Tor.com, May 2021
“The Lay of Lilyfinger” by G. V. Anderson
“Blood in the Thread” by Cheri Kamei
“Ripple Effects” by Laura J. Mixon
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
This month’s offerings vary from pure fantasy to realism with a touch of the fantastic to superhero fiction.
“The Lay of Lilyfinger” by G. V. Anderson takes place in an imaginary world inhabited by humanoid beings of many different kinds. Some have wings, others have fur, and so forth. A musician, who gave up her wings in order to leave her native land, travels to another country with an apprentice to perform a long and complex song at a coming-of-age ceremony. Among the challenges she faces are physical pain caused by the loss of her wings, damage to her instrument, the difficult transition of her apprentice from child to young adult, and disagreements with local musicians as to the proper way to perform the song.
The author displays a vivid imagination in the creation of this exotic setting. The reader comes to believe that this world has a long and complex history. The characters, although strange, are ones with whom one can empathize. Many will find the setting and the characters more interesting than the plot.
“Blood in the Thread” by Cheri Kamei alternates sections of narrative that take place in the real world with a retelling of a Chinese folk tale. In the former, a makeup artist must endure having the film actress she loves become involved with an actor, apparently just for publicity purposes, who abuses her. In the latter, a man rescues a crane from death, and the bird returns as a woman.
The intention seems to be an allegory between the self-sacrifice of the crane-woman, who injures her own body in order to support the man, and the way in which the actress suffers for her career. The work is less straightforward than this brief description suggests, as it is highly subjective and introspective. (It is possible that certain events only occur in the imagination of the makeup artist.) Perhaps the most effective aspects of this story are the detailed and poetic descriptions of the extremely elaborate body decorations the makeup artist creates for the actress.
“Ripple Effects” by Laura J. Mixon takes place in the popular Wild Cards universe of superpowered beings and mutants. The protagonist is able to take different colors of fire from another reality, each one of which has a unique power. He works as a private security agent, currently guarding a trumpet used by Louis Armstrong. The antagonist has the ability to perceive different possible futures, and is thus able to alter his behavior to make things happen the way he wants. At first, it seems that his only motive is to steal the priceless trumpet. In fact, his intentions are much more sinister, and involve secrets of the past that he shares with the protagonist.
This lengthy novella, with a word count that nearly qualifies it as a novel, features many more characters and situations than this simple outline suggests. The pace never slows down, and the plot is full of tense moments and strong emotions. By the end of the story, the antagonist becomes a figure of pure evil, ready to kill a large number of people just to settle a score with the protagonist. This makes the plot overly melodramatic.
Victoria Silverwolf has been listening to recordings of old Bob and Ray radio shows lately.