Tor.com, December 2013
Reviewed by Jared L. Mills
Tor.com ends the year, sadly, ends the year with a whimper and not a bang. Where last year they seemed to be the belle of the ball with each month bringing a flurry of must-read tales, this year has found their offerings overly familiar and devoid of quality stories. There have been a few bright spots here and there, but this month only brings one story that is really worth your time.
“In the Greenwood” by Mari Ness
In a staid retelling of Robin Hood, a fair maiden forges a lifelong friendship with a mischievous boy who grows into the titular roguish man. The maiden thinks it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt—well, a lot of somebodies get hurt. As the true nature of her beloved dawns on her, as well as the consequences of his actions, she must choose between justice and the man she has loved since childhood. While Ness does her best to give the story a misty gauze of a barely remembered past, with the modern taste for characterization, the whole thing has an air of been there, done that. Honestly, unless you’re tearing up the whole rulebook a la Tanith Lee, retold fairy tales have been clichéd for at least a few decades. Ness doesn’t do enough to justify the crutch when a story divorced from a familiar story would have freed her up to do something truly original.
“Friedrich the Snow Man” by Lewis Shiner
Another retelling of a classic tale (Hark! We detect the stench of stale ideas!) that actually is a little more novel in its conception, but fumbles the execution. In Shiner’s story, Friedrich Nietzsche is reincarnated as an anthropomorphic snowman, much to the chagrin of the philosopher as he immediately begins to melt. What could have been a delightfully macabre exploration of eternal recurrence turns into a ham-handed lark that wastes its few paragraphs trying to make a big statement rather than entertain.
“The Christmas Show” by Pat Cadigan
Two sisters, Dita and Coco, are the victims of a very peculiar curse that requires them to constantly travel in order to put on theatrical productions. This Christmas they are putting on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and they have the actual ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to help bring an extra sparkle to this year’s production. Cadigan has created a charming little romp that will get even the most Scrooge-like reader to enjoy not only the spirit of the story, but also the author’s skill at crafting such a wonderful tale. While the reader is left with many unanswered questions, it is the satisfying unknown of wanting to read more in this unique world. Though Cadigan is mostly known for her cyberpunk futures, this story opens up a whole new world for the veteran writer.
“The Writ of Years” by Brit Mandelo
An old fashioned horror tale of an author who becomes addicted to using a cursed pen that writes beautiful stories, but takes its price in blood. Will the author break free of the artistic lure of the pen or has his fate been signed, sealed and delivered? You probably know the answers to these questions and your enjoyment of the story will be proportionate to how much you enjoy a tried and true formula. It inevitably owes a thing or two to both Poe and Stephen King, but has a certain charm in its quaint brand of creeping dread. If you’re in the right mood for a gothic short story you could definitely do worse, but it doesn’t do anything novel with the premise.