Long time no read, Dear Reader, but I’m back and I’ve got plenty of new posts to share! Just as the seasons have shifted, so too has the seventh week of the Tor Story Let’s Read metamorphosed into something entirely new and strange after a long hibernation. The former shape just might reveal itself some day, but now is for “new” and not for the “what might have been”. A reverend mediating the interests of two alien faiths, An artist wrestling with the ethics of Peter Pan, and clockwork pixies facilitating the canonization of lovers. In Week 7 of the Tor Stories, it’s all about belief.
23. Shall We Gather by Alex Bledsoe
When one world brushes another, asking the right question can be magic…
Craig Chess is a Reverend who has worked for years to build a healthy congregation on the cusp of the Appalachian region. Late one night Chess is woken by Lula Mae Pennycuff, calling him on the behest of her father who is passing and wishes for the Reverend deliver his last rites. A typical duty, “All part of the job description”, with the exception of one vital detail. The people of Chess’ congregation have maintained a careful, mutually separate coexistence with the fairyfolk known as the Tufa. The Pennycuff’s are the only humans who live in “Cloud County”, the ancestral home of Tufa, with few outsiders allowed passage by the “First Daughters”, the inner circle of governing Tufa. But this occasion is special, not only for this but another reason. Chess is approached with a request by one of the First Daughters, and what this request entails just might surprise the young Reverend.
Bledsoe purposefully and meticulously hangs the scenery of the premise within the first three-or-so pages of the story. It’s not a long story to begin with, but his pace in bringing readers up to speed with the going-on’s of the plot (what this community is, why things are the way they are, the role of faith and religion in the region, etc.) goes a long way in winning my attention and interest. Chess is a relatable character, a Shepard of faith mediating his own conscious and internal questioning of faith, approached by forces outside his ken (and his faith) to probe a question on the mutual matters of life and death between the humans and the Tufa.
I liked the location, the broad gestures of implied relationships illustrating a rich past and enduring life for Chess after the events of this story. I liked the his goal and the outcome of pursuing, if not accomplising that goal. If I had to say anything in criticism, the ending felt a tad “flat” to me on my initial reading. But looking back on it now, I see it as one of those endings that grows upon consideration through the lens of hindsight.
80. About Fairies by Pat Murphy
Some things happen whether or not you clap your hands.
Jennifer is a young artist who, , after a chance encounter with the absent-minded CEO of a major toy manufacturer, is hired on as a creative consultant for a new line of fairy-based toys. Jennifer is a avid enthusiast of the origins and myths surrounding fairies with an intimate knowledge of the macabre details of James Matthew Barrie’s original Peter Pan. The chance discovery of a mysterious mirror, repeated encounters with the taciturn Web developer Rocky, and the deathbed ramblings of her elderly father coalesce and bring Jennifer into a fledgling new understanding of life, death, belief, and strangeness in-between.
Murphy does an extraordinary job of coloring the strained, begrudgingly caring relationship that Jennifer has with her father. A widowed former archaeologist with a IQ high enough to be inducted into MENSA, now an embittered old man; coldly sarcastic and indiscriminately hostile. But she loves him, as much as a daughter could be expected to love such a person they call their father. I see their relationship, along with her analogous fascination with gruesome fairies, as the fulcrum for which the rest of the story pivots. I can’t be sure what entirely was “gained” or “lost” through this story, aside from her loved one, but I think that the value of it is in brewing maturation of her faith and her own sense of self-certainty.
Rocko is an interesting character; You can never really read him, and I think that’s the point. It’s heavily implied that he is something ‘other’ than what he at first appears, but it’s never conclusively “resolved”. And come to think of it, it’s not entirely that big of a deal. I like a little persistent mystery, it broadens the “life” of story and offers the reader an opportunity to participate. Something I wish more stories would do, something I think the best short stories do. And definitely something to learn from.
94. Clockwork Fairies by Cat Rambo
Desiree feels the most at home with her clockwork creations, but Claude worries about all this science and Darwinist nonsense—after all, where do clockwork fairies fall in the Great Chain of Being?
Claude Stone is a brash and ambitious social-climber living in 19th Century, informally betrothed to one Desiree Southland, a mechanically savvy and mentally independent mulatto woman with a proclivity for building beautifully intricate clockwork automatons. Stone vies for Desiree’s hand in marriage and, despite the protests of her suffragist father, believes that the promise of her consent and dowery are all but assured. But when a mysterious Irishman enters the scene, Can Claude convince Desiree (and himself) of their compatibility?
Cat Rambo really knocked it out of the park with this one. Not only did I come out of this story adding a couple of choice, interestingly new words to my vocabulary (ex. nonpareil, verdigris, besotted, blacmange, etc.) but Rambo showcased her ability to gradually create an expository character that I grew to increasingly dislike over time, while still maintaining my desire to “empathize” with his perspective in order to pursue the rest of the plot, regardless of how disagreeable I find him. Claude is the epitome of Victorian sensibilities towards women, race, and women of minority race, ’nuff said. Desiree is a wonderful character, I love her inquisitive craftsmanship, her articulate self-awareness of being an independent free-thinking mulatto woman in an intensely patriarchal, unapologetically racist “high society”.
I loved the ending to this story. I take a particular pride in taking the particular strengths and weaknesses of a story and reducing them to broad yet descriptive suggestions, so as not to spoil them for prospective readers. I will say no more on the topic other than I highly recommend that you read this story for its adept descriptions of Victorian architecture and life warped ever-so-carefully through the fun-house mirror of speculative fiction/steam-punk.
See you later tonight, December 2nd!