Tor.com, January 2020 "Something Fishy" by Harry Turtledove "Always Something New" by Harry Turtledove "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" by Harry Turtledove "How Quini the Squid Misplaced His Klobučar" by Rich Larson "The Girlfriend's Guide to Gods" by Maria Dahvana Headley "The Case of the Somewhat Mythic Sword" by Garth Nix
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
This month, three closely linked tales from a master of alternate history serve as an introductory offering of original fiction, followed by another trio of imaginative stories, ranging from cyberpunk to historical fantasy.
The works by Harry Turtledove all take place in an imaginary version of the year 1980, and feature the same protagonist. In this world, parts of northern California and southern Oregon combined to form the state of Jefferson. Much more startling is the fact that the governor of Jefferson is a Sasquatch. Other fantastic beings appear in the stories as well.
In “Something Fishy,” the huge, furry governor has to settle a dispute among dredgers, Native Americans, and merfolk about fishing rights. “Always Something New” deals with the discovery of a gigantic fish, surviving from ancient times. The plot of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” deals with the return of an American hostage from Iran, in this case a fellow Sasquatch.
All of the stories make for light, pleasant reading. The protagonist is likable, and the narration has a realistic, matter-of-fact style. The plots are not particularly dramatic, and it would be easy to dismiss these tales as enjoyable trifles.
Barcelona in the near future is the setting for “How Quini the Squid Misplaced His Klobučar” by Rich Larson. The narrator has a grudge to settle with his former employer, a dangerous crime lord. One of his associates is the criminal’s ex-lover, who also has a score to settle with him. The other is a young man who has a vital role to play in their plan. His importance lies in the fact that, unlike almost everyone else in this future, he has no electronic devices in his body. Together they plan to steal a priceless work of biological art from the crime boss.
In essence, this is a violent crime story, making use of the familiar plot of a meticulously planned heist that goes terribly wrong. The resolution depends on an unexpected bit of very good luck that saves the narrator from certain death. The best part of this story is its background, a richly detailed world full of imaginative, highly advanced technology.
“The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods” by Maria Dahvana Headley makes use of various ancient legends to symbolize a woman overcoming the challenges in her relationships with men. There is no real plot; rather, the myths of Orpheus, Icarus, and Zeus serve as metaphors for failed love affairs and imperfect marriages. The story ends on an inspirational note, with the narrative addressed to a woman who emerges from Hades to become a goddess.
This brief piece has the feeling of a prose poem, with imagery that is often evocative but not always clear. Some readers may appreciate its positive message of self-reliance.
The heroes of “The Case of the Somewhat Mythic Sword” by Garth Nix are an aristocratic cousin of Sherlock Holmes and his companion, a female medical student. In this magical version of Victorian England, they investigate a knight from Arthurian legend who appears in the basement of a pub. During a previous adventure, the cousin suffered a curse that causes him to change into a deadly being under certain circumstances. This can help him overcome his enemies, but poses a threat to those around him.
The fantasy content of this story seems random; almost anything can happen at any time. This makes for many dramatic scenes, but renders the plot arbitrary. In particular, the curse from which the cousin suffers makes him far more hazardous than helpful to those who engage him.
Victoria Silverwolf believes this is the largest number of original stories Tor.com has presented in a single month.