Clarkesworld #98, November 2014

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Clarkesworld #98, November 2014

“Cameron Rhyder’s Legs” by Matthew Kressel
“Pernicious Romance” by Robert Reed
The Pacific Monthly, May 2009″ by Ken Liu

Reviewed by Charles Payseur

Part time travel, part philosophy, and part rock and roll, “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs” by Matthew Kressel builds a world where two groups of time travelers fight a bloody war over the fate of the universe. The Hands of Brahma, seeking to cause the destruction of the universe by reverting the cosmos back to its primordial state, are battled by the Anachronists, who seek to keep things the way they are, with humans as distinct and fragile. Both hop through time, and where the Hands see humans as flawed tools to an end, as insignificant entities, the Anachronists work to show that all people all united, are all linked by their shared humanity. It’s an interesting idea, and the jumps between the two sides work fairly well, but I was left a bit confused at times what was really going on. That the one event portrayed in the story could have such an impact on everything was well grounded by the characters, but still a bit of a stretch for me to believe. I did enjoy many aspects of the world-building, and the idea of a time war between the two sides, the ugliness of it given the powers involved. As a whole, however, I found the story a bit muddled, and while solidly written, I wasn’t quite convinced by it.

Following a strange explosion at a sporting event, the entire population of a stadium experiences a sort of dream state where they fall in love in Robert Reed‘s “Pernicious Romance.” Told as a series of case studies and notes, the story details how the explosion caused everyone present to lose consciousness and live out lives, some for years and years, in a sort of idealized world. There, they found love, deep and profound, and when they return to the “real” world it is with a sense of loss and growth. How real the experiences were, though, is something that no one can really answer, nor can it be explained how or why the event took place. Told with authority and a believable style, the story was interesting, the puzzle tantalizing. It’s a testament to the author’s ability that the story seems like it could happen, that something so strange and unexplained might actually occur. It definitely gives the reader a lot to think about, though I felt the story lacked some of the punch it could have had by leaving things so open and unanswered.

Ken Liu crafts a sort of travelogue of a reporter tagging along on a transcontinental zeppelin haul in “The Long Haul From the ANNALS OF TRANSPORTATION, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009.” The reporter travels with Icke, the owner of the zeppelin, the American Dragon, and his mail-ordered, Chinese wife Yeling. More about the marriage and relationship of the two pilots than about the journey, the story shows how two such different people have come together to form a whole that operates with its own sort of logic and efficiency. It’s definitely a strange arrangement, but like the world of the story with its blimps and dirigibles and new regulations, it works and feels natural. It’s definitely not the kind of relationship that is often featured in a story, and there are certainly some problematic aspects to it, but the story never excuses those, and instead offers up a complicated look at how this couple lives. And while it is a bit ponderous and slow at times, the story pays off well, examining the nature of love and marriage as well as culture, class, and family in a way that feels authentic and earnest.

Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming at Perihelion Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @ClowderofTwo