Review: Tor.com, March/April 2019

Tor.com, March/April 2019

Original Fiction:

  • “Knowledgeable Creatures” by Christopher Rowe (fantasy short story)
  • “One/Zero” by Kathleen Ann Goonan (science fictional novelette)
  • “Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell (fantasy short story)
  • “Painless” by Rich Larson (science fictional short story)
  • “Mama Bruise” by Jonathan Carroll (horror short story)

The March/April edition of Tor.com Short Fiction contains three stories which fall on the positive side of the ledger to varying degrees and two clean misses. It also contains a lot of dogs and in-laws (with one story including both and only one including neither).

One/Zero” theorizes that all the current technological invasions of the privacy of citizens by multinational corporations is good for us and will eventually enable an “SI” to save refugee children and initiate an era of whirled peas. Unless it’s intended ironically, it’s an unconvincing story of simple idealism and is handwavingly plotted, not just with a deus ex ending, but a deus ex beginning, middle, and end. At one point, one of the two focal characters says, “I can’t imagine why I have custody of [a] superintelligence, but I don’t have time to worry about it, either.” And so it all goes.

The other miss, “Mama Bruise,” involves a woman’s dad, who ruined his life via drug addiction, being reincarnated as a magical dog set on making amends until things begin going wrong. This is a real mongrel of a tale. The idea strikes me as silly and there is some humor. But darkness is also intended. And something that goes beyond dark and seems unmerited. Meanwhile, there are marital issues and in-law issues and lots of anecdotes about the dog’s antics which just don’t seem especially focused and don’t drive the tale. It’s possible to create a funny, scary, personal/public mix of a fantasy/horror (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer) but this just seemed incoherent and ineffective.

Blue Morphos” also deals with marital problems and in-laws, but more directly. A woman has fallen in love with and has a child with a man but refuses to marry him because doing so would make her one of the family. And that family’s members do not die but give a whole new meaning to the notion that “we shall be changed.” They turn into parts of the family home or furniture or, in the case of the story’s opening death, into butterflies. The woman has problems with the in-laws and wants to die her way, a wish given more urgency because she has a terminal disease. It’s quite possible that I’m not responding to this story properly because I’m very tired of reading about women metamorphosing (usually into sea creatures or flying things) and this led with that, though it’s not specifically about that. It does a decent job of most of what it’s aiming at and the antagonistic relation between the woman and one in-law is done very well.

On the flipside, I may be responding too favorably to “Knowledgeable Creatures” despite its underwhelming ending because I greatly enjoyed most of the tale. A private eye (who also happens to be a dog) relates the story of the woman who came to him with the belief that she’d committed a murder. Via heavy foreshadowing which builds great anticipation and generally expert revelations of milieu, we come to understand that this is an alternate fantasy world in which the alchemist Newton and his mouse uplifted many animals. Or was it the mouse and his Newton? This is the crux of the conspiracy theory in this almost theocratic milieu which resulted in the heretic historian woman and another orthodox professor having their incident. The dog has already been fired from the police force due to his interest in the issue and is drawn into it again, despite himself.

It’s probably exactly the foreshadowing which is both a virtue and a vice of this story as it inflates the expectations for the ending. There’s nothing exactly “wrong” with that ending in the sense of being discordant but it’s too quick, predictable, and underwhelming. With a little tweaking, it might be an excellent opening to a novel but it’s not an entirely satisfactory story. It’s still worth noting for its initial delight and obvious skills, though.

Finally, I’ve previously reviewed and recommended Painless” at Tangent.

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