that maybe he’s done something wrong, like their relationship is a mark against him, a bad grade, and he wonders if he had gotten a better grade, aced that relationship, it maybe he’d be...happier? The answer, despite countless permutations and mental gymnastics involving a god-like power to change history on a whim, seems to be no. That what’s happened has worked out for the best and he shouldn’t get stuck questioning it to death, poking it, never stopping to just enjoy that he is happier than he was, than he would have been. All because time is long, aging is hard, and looking back sometimes makes a person wonder about what might have been. It’s an interesting read, not super long, with some nice moments and a quick, engaging voice. A great read!


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