BSFA Award Nominees: Short Story Club

Over at Everything is Nice, Martin Lewis is leading discussions of the nominees for the BSFA award for best short story of 2011 this week.

Links above are to the stories themselves, not this week’s posts about them.

Discussion of today’s story, Allan’s “The Silver Wind”, is already underway there if you’d like to join in.

Another Short Story Club

Just a quick post from me to say that those of you who enjoyed the last couple of years of short story clubs here might enjoy a project that Karen is kicking off over at the Locus Roundtable blog: a club to read some of this year’s award-nominated stories, on the following schedule:

  • May 22: “The Jaguar House, in Shadow”, Aliette de Bodard [nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula]
  • May 29: “Ponies”, Kij Johnson [nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula]
  • June 5: “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made”, Eric James Stone [nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula]
  • June 12: “The Things”, Peter Watts [nominated for a Locus, a Hugo, a BSFA, and a Shirley Jackson]
  • June 19: “Plus or Minus”, James Patrick Kelly [nominated for a Locus, a Hugo, and a Nebula]

So the first discussion is this Sunday. See you over there?

(Actually, while I’m here, I’ll also point out the ongoing Tiptree Award book club, which is working its way through some work from recent honor lists; they’ve discussed “Useless Things” by Maureen F. McHugh, “Galapagos” by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Lifelode by Jo Walton, and are currently considering “Beautiful White Bodies” by Alice Sola Kim.)

BSFA Nominees So Far: Best Short Fiction

Not surprisingly, the longest list so far: here’s all the works of short fiction that have received at least one nomination from BSFA members. Send yours to awards@bsfa.co.uk by the end of the day.

  • “Flying in the Face of God” by Nina Allan (Interzone 227)
  • “The Phoney War” by Nina Allan (Catastrophia)
  • “Feet of Clay” by Nina Allan (Never Again)
  • “Darwin Anathema” by Stephen Baxter (The Mammoth Book of Alternate History)
  • “Our Land” by Chris Beckett (Conflicts)
  • The Heart of a Mouse” by KJ Bishop (Subterranean)
  • “Hanging Around” by Neil K Bond (Shoes, Ships and Cadavers)
  • Hothouse Flowers” by Chaz Brenchley (The Bitten Word)
  • “Sussed” by Keith Brooke (Conflicts)
  • “Have Guitar Will Travel” by Chris Butler (The Immersion Book of SF)
  • The Nightmare of You and Death in the Room” by Christopher Adam (Hub 126)
  • “In the Long Run” by David L Clements (Conflicts)
  • “A War of Stars” by David L Clements (Analog Jan/Feb 2010)
  • “The Maker’s Mark” by Michael Cobley (Conflicts)
  • “Where the Vampires Live” by Storm Constantine (The Bitten Word)
  • “The Shoe Factory” by Michael Cook (Interzone 231)
  • “The Shipmaker” by Aliette de Bodard (Interzone 231)
  • “Spare Change” by Jay Eales (Murky Depths 12)
  • On Not Going Extinct” by Carol Emshwiller (Strange Horizons)
  • The Mad Scientist’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss (Strange Horizons)
  • Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” by Yoon Ha Lee (Lightspeed 4)
  • The Issuance of One Hundred and Thirty-Six” by Mark Harding (Future Fire 21)
  • The Red Bride” by Samantha Henderson (Strange Horizons)
  • “The Pearl Diver with the Gold Chain” by Paul Hogan (GUD 5)
  • “Ne Cadant in Obscurum” by David Hoing (The Company He Keeps)
  • Dali’s Clocks” by Dave Hutchinson (Daybreak)
  • On the Banks of the River Lex” by NK Jemisin (Clarkesworld)
  • Reflection” by Jessica E Kaiser (Future Fire 19)
  • “Hibakusha” by Keevil Tyler (Interzone 226)
  • “The Earth Beneath My Feet” by James Lecky (Jupiter 29)
  • “Torhec the Sculptor” by Tanith Lee (Asimov’s Oct/Nov)
  • “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life” by Rochita Luenen-Ruiz (Interzone 229)
  • Second Journey of the Magus” by Ian R MacLeod (Subterranean)
  • Havana Augmented” by Tim Maughan (M-Brane 12)
  • “War Without End” by Una McCormack (Conflicts)
  • Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots” by Sandra McDonald (Strange Horizons)
  • “Hirasol” by Melissa Mead (Bull Spec 2)
  • The Isthmus Variation” by Kris Millering (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “The Untied States of America” by Mario Milosevic (Interzone 228)
  • “The Raft of the Titanic” by James Morrow (The Mammoth Book of Alternate History)
  • “Trouble with Telebrations” by Tim Nickels (Catastrophia)
  • “The Cloth From Which She is Cut” by Gareth Owens (Fun With Rainbows)
  • Abandonware” by An Owomoyela (Fantasy)
  • “Fallout” by Gareth L Powell (Conflicts)
  • “Pallbearer” by Robert Reed (The Mammoth Book of Alternate History)
  • “Psi.Copath” by Andy Remic (Conflicts)
  • “Partly ES” by Uncle River (Albedo One)
  • A Serpent in the Gears” by Margaret Ronald (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “Red Letter Day” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Analog)
  • “In the Face of Disaster” by Ian Sales (Catastrophia)
  • Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra” by Vandana Singh (Strange Horizons)
  • “A Winter’s Tale” by Sarah Singleton (The Bitten Word)
  • “Songbirds” by Martin Sketchley (Conflicts)
  • “Coldrush” by Kari Sperring (The Bitten Word)
  • “Star in a Glass” by Vaughan Stanger (Music for Another World)
  • “The Shostakovich Ensemble” by Jim Steel (Music for Another World)
  • “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog)
  • “I Won the Earth Evacuation Lottery” by Tim C Taylor (Shoes, Ships and Cadavers)
  • To Soar Free” by Todd Thorne (Lorelei Signal)
  • “The Insurance Agent” by Lavie Tidhar (Interzone 230)
  • Cloud Permutations by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
  • “Lode Stars” by Lavie Tidhar (The Immersion Book of SF)
  • Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time” by Catherynne M Valente (Clarkesworld)
  • “Dark Mirrors” by John Walters (Warrior Wisewoman 3)
  • “A Walk of Solace with my Dead Baby” by Ian Watson (Shoes, Ships and Cadavers)
  • The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Cruel Ship’s Captain” by Harvey Welles and Philip Raines (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet)
  • “Mano Mart” by Andy West (Shoes, Ships and Cadavers)
  • “The Abomination of Beauty” by Ian Whates (The Bitten Word)
  • “Several Items of Interest” by Rick Wilber (Asimov’s)
  • “Arrhythmia” by Neil Williamson (Music for Another World)
  • “A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villains Too)” by Bill Willingham (Masked)

