Strange Horizons, October 12, 2020
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
October’s second issue of Strange Horizons features a short SF story by Elisabeth R. Moore titled “A Layer of Catherines.” In it, Moore weaves the tale of Catherine, an inventor who has just completed the 41,079th prototype of a time travel device and is intent on saving her sister from a tragedy in the past. She points it at the wall of her workroom, and a door opens. When she steps through, things are not at all what she expected.
This tale of sisterly love is intriguing but confusing. It’s written in the first-person present tense, which gives it a nice sense of immediacy and allows the reader to experience the events as the protagonist does. Therefore, it doesn’t quite make sense that the opening paragraph should reveal the identity of the woman Catherine saw when she was a child, something she doesn’t learn until she steps through the portal now. Other details seem out of place and unnecessary, such as the description of Petra’s “huge belly” at the end of the story. Is she pregnant or just fat? This may seem like a minor thing, but it’s part of world-building and was never addressed in an earlier description, so I have to wonder why it was included at all if it has no bearing on the story. And if Petra was alive and well in this Catherine’s life, why was she worried about her sister dying in an event from their childhood? This story simply doesn’t add up for me.