Portrait of Ari
Artist Tom cuts his thumb while attempting to cut a mat and learns something strange about Ari, his lover. The moment where he accidentally cuts himself is beautifully done – anyone who has ever cut a mat will feel a small surge of fear and remind themselves to be careful. (They will also promptly not be careful the next time they cut a mat since it is drudge work.) The story starts innocently and builds subtly to the tragic conclusion. The last line is a punch to the gut.
The Bound Man
This excellent fantasy story follows Li Reiko, a mother bound to the will of the gods, after she is pulled into the time of Halldór. In less than ten thousand words Mary Robinette Kowal builds a full world and rich characters. Li Reiko and Halldór both demonstrate the unconditional love of a parent, but they never act sentimental or insipid. From the beginning, Kowal offers hints to Li Nawi’s future. “The Bound Man” starts somewhat slowly, but quickly becomes an intriguing, human tale.
[Warning: Mentions of rape and subtle on-screen rape.]
Cerbo en Vitra ujo
This is horror. In a future where children who cannot afford school are often sold to body harvesters, the privileged Grete searches for her beautiful boyfriend Kaj. Kowal’s use of imagery only makes the story that much more repulsive and creepy. Well-written and well-executed, this unsettling story may not be for all readers. Once again, Kowal ends the story with a powerful blow. She has an excellent grasp of atmosphere and uses it to great effect.
[Warning: Explicit sex.]
Death Comes But Twice
Kowal manages a strange combination of cautionary tale and spirituality. The former follows a fairly normal trajectory, but the spiritual touch gives it an original feel. The reader understands the narrator’s choices as he explains them to his wife Lily. Kowal could have chosen once more to end a story with tragedy, but “Death Comes But Twice” feels hopeful despite its dark subject matter.
For Solo Cello op. 20
Julius, a world-class cellist, lost his hand in an accident that was only tangentially his wife’s fault. I understand how much he hates living unable to play, constantly aware of his phantom hand. But I cannot sympathize with him. He is a loathsome creature who gets what he deserves. I pity his wife as well, but also feel disconnected from her. I understood her guilt and despair, but I wished she possessed more fight. Leonard’s simply a worm – there’s no offer of his motivations. While “For Solo Cello op. 20” is well-written, I cannot recommend it.
This Little Pig
Young Aage longs for a 1952 MG-TD in British Racing Green and to impress his crush Concetta Dumas-Chan. Instead, he humiliates himself on his first day mucking pens on a pig farm. Aage manages to overcome his embarrassment and realizes the scene was probably quite funny. The thought that Concetta saw his humiliation terrifies him, but he still manages to converse with her and begin a real connection. “This Little Pig” is a sweet story that will appeal to teens particularly, but adults as well.
All six stories are available here.
Kowal has been nominated for the Campbell award.
Coming Next: ROGUE by Rachel Vincent