“The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, by Kij Johnson

Winner: 2012 Hugo Award – Best Novella

Winner: 2012 Nebula Award – Best Novella

Nominee: 2012 Locus Award – Best Novella

The title of this story describes exactly what it delivers, a quiet unassuming tale of Kit, a government official who is assigned to a rural area to oversee the construction of a quarter-mile suspension bridge.  The bridge is needed to bring two parts of the faraway Empire together, but it isn’t a river or other body of water that separates them, but rather some form of semi-solid mist, which is patrolled by legendary creatures known only as the “Big Ones”.  Transportation across the mist has previously been provided by ferrymen, including Rasali, whom Kit meets immediately upon his arrival and then of course ends up carrying on a relationship over the five years or so that it takes to construct the bridge.

Johnson sets the right tone and pace to this story, but in the end I’m not sure if it all has much of a point.  The mist is implied to have some sort of water underneath it, so why not just have it be a river instead of mist at all, other than to make it more “fantastical”?  The locals are surprisingly welcoming to Kit considering his job is to completely change their way of life, and it doesn’t seem to occur to him until well into his relationship with Kasali that he is effectively putting her and the rest of her profession out of business.  Kit also feels personally responsible for any casualties that are a result of the bridge construction, even though everyone who works on the bridge gets paid and does so willingly.  The Big Ones serve no other purpose than to make the mist crossing more perilous, they only claim one victim during the course of the story, and that happens offstage.

So while this story sets up an interesting tableau with a well-defined setting and some decent characters, there’s really not much conflict, it feels like the first couple of chapters of a larger story.  There is some attempt to draw parallels between the physical bridge building and the societal connections facilitated by those who build it, but it’s not very convincing.   Overall a pleasant story, I just wish there was a little more to it.

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