Tor.com, June 2016
“The Weight of the Dead” by Brian Hodge
Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett
The June issue of Tor.com has five original stories, three of which are novelettes.
“The Weight of the Dead” by Brian Hodge
This is a post apocalypse science fiction novelette set many years after the sun has fried all the electronics. Melody’s father is bound to the body of the man he killed and he’s exiled from the village to carry the body and ultimately die when that body putrefies. Melody goes to the forest each day to visit her father and bring him food, hoping, against all odds, he will survive. One day, in desperation, she asks for help from the raggedly people who inhabit the wilds outside the village. Their help carries an enormous cost and ultimately produces some horrific results for the village itself.
In this long novelette, Hodge gradually fleshes out the mysteries, which carry fantasy and horror undertones. These keep the tale intriguing. In the end, the story did not advance the science fiction genre, but it was pleasant to read.
“Lullaby for a Lost World” by Aliette de Bodard
Charlotte has died a brutal death to save the house in this short fantasy set in a bleak future. Her torn body allows her master and the house to live on. Interred, she struggles to have some meaning, to influence the world, to put an end to this cycle of death. When her master prepares a new girl, Charlotte strains against the earth of her entombment; can she play a role again?
It is hard to put this short story down once you’ve begun to read it. Bodard slowly reveals the pitilessness of the master and house, compelling the reader to see who will triumph at the end. Nicely written to draw the reader into the story’s web.
“Typecasting” by Harry Turtledove
This alternate history novelette introduces the reader to Bill Williamson, the Sasquatch governor of a western state called Jefferson. Bill’s daughter loves to act in plays, but is dismayed when the director typecasts her as the monster in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Ever the dutiful and loving father, Bill tries to persuade the play’s leadership to recast his Sasquatch daughter as the female lead and heroine of the play. The story is an exploration of prejudice, from a new angle.
The story craft was okay and the moral points raised in the story were interesting. However, these are not enough to make the story a good read and my attention wandered at times. This story does have merit outside the Fantasy and Science Fiction genre.
“Chains” by A. J. Hartley
Anglet, a young indentured steeplejack, is at the center of this suspense novelette. Her hard work on a new suspension bridge has caught the eye of the big boss, Sir William, who decides to buy out her contract and employ her directly. This is a considerable jump in her fortunes.
When she believes she overhears a conspiracy to kill Sir William, she watches out for her new boss. The day comes when she feels that the conspirators are ready to execute their plan. But when she tries to warn Sir William, things do not work out as she expected.
Hartley’s tale was too slow, not revealing any suspense until a third of the way through. There was no real science fiction or fantasy elements in the story, which could, just as easily, have been set in the late 19th century. And the story’s end had a twist in it that left this reader more baffled than intrigued.
“Traumphysik” by Monica Byrne
Bryne’s fantasy short story is set during WWII. The navy has stationed a gifted young physics graduate on a remote tropical atoll and commissioned her with maintaining a signal beacon for the navy’s pilots. Alone on the small island Lucy begins to experiment with dreams, specifically ‘lucid dreams’ as taught by her German Harvard professor.
Her experiments produce some strange dreams and she wonders if there is another ‘dream’ world called traumphysic with alternative laws of physics. As time passes, she is so consumed by her lucid dreams that reality begins to lose its meaning for her.
The author has developed some interesting ideas in this story and it is easy to read. Though I did feel it bogged down a little in the middle. The ending left this reader thinking about the story and what was real or not – and that’s a good thing.