Tor.com, November 2016
“Dune: Red Plague” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Reviewed by Bob Blough
November at Tor.com is a bit of a jumble sale. Some precious items amongst the brick-a-brack. There are two standalone stories from Tor author series’. One that works and one that doesn’t. There is whimsical SF and whimsical Fantasy and a ghost story.
It starts out with the weakest story of the bunch a – supposedly – standalone story out of the continuing Dune Series. “Dune: Red Plague” by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson is standalone in that it tells a coherent story. But if you are not a follower of this series it is not worth reading.
Next up is the marvelous SF piece by Jonathan Carroll. “The Loud Table” is a story of five retired duffers meeting in their favorite coffee shop every day to discuss, argue, and just plain talk over coffee. It is the highlight of their day. It turns a bit darker as one confides to another that he feels he is getting Alzheimer’s. The story turns science fictional in a most delightful way with a quite poignant ending. If you are looking for SF adventure you may want to skip this, but if you want literate SF written with the perfect voice then this is for you. Really great work.
Marisela Navarro writes a creepy (but not really scary) ghost story in “Reverse Documentary.” It is from the point of view of a documentary director named Dino. It involves a new documentary in which the tables get turned and his subject starts asking him the questions. It also involves the ghost of what appears to be Dino’s dead girlfriend living in his garden and moves on from these initial plot points until all is brought together in a slightly hazy but intriguing way for Dino. It is kind of slip-streamy but definitely a ghost story as well. Again, the prose is very good and the snippets of the documentary are an interesting way to forward the story. Another fine piece of fiction.
I have to say that I really enjoyed Caighlan Smith’s “A Pest Most Fiendish” very much. Again the narrator is perfectly voiced. Philippa Kipling is a 19th century woman (in a timeline different than this one) who, with her automated sidekick, The Porter, destroys paranormal beings. I do not know if this is a part of a series but it stands by itself as a lovely comedic story in this “Steampunkinsh” vein. I think it is one of the best of this kind that I have read. I have to love a story where the narrator calls her automated friend “A lobotomized autolady,” or sentences like this: when asked if The Porter is capable of taking dictation, Ms. Kipling replies: “Oh, certainly not. It’s bound to be gibberblub, but sometimes she makes the most delightful doodles and those always cheer me up during a potentially fatal mission.”
The final story for the month is another standalone within a Tor writer’s series. Kathleen Baldwin tells the tale of “The Dragons of Tomorrow.” This story works fine without prior knowledge of the YA series that engendered it and is very nicely done. One of the dragons that destroyed most of the world has a conversation with a young girl who lives out in the countryside away from the devastated cities. It is enjoyably done with an interesting narrator you like and root for. It has all the earmarks of the best YA fiction except for the morals involved. The old trope of the chosen one is classic, but in this one the whole world has to be destroyed to protect the selected. I think the story works well as YA but I would probably not give it to a young reader because of the moral dilemma of saving the chosen one by destroying the world.
So, Tor.com always has its jumble sale each month. What treasures you find will be up to your own tastes.