sf short story reviews pt 4

“Saving Tiamaat”, Gwyneth Jones (The New Space Opera, Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, eds., Eos)

Jones puts a novel’s worth of background into this story about two ambassadors from a war-torn planet, Baal and Tiamaat, who are being hosted by the narrator Debra in a giant converted asteroid. While humanoid, the two aren’t human, and the strong class hierarchy of their planet comes to the fore when Baal hunts down and kills one of his fellow KiAn in some sort of bloodlust. The incident is smoothed over, but ultimately Debra’s real job has to kick in an Baal meets his demise, for reasons that aren’t really clear, it would seem to have something to do with his compatriot Tiamaat being the preferred representative, but she turns out to be controlled by the same natural forces as Baal. Anyway, Jones sets up the politics of the situation, the interaction between alien races, the setting on board the station, the personalities of the characters, and every other little detail as though she were going to invest a lot more time in the story than what you end up with. The richly thought-out setting impresses, but there’s very little confrontation driving the plot, and since the motives behind the pivotal action are somewhat circumspect, the story ultimately doesn’t have the impact it could have had.

“A Small Room in Koboldtown”, Michael Swanwick (Asimovs, April-May 2007)

This story puts forth an interesting premise, where the living and the dead operate on more or less equal footing, solving a murder gets to be a bit of a challenge. Told as a basic formula detective story, a body, missing its heart, found in a locked room, etc., the detectives have a ready-made suspect but immediately poke holes in the obvious theory and go looking for the real story. The victim is a professional pit boxer, which distinguishes itself from regular boxing in that the fights are always to the death, and his career record was 3-2. Once this bit of information is revealed, the idea that the dead don’t necessarily stay dead make for some interesting possibilities with whodunnit, and the detectives solve the case without much further ado. The basic setting of this story where this sort of thing can happen is alluded to but not really explained, as this is a standalone part of a novel, but the general idea is clear enough that further details probably don’t matter too much. Swanwick has a plot and he knows where he’s going from the beginning, a much more linear story than what you usually get from him, nothing too deep, but an entertaining read.

“Always”, Karen Joy Fowler (Asimovs, April-May 2007)

This quiet, nicely done story concerns the town of Always, an outpost in the Santa Cruz mountains during the 1930’s run by one Brother Porter, who attracts various people that are intrigued by his promise of immortality. Basically a cult, but not really religious, the narrator arrives with her boyfriend while still in their twenties, and describes the daily routine in a matter of fact way as she adapts to the idea of living forever and basically knowing everyone you’re ever going to know and what they do all day every day, to the point that she mostly stops responding or talking to people because there’s nothing new to react to. The town lives off of the passing tourists and seems to be largely unaffected by the outside world, even as World War II comes and goes. Brother Porter ultimately meets an ignominious end at the hands of one of his subjects, and eventually people start to drift away until only the narrator is left, with nowhere in particular to go but not necessarily sad about it either. There’s not a big point being made here or anything, and it’s not even really sf, since the promised immortality is more of a state of mind than anything else. Fowler doesn’t let the normal sf trappings get in the way of her little tale, and in this case that’s just fine.

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