Four Stories by Nina Allan

Early on in “Wilkolak”, the story’s protagonist, a London-based Polish teenager known as Kip, has spotted and photographed a man who he thinks bears a striking resemblance to a wanted criminal. But:

Kip didn’t want to think about the murder. It was the photograph of the murderer that interested him, some loser with a plastic carrier bag crossing the street. The image might seem ordinary but Kip knew it wasn’t, that the very act of framing the man in his viewfinder and then choosing to release the shutter made the picture significant. The main point of a photograph was to invite you to look, to concentrate on the world around you a little harder.

“Wilkolak” (which can be found in Crimewave 11) is a horror story with only the faintest hint of a suggestion of a trace of anything not scrupulously mimetic, yet this is a passage that can be taken as emblematic of Nina Allan’s approach to the fantastic in her short fiction. Situations seem ordinary, but are not, and their lack of ordinariness is signalled primarily by small details or moments. In “Wilkolak”, for all that the criminal’s victim is one Rebecca Riding, last seen wearing a red coat, and for all that the predatory nature of the man in the photograph reminds Kip of the Polish folk tale from which the title is taken, there’s no suggestion that the game of is-he-or-isn’t-he-guilty is going to resolve into a literal werewolf tale. Rather, if the fantastic lurks anywhere in this story, it lurks in Kip’s interactions with his girlfriend, Sonia, who asks for a print of the photo only to later reveal that it reminds her of a man she saw in a dream, “some kind of monster … He could kill people, just by looking at them”; and who, after a perfect afternoon in a park, insists out of nowhere that she wants Kip “to know that whatever happened today was real … That all of this really happened.” Such moments may seem to be sidebars to the main action, which circles around Kip’s growing fascination with the man, but the psychic dread they evoke is the story’s true motor.

