“Dream” works best as a set piece; Cooper’s often precise prose (she describes an abandoned city as resembling “a clutch of fossilized eggs”) reads like a love letter to the dry climes of the world. The story could benefit from less telling and more showing; Cooper’s prose loses its edge and becomes less personal when she describes the human/Dweller interactions at the center of the stories. The ending’s twist—Agna’s pro-Dweller activism—would certainly be more effective if I cared about the characters.
With echoes of LeGuin’s careful world-building and the nostalgia of all that YA time-travel fiction I read in my teens (am I the only one who read J. Allison James’ lyrical Sing for a Gentle Rain?), “Dream” wafts lightly through your consciousness like a fleeting rain cloud or like a
Dreams surface again, literally this time, in Daniel Braum’s “Sumo21,” which takes place in a communal lucid dream. One possible Japan is trying to take over the emperor of another possible Japan, so an elite cadre of sumo wrestlers, proxies for the emperor, must enter a
dream world and duke it out for precedence. Underdog Asashoryu, fighting for the emperor’s honor, discovers that his opponents—and even his trainers— are not all they seem.
Braum animates Ye Olde Straightforward Quest nicely by fusing the stately rituals of sumo, the Japanese mythology of death and dreams, and a bit of possible-worlds theory. The story’s unusual setting buoys it. However, the prose, full of long tortured sentences, drags the work down. Braum clearly knows his Japanese source material, but lacks the stylistic confidence needed to transform the old tales into something truly rich and strange.
Two stories in this issue of Abyss & Apex feature Zeno, ancient Greek philosopher, whose mathematical paradoxes seem weird and dream-like to this day. One is a clever prose poem, “The Relativity Paradox,” in which the narrator watches his life being done to him in an absurd realization of determinism. Flirting with Borges-like insight, Igor Teper’s “Relativity Prison” does make an intriguing vignette, like an odd, amusing image from sleep.
Pi’s stilted, formal cadences come off as overwrought in the beginning, but, as soon as the narrator, Zeno, gets into his element, the wit and the pace pick up considerably. You know it’s a rewrite of a Greek myth; you know it’s a variation on a Trickster tale, but Pi’s skillful twisting of mythic and Trickster tropes carry you along—especially when he sends the Gorgon on a heroic quest for her own mortality. I especially appreciate Pi’s characterization of the Gorgon as an intelligent, sympathetic riddler, worthy of Zeno’s respect, even love.
The last piece of short fiction, exploring the dark side of dreams, is “American Gothic” by Douglas Clark. Unfortunately, it’s the weakest story of the issue. It starts off as the tale of an abuse survivor, but soon you realize that something more, uh, blood-sucking is going on.