Tor.com, February 2023
“The Counterworld” by James Bradley
“Even If Such Ways Are Bad” by Rich Larson
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
Two stories featuring characters dealing with painful memories appear in this issue.
The protagonist of “The Counterworld” by James Bradley finds herself in an alternate reality where the son she lost to cancer never existed. No one else has any memory of the child. Only a reflection in a mirror allows her a glimpse of the world she remembers.
More of a mood piece than a plot-driven narrative, this story can be interpreted as an allegory for loss and the process of mourning. In her own world, the woman suffered severe depression after the death of her son and required medical treatment. In the alternate reality, her husband and friends blame her confusion on a nervous breakdown she experienced in the past. Thus, it is possible to read the work as a study of mental illness rather than as fantasy. In either case, this deceptively quiet tale allows the reader to empathize with the main character, even if it lacks a complete resolution.
In “Even If Such Ways Are Bad” by Rich Larson, two people are the only humans aboard a living starship on its way to a distant world to make a mining claim for their employers. They carry an object with an unknown purpose aboard the vessel. One of the two has erased the memory of a tragic event during his childhood from his mind. Only when they reach the planet do they understand the connection between his past and the mysterious object they are transporting.
The main appeal of this story is the author’s imaginative use of speculative biotechnology, which is described in a vivid and visceral way. The plot depends on the man recovering his memories from the device in which they are stored during the voyage. It seems unlikely that his employers could have predicted this. Readers may also find it difficult to accept that the two characters would be willing to carry the enigmatic object in complete ignorance of its use.
Victoria Silverwolf saw some Canadian geese flying overhead yesterday.