Strange Horizons, April 6, 2015
Reviewed by Bob Blough
“Noise Pollution” is a first sale by Alison Wilgus. It’s an urban fantasy but with a slight twist. The setting is the usual – grubby city life, down-and-outers, and pollution. Cheryl is late for choir rehearsal at church when she is detained by a boy selling cassette tapes on the street. It turns out that Cheryl is a “Musical.” That means she has complete pitch clarity and tonal perfection and is using it in a magical way individually and through the choir. Unfortunately she must have musical/magical spells always playing to shield her from the noise that threatens to devour her kind. She uses tape decks and walkmans to play over and over these musical spells and is always on the lookout for new tapes. Thus, the reason she stops at this boy’s spread-out blanket to dicker over the tapes. But in so doing her batteries run out and she is discovered by the noise pollution of the title.
That is a lot to get out in a short story such as this. The attack of the pollution is an incident to hang the world building on and not much else. The setting is not new but the atmosphere is clearly and well created. The characters, although again not terribly original, are drawn very well. As a first sale, this is an evocative piece of writing. But it is a scenario we have seen over and over again. The magical twist is not enough to make it memorable.