Tolmie has a careful, controlled, poised style that is the epitome of elegance – a kind of literary dressage, or dancing, in fact. Her poetical investigations into human rituals, creativity and modes of belief make her fiction some of the most interesting new work around at the moment.
This is a long and intricate story that unfolds like a dance, a very fascinating portal fantasy that looks very different from what I’m used to. It features a woman taken from a world that sounds very much like our own and put into a place that is basically one huge house. One enormous building with floors connected by a very special stairway. And it’s a great reversal of what normally happens in portal fantasies, where the main character is some sort of Chosen One. Here the woman is the lowest of the low, without the currency that would make her even able to leave the stairs she finds herself on. What follows is a rough education and the slow reveal of this society. […]
It’s a great and moving story that’s enchanting and magical and elegantly layered. An excellent read!
Pro: The narrator really does want to do something creative. He sings, he draws, and he despairs, because he knows he has no future. Paulo saves him, and he brings New York to life and defeats a monster with it.
Con: It’s hard to consistently suspend disbelief for this one. Swinging bridges and neighborhoods into action against a Cthulhu-like creature is hard to credit.
“The City Born Great” captures the personality of New York City wonderfully, its rough edges, and its unbreakable spirit. The places we live are imbued with the personality of their citizens, and full of quirks all their own. As someone who lived in Jersey and worked in NYC for several years, I fully admit this story had me wanting to punch the air and yell, “Hell, yeah! No cosmic horror is taking my city down!”
Lots of reviews for this one — most of them full of spoilers! So go, read — or take this pull quote as incentive:
This is the single best warning and commentary on modern humanity I have ever read. Not only is it beautifully written, but insightful and deep. (…) It is a commentary made all the more potent by recent events. Do not miss this story. Read it until it sinks in.
Here’s all the reviews, in all their spoilerific glory:
This is the single best warning and commentary on modern humanity I have ever read. Not only is it beautifully written, but insightful and deep. It not only categorizes the dangers of fully-immersive VR, and by extension those of excessive gaming, but of the abuses that can occur where there is little prison oversight, and unchecked corporate greed. Between getting lost in the digitally constructed world, which is so immersive as to even create false memories, and the medications given to involuntary test subjects to manipulate their minds into believing the game’s input, it’s not hard to see how Marie could no longer distinguish between reality, how she became so hopelessly addicted to the world of the game that she was willing to do anything to get back. It’s equally not difficult to see how Benjamina would become so disillusioned with the victimization for profit that she had been a part of. Even less surprising is the half-hearted media coverage, or should we say, cover-up. Most striking is the apathy of so many people who make the game break sales records, in spite of the controversy. It is a commentary made all the more potent by recent events. Do not miss this story. Read it until it sinks in.
Bits of the story that feel like sly winks to our own reality (…) However, the bigger themes of the story are about truth and the nature of reality. Is it a lie if it feels real, if people don’t know they’re being lied to, if they can’t remember the lies they’re told? (…) ”Everybody from Themis Sends Letters Home” also touches on the idea of who has rights, who gets silenced, and who gets used as a tool by the system for “the greater good.”
It is not exactly a happy sort of story, nor a short one. It is an experience, though, appropriately weighty and dense with a fully realized world (all contained inside an insulating dome). Drifting through age and love and loss and struggle, the story doesn’t offer any easy answers, but it certainly knows what questions to ask.
This is a complex, long, and emotionally gripping story about the power to resist and the power to comply and the prevalence of violence and privilege and loss. About how everyone has their own views of what happens to them, and that everyone is the hero of their own story, and the victim too. And it’s also about fruit. About stewardship. About growing things.
This is an incredibly uncomfortable story to read right now, because the main theme is echoed repeatedly throughout the narrative: just how willing will people be, to make the moral and ethical compromises which throw their co-humans “under the bus” – as long as they think that they themselves will benefit? Just how large does the possibility of personal reward have to be, before human beings will choose to be complicit in sacrificing others — and then to look the other way when the inevitable happens? This is a moving and powerful story, and it is on my Hugo Novella longlist.
What did you think of “Brushwork”? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!
This is another suggestion from the #ShortFictionSunday hashtag. I always enjoy bringing up stories from The New Yorker – they’re often interesting (they need to be interesting enough to get into The New Yorker!), but since they’re not in a genre magazine, they can seem to be left out of the more “usual” circles and buzz.
What do you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!
He depressed many keys that day, an untallied number but one no doubt approximately equaling that of any other day. We cannot know what was in his thoughts, but let us speculate: that he was aware, with that awareness which had been acute when he had first started the job but had dimmed progressively with each day he worked, that every key he depressed affected in some small way the movement of objects scattered throughout the world, throughout the solar system, and in some rare cases even elsewhere, further still. During his training, as he learned about the relevance of the speed of light to the keys he must depress, he had tried to engage his supervisor in a kind of low-level philosophical talk about other implications of that universal constant, but the supervisor had been uninterested or uncomprehending — at any rate had not responded in kind. Before long, it appears, Hodos himself grew similarly uninterested.
Something that I find particularly interesting is how this story uses belief. It’s something of a trope in horror that if someone has a completely legitimate concern (noises, silhouettes in the night, flashes of seeing…something) everyone around them will discount it and ignore it. That these other people will tell the aggrieved that they’re just imagining things. And it’s no mistake that often the person being disbelieved is a woman or a child. Horror tends to play with the feeling of helplessness, and this story certainly checks its share of boxes when it comes to horror tropes. This is far from a complaint, though. Indeed, I love how the story complicates the tropes, deepens this concept of belief, how it can be weaponized against a person, and also how it can be freeing and healing.
This story was suggested for discussion by Chinelo Onwualu, who writes:
This story is a powerful meditation on disconnection and disenfranchisement as a father and son struggle with finding a way to understand each other while working to police a community that’s not theirs. It is layered and complex and incredibly timely for these troubled times we live in.
I loved the story because it showed such a high level of craft, deftly weaving together a lot of delicate threads to create something profoundly moving. I think that any discussions on it shouldn’t overlook what it has to say about race, class and disenfranchisement in today’s America. What really does happen to a dream deferred?