Strange Horizons — October 7, 2019

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Strange Horizons, October 7, 2019

“The Sloppy Mathematics of Half-Ghosts” by Charles Payseur

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

“The Sloppy Mathematics of Half-Ghosts” by Charles Payseur is an odd combination of science fiction and fantasy. It takes place aboard a starship populated by the living, ghosts, half-ghosts, and a large number of cats. In almost all ways, the vessel resembles a sailing ship of olden days. The protagonist is a half-ghost, created when a cat donates one of its nine lives to someone who has just died.

The Emperor of the Universe dies, leading to a race among starships to convey his ghost to Paradise. Whoever does so earns a wish. Complicating matters is a fleet of pirate ships, intent on destroying all the Emperor’s starships. The protagonist, while battling pirates and carrying on an affair with another half-ghost, figures out a way to open the gates of Paradise to everyone.

The above synopsis may make this sound like an action-packed tale of adventure, albeit an eccentric one. In fact, the author chooses to narrate the tale in very long paragraphs full of very long sentences, making the task of reading it something of an effort. In addition to this, the author also frequently combines several words into one lengthy portmanteau with hyphens. This habit becomes grating after a while. It is possible to appreciate the story’s imagination and lighthearted mood, but the overwritten style deflates what might have been a pleasant romp.

Victoria Silverwolf also lives with a large number of cats.