Pretty much praise all around for this one. Let’s start with Rich Horton, in the March Locus:
[at Strange Horizons] In January, my favourite story is sf: “The Shangri-La Affair” by Lavie Tidhar. Sometime in the near future a man comes to Laos on a mysterious mission, as war continues to sweep through Asia. The familiar routines are enacted: the flight in on Nuevo Air Amerika; the rendezvous with an enchanting woman; the journey to a hidden city. Slowly we learn the man’s mission. He is trying to find and destroy the only samples of a dangerous plague, but is it dangerous? That turns out to be a good question, one Tidhar leaves the reader to answer, making this a fine, thought-provoking story.
Lois Tilton at IROSF:
Very edgy and unsettling stuff, best read to the Ride of the Valkyries and evoking a cynical world of spooks and black ops as well as a skiffy side of robotic and cyborg warriors and designer bioweapons, as well as the obligatory sexy Asian girl.
Tidhar’s story reads like a drug-infused John Le Carré novel, if Le Carré wrote science fiction and dropped LSD as he pounded on the typewriter. The narrative is tense and action-based, pulling the reader through a story with flat-out beautiful prose. The result is a tale which is both fun to read, and a fascinating glimpse into the madness of future wars. All in all, an amazing accomplishment, and highly recommended.
It’s James’ favourite of the short story club:
I loved the style of the writing, it had a great sense of place, with some really groovy description: funky, cool and foreign. It has plenty of background tech scenery, the sort of layers that give the future a good sense of believability, combined with some striking descriptive images.
The POV is a bit slippery in places, along with the nameless protagonist, and I liked both, producing a tale-of-the-past feel combined with a kind of Ludlum-esque Bourne style espionage.
It doesn’t skimp on ideas either, leaving a rather large question for discussion at the end: is peace enforced by biological means something we should use? Peace or slavery?
I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Probably my favourite of the entire story club so far. Highly recommended.
And it sent Evan on a Tidhar binge:
This week’s short story club story is The Shangri-La Affair by Lavie Tidhar, who I’d never heard of before.
It’s really quite good.
I was struck from the first by the confidence of the narrative voice. The story follows an unnamed protagonist from a quite close third-person perspective through a future war in South-East Asia, concerning a particular MacGuffin in the form of a peace plague (the Shangri-La of the title), virally transmissable fellow-feeling that stops hostilities in their tracks. We only get to see its effects for a moment before everything is blown to atoms by the unseen backers of our nameless viewpoint character. The story’s prime emotional conflict is his struggle between destroying the peace plague and letting it spread. Finally, he decides that peace not chosen is no peace worth having. This struggle would have more resonance if we had some theory as to how the peace plague works. If the reader were allowed another viewpoint on whether or not the plague nullifies free will, it very well might deepen the effect of his choice. The doubt it still there, but I think that it’d be better if it were made a bit more explicit.
The story isn’t perfect, of course. There are only token female characters and the people that we encounter for the most part are generic Men of Action and Consequence. The plot is at least four decades old and the tone is taken straight from smeary spy novels set in warzones far away from the home front, without any real engagement with the consequences of the war on the people who live there. What virtue the piece has lies in the cleverness of its synthesis of these elements, and I think that it succeeds very well (that said, I tend towards synthesis in my tastes, perhaps to a fault, Gene Wolfe and Michael Swanwick being favorites of mine).
Since reading it, I’ve gone on something of a Tidhar binge, and what is out there on line really strikes me as quality stuff, some of it better, I think, than this particular piece, 304 Adolf Hitler Strasse over at Clarkesworld being the best of the stuff online, in my opinion, at least that I’ve found. I also went out and bought HebrewPunk and ordered The Bookman, so I may be in the throes of an irrational enthusiasm. Looking forward to what he produces in the future.
With an explanation of how he’s using synthesis here (useful perspective, I think). But what did everyone else think?