Tor.com, September 2010
“The Monster’s Million Faces” by Rachel Swirsky
“Preparations” by Mark Mills
“River of Souls” by Beth Bernobich
Reviewed by Bob Blough
During the month of September, TOR.com had a zombie-themed week and many of their original published works were in the comic/illustrated story vein, thus there were only three pieces of short fiction this month.
One, unsurprisingly, was about zombies. “Preparations” by Mark Mills is a short humorous piece about a man who has taken every precaution against the advent of zombies that fiction and especially movies can offer. How this helps and hinders him when the zombies do finally attack is the story. It is slight and will be enjoyed to the degree that you are interested in zombie movies.
The next two stories are much weightier in subject matter. Rachel Swirsky’s “The Monster’s Million Faces” takes on one of the hardest psychological struggles that can be faced by a human being—having been abducted and abused as a child. A serious under-pinning of SF in this story allows for a new technique of therapy for these victims. The technique of memory grafting enables victims to face their abusers and rewrite the story of what happened. This is a raw story that does not pull punches in the revenge scenarios enacted by the protagonist as he tries to find the proper story to graft onto his psyche. Be aware that it is a harrowing journey but an affecting one. I didn’t love this story, but I felt I had been a little bit ennobled by it.
The final story of the issue is the real prize. It will definitely be on my best of the year list. The story is “River of Souls” by Beth Bernobich. I have reviewed her first story collection A Handful of Pearls previously at Tangent Online. There I spoke about her beautiful writing that impressed, while at the same time failed to connect with me. But this novelette did connect and on a deep level.
“River of Souls” takes place in a fantasy world were magic works and a type of reincarnation exists. The hero is a young man named Asa who has dreams of his past life as a female soldier in love with a poetess in a land far from his home. The physical journey he takes to meet his past lover (still alive but much older) is riveting but the tale comes alive in the emotional/psychological journey his “soul” takes upon meeting with the lover he remembers as a young woman.
The writing is beautiful, per Ms. Bernobich’s custom, but the ethereal quality of the characters’ relationships is heart-rending and hopeful all at the same time. This is masterful, and I, for one, cannot wait to read the author’s first novel, to be published this year. It takes place in the same world 500 years after the events of this story.
Tor.com continues to provide challenging and well written genre stories as it celebrates its two year anniversary. I hope it continues to do so for much longer.