Kip’s attraction to photography is typical, though: a lot of Allan’s protagonists either are or know people of a creative bent. In other stories she’s published this year we find a blocked writer of fiction, a somewhat desperate journalist, a documentary film-maker, and an acquaintance of a painter. The last of these, in “The Upstairs Window” (Interzone 230), provides the opportunity for another seemingly self-reflective passage. His paintings appear to be an abstract mass of colours, but in fact are composed of miniature paintings of disparate objects, whose connection is not at all clear to Allan’s narrator, Ivan:

Whenever Niko was interviewed he was asked to spill the beans on what the pictures were supposed to mean but he always refused. He said the meaning of any painting always depended on who was looking at it. I’ve never had time for that kind of talk and I didn’t pay it much attention.

Ivan may not have time for this, but we should; just because Allan’s stories are filled with the specific does not mean — in the best cases — that they are overdetermined. To go back to the earlier quote, framing does not determine meaning; framing is an invitation to look at the world around you.

And even in her overtly fantastic stories, Allan’s settings are recognisably derived from the world around her: that is, contemporary London. Often, the fantastic has been normalised; the first indication that the setting of “The Upstairs Window” is in fact not contemporary London, at least not as we know it, is a passing reference to what seems to have been a theocratic revolution. Gradually a clearer picture emerges, of a Britain in which the “Bermondsey Statutes” have instituted severe restrictions on freedom of expression, including the reintroduction of the death penalty for particularly upsetting artists. It’s these statutes that Ivan’s artist friend, Niko, has fallen foul of, and which mean he needs to flee the country. But that’s not what the story is about, it’s just what happens, and only part of what happens, at that. None of the threads are fully resolved; as Lois Tilton observes, it makes for an ending that forces us to choose, to find the overt meaning that the collage of glimpses seems to deny.

There’s another departure in Allan’s other Interzone tale of the year, the more science-fictionally sophisticated “Flying in the Face of God” (IZ227). This might have been the story of a bold American astronaut, Rachel Alvin, who’s volunteered for the deep-space adaptations known as the Kushnev process. Like Cordwainer Smith’s Scanners, or the Spacers of Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah”, once she’s gone through the process, Rachel will be removed from the normal run of humanity. The initial physiological changes involve thickened skin, paled eyes, reduced need for food and water, and by the time of the voyage the fliers will be able to exist in a “a kind of para-existence.” Allan’s focus, however, is not on the changes experienced by the woman travelling to the stars, but on the continuity experienced by a woman who remains behind. “Flying” is actually the story of the London-based film-maker, Anita Schleif, who has already had one flier in her life — her mother, now dead — and who in getting to know Rachel has had the misfortune to fall in unrequited love with another.

It’s a story with a complex relationship with more conventional sf, fully engaged with the troubled myths of the frontier that space exploration stories always draw on, yet more about a life touched by sf, struggling to integrate an sfnal event into the texture of the everyday, than about a life being shaped by sf, or using sf to shape the world. This is, of course, how it is and will be for most of us, most of the time, and I think the great achievement of the story is in the way it establishes a firm connection to the reader (at least this English reader) while acknowledging the frustrating partiality of any human connection — and without selling the strangeness of the Kushnev process short, to the point of actually allowing and succeeding in a moment of honest-to-god sense of wonder, when Anita visits Rachel before her launch: “She’s really going up, thought Anita. For the first time the sight of her friend brought not sorrow or anger, but awe.”

It remains an awe rooted in the specific — in the sense that Anita has finally seen Rachel’s new reality — but “Flying in the Face of God” is rare among Allan’s stories for representing a connection between humans so generously. “The Phoney War”, perhaps the best story Allan has published in 2010, portrays a more fraught situation, at all levels. In the foreground of the story is a journalist, Nicky, setting out on a journey to find out what’s happened to an old friend, across a landscape that if we didn’t read the story in Allen Ashley’s anthology Catastrophia we might at first think is just the greyest parts of Britain on an off-day. It soon becomes clear, however, that there’s an ongoing and pervasive deterioration. There are problems with the power supply. There are no broadsheets on sale, only slimmed-down tabloids. Petrol stations are empty. As much as anything, Nicky keeps working to try to impose a frame on the uncertainty, to force herself to pay attention to the world.

She still wrote for the Clapham Gazette even though her writing no longer paid her enough to make ends meet. She wrote her regular column in the form of a diary and it satisfied the same purposes: the need to externalise thought, the need to make sense of her life and above all the need to keep a record of the things that happened.

