“Lessons of Necessity” by T.C. Powell
Reviewed by Joshua Berlow
“Lessons of Necessity” by T.C. Powell is a short zombie tale that wouldn’t be out of place as a subplot on an episode of The Walking Dead, if The Walking Dead were even grimmer. A mother locks her son in the basement after giving him a sword for his birthday, so he’ll “man up” and do what needs to be done: kill zombies. He’ll either “man up” or die. Mom knows she won’t be around much longer, because she’s got breast cancer. The strength of this tale is that it doesn’t tell us what happens to the boy in the basement. It leaves us wondering and wanting more.
I enjoyed “Boomer Hunter” by Sean Patrick Hazlett as well, and would rate it as the best of the four. It wears its conservative pro-gun politics on its sleeve.
The “Boomers” of the story are more commonly known as “Baby Boomers.” The story addresses the pressing economic issue of what is to be done with all the retiring Baby Boomers, who as they retire will want Social Security, free health care, and other state handouts. The answer the story proposes is to enlist “Boomer Hunters” by offering a bounty for each Boomer killed. The history behind this government policy is outlined in an excellent “info dump,” the beginning of which is worth quoting: “When the Chinese called their treasury bonds, interest rates went ballistic, and Uncle Sam needed a quick fix to service its ballooning interest. Hiking up the death tax was the easy part, but the goddamn boomers wouldn’t die fast enough.” This “info dump” is an example of one handled well. The story in general is fast-paced and inventive, with some hilarious metaphors. It was the only story of the four that didn’t take itself too seriously, which was a big plus.
“The Right Hand of Decay” by David Annandale is a very grim fairy tale. It’s tightly well-written but left me cold. Fairy tales are not always logical and this one isn’t—there are questions raised but no answers are provided. For example, I wondered why the Grey Queen’s special power is unknown to the King or any other residents of the neighboring city Barragano. The story is resolved by a deus ex machina plot device which I found unsatisfying. One aspect of “The Right Hand of Decay” serves to make the Grey Queen less of a cardboard character—the small voice inside her who secretly enjoys using her special power.
The last story of the four is “Against the Encroaching Darkness” by Aliette de Bodard. It is billed as a “Dominion of the Fallen” short story. From what I could glean from Aliette de Bodard’s website, The Dominion of the Fallen is a planned trilogy of novels, of which only the first has been released: The House of Shattered Wings. “Against the Encroaching Darkness” barely manages to stand on its own as a separate story, reading more like a chapter from a novel. The story takes for granted that the reader already knows about the world where the story takes place and cares about the characters. I didn’t, and it was difficult to become interested. Also, the story just didn’t seem as grim or dark as the other stories in this issue, and seemed out of place compared to the others. The prose is rich and assured (especially when describing what the characters are wearing) and seemed like a literary “teaser,” saying that if you want to find out who these people are and what happens to them, read the novel.