Strange Horizons, Sept. 24 & Oct. 4, 2013

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Strange Horizons, September 24 & October 4, 2013

“Red Matty” by Nisi Shawl

Reviewed by Cyd Athens

This story was published in two parts—the second, a 2013 fund drive bonus once the magazine reached the $10,000 mark.

The science bits of the fiction here take a back seat to the true story about camaraderie. Animals that have been modified to, among other things, speak live in community with humans. We begin in Philadelphia with Betty, a beagle getting ready to hunt rabbits. She comes across a compelling scent—the dung pile of what she soon learns is an elephant. The pachyderm, clearly intelligent, is without the antenna that would allow speech. Betty leads it back to her pack. There, community members examine the animal’s rope halter and learn that the elephant, Matilda aka Matty, was sent to them by the Philadelphia zoo. After several days, someone decides to try a horse’s antenna on Matty to let her tell her own story. When a man appears to film how Matilda is doing in her new home, and one of their members goes missing, the community investigates. Betty, travelling on foot with Matty, gets the full story of what happened to the elephant. Later Betty and one of her pack mates learn the nefarious purpose for which the man came to film Matty.

The compassion Matty shows the man at the end is at odds with what even she says she “should have done.” However, the relationship that develops between Betty and Matty is not odd at all. And the subtext is well woven into the story’s fabric.

Cyd Athens indulges a speculative fiction addiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W.