As Nicky travels, and the story flashes between past and present, we learn that the cause of the chaos is the possibility of first contact. News of impending alien arrival has caused widespread panic, and the government appears to have taken the opportunity to impose a more autocratic regime; the extent to which the former is exaggerated as cover for the latter is, to those on the ground, unclear. But this remains background — a more insistent background than the worlds of “Flying in the Face of God” and “The Upstairs Window”, but nevertheless — with Nicky’s foremost concern her attempt to find her friend. When she succeeds, however, on the cold coast at Dungeness, she finds that personal truth remains just as elusive.

In her conversations with her friend, and with the “foreign-looking” man she turns out to be living with, Nicky is almost, but not quite, allowed to reach a moment of understanding; indeed, another way of looking at Allan’s stories is that they almost all, in different ways, address moments of hesitation, both for their characters and for their readers. They get away with it, I think, because of the normalised, even mundane nature of Allan’s settings; but “The Upstairs Window” leaves threads dangling; “The Phoney War” refuses any neat emotional closure; “Wilkolak” ends literally in mid-scene, much like Joe Hill’s “Best New Horror” leaving it to the reader to resolve the story. Only “Flying in the Face of God”, of the stories I’ve been discussing here, moves past the moment of hesitation to suggest that something like connection is possible — and even there, it may be a self-deluding, one-sided connection.

Nina Allan’s had a busy year, and a very strong one, yet I feel she’s still one of the better-kept secrets of British sf. What remains to be seen, I suppose, is how well she can sustain her approach — or how she evolves it — at greater length. Apparently she’s been putting the finishing touches to a novel; I’d like to read it.

Heliotrope

Speaking of Justina Robson, as we were, a link to this press release just dropped into my inbox:

Heliotrope coverTiconderoga Publications is excited to announce a forthcoming collection of stories by the Arthur C Clarke Award finalist and bestselling UK writer Justina Robson.

The collection is titled Heliotrope and scheduled for publication in 2011.

Justina Robson has published eight novels, including four books in the Quantum Gravity series. The fifth book, Down to the Bone, will be published in early 2011. She has been nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award twice, the Philip K Dick Award three times, the British SF Association Award twice and the John W Campbell Award.

Heliotrope is her first story collection.

Robson’s writing has been noted for sharply-drawn characters, and an intelligent and deeply thought-out approach to the tropes of the genre. M John Harrison has described her as “one of the very best of the new British hard SF writers”.

While Robson is noted as a novelist, she is also a Clarion West Workshop graduate and has been publishing short stories since 1994.

Justina Robson writes stories that are both emotionally moving and full of ideas,” Ticonderoga Editor Russell B Farr said.

“Her stories have the rare quality of simultaneously appealing to the head and to the heart,” he said.

Heliotrope collects sixteen stories, including the first print publication of “Dream of Mars”, and the never before published title novella “Heliotrope”.

“The collection has something for everyone, there is real variety in this book,” Russell added.

Heliotrope was sold via John Berlyne of the Zeno Agency.

Heliotrope will be published in April 2011 to coincide with Justina Robson’s Guest of Honour appearance at Australia’s 50th National Science Fiction Convention, to be held in Perth. The collection will be available in limited edition hardcover and trade editions.

I’ve been hoping someone would do this book for a few years now, so this goes straight on my to-buy list.

Short Story Club Post-Mortem

So, another round of short story club is complete. For reference, here are the links to the various stories and discussions:

As previously mentioned, I’d now like to open the floor for a more general discussion. There are two topics here. The major one is the stories themselves — which ones you liked, which you didn’t, what patterns or trends you spotted. And the minor one is about the logistics of the club — too many stories? Too few? Too similar? All feedback welcome.

Short Story Club: “Throwing Stones”

Plenty of comment for the final story, starting with Lois Tilton:

This is a lovely fantasy, mannered and sensuous. There is also a subtle subtext about the nature of gender roles that rouses echoes of our own culture.

Karen Burnham goes into more detail:

Baker offers a beautiful tale of identity, politics, power, and love, all intertwined together. Tuo feels just slightly alien, slightly Other, in an effectively disconcerting way. The gender power reversal works well, and the relationship between the goblin and the man, both physical and emotional, queers gender on several levels. Of course, much is left to the imagination of the reader. But in an allusive tale, the poetry of the prose is key, and lines such as:

I leaned forward and pressed my lips to the slick skin of his forehead; it tasted of salt and fish and something acrid I could not identify. The immediacy and honesty of it hit me like a gust of dry wind blowing fog from water.

show a mastery of craft — the repeated use of water imagery, the contrasts of dry wind and lake fog, and the overall rhythm of the piece all come together to make this tale well worth reading.

