"A Map of You"
"The Death of Self"
"Incarnations of Immortality"
Temple: Incarnations is four snapshots of a wanderer, Temple, "incarnated" in a post-apocalyptic world (originally serialized in Apex Digest issues five through eight). We begin in media res, melodramatically surveying details of a not-quite-ruined city. The pockmarked and broken earth has been inherited by the violent and the ignorant; cities are derelict, and people are, at best, scavengers. And you have to wonder how some of those scavengers could possibly have survived. It is not an unfamiliar scene, though Steven Savile does manage to dream up some particularly detailed horrors.
All of the stories are quests, though the first, "Junkyard Dogs," is the most literal—with nothing better to do, Temple accepts a girl’s request to find her brother. He succeeds, minimally, and we’re shown a city within a city where gangs have gone animal, but gas still flows like water. There’s no law, no order, but somehow there’s a food queue and people who shuffle through it.
The second story,"A Map of You," gains him a mad priest as a companion, who leads him to a sanitorium for "answers." Here, we’re given our first clues, some frights with rats, and a hint that we’re in a fairly advanced future. The third story, "The Death of Self," runs with that and has some truly interesting sci-fi elements thrown around. And the last section, "Incarnations of Immortality," is the grayest, throwing everything for a loop.
Overarching is Temple’s quest for his self and his past, and he swings between seeking it and hiding from it. He grapples with the question of identity repetitively, but in total not much is said.
There’s a hint of "dream" throughout, which makes the things that almost hang together that much more frustrating, and there’s plenty that simply doesn’t hang together at all. I couldn’t believe the characters or the world, and maybe I wasn’t supposed to—but I couldn’t be sure of that, either.
Much of the writing is awkward, and some comes across as just plain amateurish—it was originally written almost ten years ago, and [the first section was re-written over the span of just a few days]*—and unfortunately, I think both elements left their mark; there are errors throughout, and the piece as a whole doesn’t hold together for me.
At the end of part four, we’re finally allowed to see the beginning—but only after we’re given a fly ball deep into left field. And the author makes no attempt to catch it—we’re left to find our own answers. In the afterword, the author admits to not having figured things out himself. While that can sometimes work, in this case, it just felt sloppy, along with the editing and the artwork. I’m sure this novella will find a number of adherents, but I was less than satisfied.
* – see discussion for errata