Strange Horizons, October 10, 2011

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Strange Horizons, Oct. 10, 2011

“The Fourth Board” by D. J. Muir

Reviewed by Sherry Decker

This tale took too long to establish a beginning and was littered with stylistic weaknesses, such as a dependence on common adverbs instead of strong verbs, and the variant use of towards instead of toward. Also, the author has the habit of using ‘can see’ or ‘could see’ and those are among my personal pet peeves. If we’re in the protagonist’s viewpoint, all the writer needs to do is describe something ─ we understand the heroine sees it. There were unnecessary stage directions, such as which window the protagonist looked through, or that she walked into the kitchen, or opened a door. None of these enhanced the story.

The tale involves a girl named Jinli who foresees the future, her father Edro and her father’s old friend, Lord Gui Feng Simban, known as the Tyrant. The Tyrant and her father enjoy a game involving white pieces, red pieces, and three boards. After winning the game the Tyrant requests Jinli tell his future because he suspects treachery, but Jinli is afraid because she has detected a spy (an invisible soldier in his ‘chameleoflage’) and butterflies that relay information to the Tyrant’s right-hand man, Brigadier Thu. Thu is the traitor, but Jinli hesitates to reveal this out of mortal fear for her father and herself.

The curious detail that the tea Jinli serves came from New Antarctica served no purpose. That the Tyrant arrives in a ‘tiltrotor’ was never explained. Among these dead ends, the story concluded with a disguised, unclear warning for the Tyrant.

This could have been better.