Tor.com, March 2017
“Come See the Living Dryad” by Theodora Goss
Reviewed by Adrian McCauley
“Come See the Living Dryad” by Theodora Goss started off in gripping fashion as our main character, Daphne, investigates the death of her great-great grandmother through letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings. Though the story was intriguing and held me from start to finish I feel that it, ultimately, shouldn’t have been included at Tor.com. Despite being labeled as a fantasy story, it contained no speculative elements at all. A shame, as it was a good story and I feel it would have found a more appreciative audience in a more suitable publication.
Matthew Kressel writes a hauntingly sweet and tragic story in “The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard).” Reuth, the last novelist in the universe, is dying and comes to the distant planet of Ardabaab to finish his novel. He befriends a local girl who is intrigued by the foreign art skill he demonstrates, and she becomes his apprentice. The story revolves around the relationship of these two characters, exploring the passion and the often unappreciated talent of an artist. The speculative elements remain in the background, allowing this to be a quiet and subtle character study. I found it to be one of those great tales that knows just when to be verbose, and knows just when to step back and let the characters shine.
“Excerpts from a Film (1942-1987)” by A. C. Wise is a ghost story about a man who finds an old film reel showing the death of a young woman, but is also about a young wannabe film star in the 40s. To be honest, though an artistically told tale (and long at under ten thousand words), it was confusing—jumping back and forth between different times and different characters (or were they the same characters? It was hard to tell) and different points of view. But this, perhaps, is the deliberate genius of the story by asking the question, ‘What is real?’ in a noir setting of ghosts and cigarette smoke and half-burnt film.
“Ecdysis” by Juliana Baggot is a morose story about a shapeshifter who, trying to find the one body that fits her properly, must endure and relive the painful memories of the past as she and her fellow shapeshifters shed their avatars, seeking their one truth. An allegory for either a transgender or intersex individual’s challenges, “Ecdysis” is a dark and emotional story of overcoming abuse and finding redemption and forgiveness. The imagery and character introspection were good. Some scenes I felt were somewhat disjointed, but feel this was a deliberate tactic by the author to try and replicate the disjointed life lived by the main character.
“The Scholastic in the Low Waters Kingdom” by Max Gladstone is a science-fantasy war story full of strange magic set in a far-future exotic world. When the Scholast, Jane, appears in the city one day, warning the people that a strange enemy approaches, she must help them defend themselves, while also teaching them the philosophy of universal love. Told as a series of recounted tales, it lacks a deeper sinew to hold everything together, but maintains enough of an interesting narrative to still pull you along. Gladstone demonstrates excellent world building in a tale that is full of detail. Though the twist at the end is predictable from the start, it is still a satisfying conclusion.