SCI FICTION, Sept 21, 2005

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"Long Cold Day" by Elizabeth Bear

In "Long Cold Day," Elizabeth Bear takes us into the lives of an estranged father and son. Christian Whittaker is a drunk shuffling through cold winter slush, while his wife lies dying of cancer in a hospital bed. Meanwhile, his son Tony is hanging out in a bar, being slowly ensnared by two women who are not women in an effort to end the endless winter that Tony has somehow caused. When the father and son reunite, Christian must fight for his son’s life.

This is a well-told father and son story, with a unique fantasy backdrop. Bear doesn’t explain exactly how Christian has stopped time while keeping everyone moving, only that he did it with a special pocket watch, and his reason for doing it was to keep his mother alive. And the nightmare creatures masquerading as women are sympathetic in their attempts to end the winter chill. I also love the idea of ordinary things being given magical properties for no reason, such as when Christian protects Tony from the monsters with a blanket he stole from a car (the women even refer to it as a magic blanket, and are repelled from it as if burned). The pocket watch was a nice image too, a perfect time machine, and for me it conjured images of Harlan Ellison’s "Paladin of the Lost Hour."

Elizabeth Bear did a great job with this one, and the plot is so unique it makes me wonder how she came up with it. Bravo.