Tor.com, September 2014
“Tuckitor’s Last Swim” by Edith Cohn
Reviewed by Martha Burns
“Headache” is Michael Cisco’s English translation of “Cefalea” by Julio Cortazar. The narrator keeps a journal of his scientific observations of fantastical animals called mancuspias. When the laborers who see to the care and feeding of the animals leave, the situation deteriorates. There are mysterious scratches in the night and the drugs that keep the narrator comfortably numb run short, resulting in debilitating headaches. That’s the plot, but the power of the journal entries is in the language. The descriptions of headaches capture the worst of migraines and the observations on narrative structure are a bonus. This vivid and odd tale demonstrates the force of magical realism done well.
A whaler pays for his cruelty in “Tuckitor’s Last Swim” by Edith Cohn. Tuckitor’s family had once owned five whaling ships, but the family is on the brink of starvation when, during a hurricane, Tuckitor hears screams and leaves his wife, grandfather, and infant son to investigate. He discovers why his family has been cursed and makes a bargain to reduce the pain to his family. The story is most effective when Cohn describes the angry sea and leans closer to saccharine when Tuckitor makes his bargain.
After the world ends, a genie who had once been a theatre critic offers a pre-med student who, before she became the last survivor of the apocalypse, was an award-winning playwright, three wishes. “As Good As New” by Charlie Jane Anders is inventive and gloriously silly. The story only falters when the main character describes her plays, which aren’t so good, though perhaps that’s part of the ironic intent; however, because the story mocks the trope of the ironic intent, it’s hard to say. Still, if the world were going to be saved by a playwright of questionable skill, Marisol is smart enough that you’d want her to be chosen. She crafts her wishes with great care, so if things proceed well for the next few years, we have her to thank.
The goddess Athena is being bothered, stalked even, by a homeless Goth teenaged boy slinking through the streets of contemporary Miami. He thinks Athena is a vampire. Against her better instincts, Athena attempts to help him and begins to feel genuine tenderness for him and it is through his tragic end that the goddess of war gets her mojo back. The superb “When Gods and Vampires Roamed Miami” by Kendare Blake both mocks vampire tropes and makes one wish the Greek gods in all their vengeful beauty were still around to look after every homeless teen.
Ellie purchases a phone that turns the simple selfie into a soul-sucking and soul-reshaping device. “Selfies” by Lavie Tidhar shows how sexually explicit selfies can make the photographer question her own sanity and, more generally, the shift in consciousness that obsessive self-awareness yields. When you are the world, it turns out that it’s a terrifying world. The story cleverly questions our modern tendency to objectify ourselves in the guise of a teen’s journal of her downward spiral.
In “The Golden Apple of Shangri-La” by David Barnett, Rowena Fanshawe, pilot to the adventurer Dr. John Reed, takes him into the Himalayas to save the all-female residents of Shangri-La. The near-immortal women are under threat by the dastardly Von Karloff, who wants to steal their golden apple. The apple is both the key to the women’s survival and a way to bring one language to all of humanity. The second, quite intriguing function of the apple, never shows up again after it’s mentioned. Instead, the focus of the story is John Reed and Rowena’s attempt to save the women and Rowena’s ultimate realization that men, even heroes, are liars. The progress of this steampunk tale is entertaining enough, but the story seems to be aiming for points about female power and male treachery that are not very deep and, in addition, involve killing women after some of them have been “ravished.” It would have been better as a straight adventure tale.