Tor.com, April 2018
“Played Your Eyes” by Johnathan Carroll
Reviewed by Pedro Silva
Tor.com presents a diverse set of four stories this month.
In Johnathan Carroll’s “Played Your Eyes,” a woman is bequeathed a former boyfriend’s handwriting—a new, flowing script that produces the occasional cryptic message. Her and her ex-boyfriend’s turbulent break-up deepens the mystery. Despite the handwriting’s quirks, she adopts it as her own. Life unfolds pleasantly until, while pursuing a promising new relationship, she wakes to her hand scribbling unfamiliar letters, which twinkle and linger on the air. The reveal that follows, though delivered with little agency on part of our protagonist, sets forth intriguing world-building. The theme (i.e., the mental toll that accompanies foreknowledge of one’s future) may be familiar, yet works well to tidy up the story’s driving questions in a bittersweet, satisfying ending.
Music sparks revolution in Kathleen Jennings’s “The Heart of Owl Abbas.” A songwriter overhears a neighbor’s melodic voice and, freshly inspired, calls upon a lingering ghost to ferry lyrics across the way. The voice belongs to a new arrival, a mechanical man tasked with saving the heart of the state. Together, the duo’s melodies capture the citizenry’s attention—and then the Little Emperor’s. The city of Owl Abbas is vividly characterized with aptly chosen details. The prose, though leaning into the verbose at times, takes on an elevated, storybook style that is often as melodic as its subject matter.
In the midst of a getaway, an outlaw discovers his companion and trusty steed—a hippopotamus of his own custom breeding—is wounded, in Sarah Gailey’s “Worth her Weight in Gold.” At a local doctor’s, our outlaw is challenged to forfeit the glittering temptations of loot in exchange for his companion’s treatment. This light-hearted adventure presents an engaging and uniquely southeastern vision of alternate America.
Finally, Margaret Killjoy weaves a haunting love story in “Into the Gray,” which opens to our narrator, a thief, fulfilling a macabre arrangement. In exchange for luring unscrupulous men into the hungry clutches of a mermaid, our narrator is gifted what coin his victims carry—and the mermaid’s love. What follows is a surprisingly suspenseful and lushly written story that tackles the messy intersection of love, death and obsession.