Matt H wasn’t so impressed by the gender reversal:

This is a story about a society with inverted gender roles, but the story feels like it was written about a woman in a male dominated society, then had all gender references inverted in revision. Certainly it doesn’t read any differently than its opposite, except perhaps to readers so new to the genre that they haven’t encountered a story challenging gender roles before. The story finally approaches interesting territory as the narrator is given a transient female body via magic, but the author seems like she’s in a hurry to reach the ending by this point and nothing much is done with it.

However:

all that said, I found myself won over to large degree upon finishing the story. Nothing about the writing jumped out at me as really superlative, but as a whole I was impressed with the execution: the slimy, amphibian true form of the goblin, the narrator’s hatred for his own body, the way the goblin’s chaos infects and destroys the narrator’s life in a way that he observes but doesn’t see as important, and then the implication that the goblin is here acting as an agent of Ru, the very goddess in whose name the matriarchs suppress the men in their society. These elements weren’t enough to turn this story into one more to my particular tastes, but they did make it unexpectedly enjoyable to read.

For Chad Orzel:

It’s very well written and paced, and what we see of the world is nicely detailed. But it seemed a little too obviously to be making a Point, and as a result didn’t really connect with me. Despite the fact that it’s a well put together story, I still found myself doing the “Yes, you’re very clever, now move it along,” thing, and that’s never good. But, of course, the usual disclaimers apply– it’s entirely possible that this is an idiosyncratic reaction on my part.

The one thing that struck me as a real flaw in the story, and not just something that failed to work for me, was the passivity of the narrator. I mean, this is supposedly a person who has embarked on a dangerous plan to subvert the basis of his whole society, and yet he never takes any initiative, ever. He doesn’t approach the goblin until the goblin notices him first, he just sort of falls into the relationship with the goblin without really wanting it, and he doesn’t really have a plan for how to get into the Temple structure until the goblin practically pushes him into it.

Maria Lin appears to disagree:

You could call “Throwing Stones” a romance, as the whole of it centers upon the relationship between these two characters. Baker manages to make slimy, froglike creatures sensual, which is some feat. Both the narrator and Luo are reserved, calculating people, but for the narrator at least the strength of emotion pushes through and makes things more complicated. By the end of the story the narrator has entered training in the temple, but their conspiracy has yet to be revealed, and the relationship between himself and Luo remains uncertain.

Because “Throwing Stones” leaves the stone still poised to be thrown in the end, the reader is left to come to their own conclusion about what will happen when our protagonist starts making ripples in his society. Baker has written a neat story with a sympathetic narrator that is worth checking out. She is also apparently working on a novel set in the same world, so if this story appeals you might have more to look forward to.

And for Pam Phillips:

The story attempts to turn our expectations about gender upside down, like the customers at the teahouse being powerful women, or the narrator blaming his/her shyness on being male (rather than just being born shy). And yet, I still mostly read both the narrator and the poet as men. Both feel stifled by the society they live in. Tuo wants the narrator to “throw a stone” into the lake of civilization, raising ripples that will someday lead to change.

But what is the change they want? The way the women in Jiun-shi are keeping (at least some) men from being what they want to be, suggests that no matter what, one side will oppress the other. Or maybe the idea of a city ruled by women is just trying to get us to think about how our world feels to some people. And this is where trying figure out what this story wants to be gets all slippery on me.

So, as ever, the floor is open. And pop back next Friday for a general discussion of the short story club — favourites and least favourites, what worked and what didn’t.

Short Story Club Reminder: “Throwing Stones”

For our final story, it’s back to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, for “Throwing Stones” by Mishell Baker.

Discussion will be on Sunday as usual. To pick up on a suggestion from a couple of weeks ago, though, I’m also inclined to do a general overview-of-short-story-club discussion later in the week — next Friday, maybe?

Short Story Club: “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory”

Some quite divergent opinions for this story. We start with Rich Horton, in the June Locus:

I was impressed last year by Paul M Berger’s Interzone piece “Home Again”. Now he contributes a brilliant story to Fantasy, one of the stories of the year so far, “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory”. Loran, an old elven warrior, has taken Jessica, a young human, as his wife, and the pair visit a tourist attraction, the ruins of the Gray Fort, one of the last human redoubts in the long war that ended with humans enslaved. We learn of the pair bond between the two, such that they both feel and sense what the other does, and some of human/elf history that led to the current debased state of humans. The title artwork is a very clever invention, and nicely reflected in the story’s two parts, one from the POV of each character. The direction the story takes is on the one hand predictable, but nicely executed, and with some ambiguities and surprises that give it freshness and depth.

For Pam Phillips the story is

the sort of story I was hoping to find when I decided to join the Short Story Club at Torque Control.

A elf, Loran, and his human wife, Jessica, visit a ruined fort. From the first words, the story does an excellent job of portraying how the bond between them allows them to share sensory input, but not thoughts.

Their conversation is filled with suggestions of an epic history, war, conquest, and resistance. Loran is so arrogant, you just know he has underestimated his wife. That we confirm when we read Jessica’s side of the story. I like the Rashomonization in getting different meanings from the same events, but I could live without the verbatim repetition of dialogue.

Only after the story is allowed to take shape, do we get to the conceit that spawned it: a stereogram that can only be comprehended by a bonded pair. This stereogram is wonderful enough, but the best part is the way it pays off in the ending.

Excellent.

And for Matt H it’s the best so far:

Perhaps the most interesting part of the setting, and probably the concept the author meant to actually show in the story’s “stereogram”, is the nature of the colonial government. Loran’s narrative makes it very clear that the Elves only respect strength and were in fact disappointed when they finally defeated humans. Unlike the colonial powers of our world, they don’t seem to be extracting labor or natural resources. There’s likewise no equivalent of the White Man’s Burden, or at least, not since the war ended, since they see humans as only being worthy of respect when they are capable of fighting the Elves. Yet Loran says that in his role as a sort of regional governor he is responsible for “teaching” the humans under his control. What could he want to teach them, then, if not to fight back again? It seems like we are meant to conclude that he has essentially planned his own murder. Although this level of manipulation seems well beyond his ability to comprehend human psychology, even Jessica’s despite the link between them, at least we can say he shaped the outline if not the detail of what happened. Thus what might have seemed like a rousing stick-it-to-the-man ending becomes fairly ambiguous. As readers we’re predisposed to be sympathetic to Jessica’s stand, but when we realize that in doing so she’s adopting the values of the colonial power, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Loran has made her into a William Wallace when humanity would be better served by a Mahatma Ghandi.

But Lois Tilton is ambivalent:

The narrative follows the stereogram pattern by relating the story first from Loran’s point of view and then Jessica’s. What’s going on here is subversion of the notion of the noble High Elf, as Loren regards himself, revealing them as a race that would destroy another civilization to give its people the perverse gift of recovering their own capacity for martial glory – and themselves a partner for war that they could consider worthy even as they destroy them. Loren’s own words indict him even more thoroughly than Jessica’s version of the events. I love the vision of the ruined fort, the scene of former glories, even knowing that the vision is false. But too much of this story depends on the notion of the marital pair-bond, which I can’t help finding contrived.

As is Chad Orzel:

I ended up being unimpressed with this, and I’m not sure exactly why. Mostly, it’s that I could see exactly where it was headed from about the point where the brain-sharing thing was explained, and knew it exactly by the time she picked up the dagger. The shift in perspectives was not that much of a revelation, and the whole thing unfolded with a sense of inevitability rather than a sense of wonder.

But again, as I say, I’m not really sure why my reaction to this is a jaded “Meh”– it’s not like there’s a huge glut of psychically linked elf stories on the market, and as a technical matter, it’s well done. Berger also deserves credit for having a return of magic without turning it into a My Awesome Werewolf Boyfriend kind of story.

It’s just… Something about the way it all unfolded wound up feeling, for me, more like the completion of a checklist than a compelling story. Remark about technology making humans weak, check. Remark about our world being too amazing to be true, check. Change in perspective making “courtship” seem really creepy, check. One of linked couple able to hide thoughts and plans from the other, check. And so on.

I’ll be interested to see where everyone else comes down on this one.

Short Story Club Reminder: “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory”

Can it be the penultimate short story club already? It seems so. This Sunday, we’ll be discussing Paul M Berger’s Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory.

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