Three shorts by Charlie Jane Anders, all audiobooks bought pretty cheaply on Audible (1 or 2 each) and all about various kinds of what-ifs regarding the space-time continuum. All of which goes pretty hand in hand with the fact that I woke up at 2am the other night and couldn’t get back to sleep and bingewatched the first season of “Future Man” which I honestly can’t recommend enough.
As Good as New
This story begins with a young playwright/med student in year two or three of her post-apocalyptic bunkering down in a safe room. Marisol found herself cleaning a rich man’s mansion when the apocalypse more or less hit (molds from mushrooms or something) and got to his safe room where she’s been living off DVD boxsets and canned goods. She also finds a strange bottle before long and it turns out to be a genie’s bottle. The genie is a former theater critics who cryptically tells her, without elaborating, that he’s been a genie since the early 1960s. She slowly realizes, through a kind of walking herself through things logically, that the world has gone through many apocalypses, that someone with the bottle has reversed it, only for that reversal to lead to the next, different apocalypse. So she spends the rest of the story working toward how to reverse her own apocalypse, and prevent future ones.
What’s your go-to perfect wish? One that doesn’t have any loopholes or ambiguity or other issues? I don’t have one and I am glad I will never find a genie’s lamp or monkey’s paw, so I never have to find out whether or not I can listen to my own good sense on the issue.
The Cartography of Sudden Death
In a kind of future/fantasy world that feels drawn very heavily from Gene Wolfe or Jack Vance, we find ourselves just past the assassination of a royal member. Her attending lady is immediately visited by a time traveler who tells her that the deaths of consequential (enough) people opens up a time rift that allows for a savvy traveler to jump in.This traveler must act fast as the palace guards will soon be there to charge the two of them with death in the murder of the royalty. The story goes from there.
I didn’t like this one as much, in part because the attempted richness of the world building felt a little too much for the relative simplicity of the story or the conceit of the story. I feel like I want more story here to go with the amount of set dressing we have. It’s got a relatively severe kind of baroqueness to it that would only work in a comedy and not something meant to read in a serious tone. That said, the story is inventive and fast-paced, but all that further dampens the possibilities the story could have had.
Six Months Three Days
Two clairvoyants go on a date. One can see his own future in lockstep while the other can see the possible futures that hinge on specific decisions. They each know, him certainly, and she possibly, that they will date, it will be very good, until suddenly it’s not.
So the story then follows the two of them, primarily our female protagonist, as they proceed into the relationship, which is slated to last as long as the title of the story suggests. And in those moments that he knows for certain and she feels like she has choice over, we see the relationship follow the predicted pattern.
So this story is mostly one of archetypal people in relationships. And more or less follows the question of are you a fatalist or do you believe in free will. If the future is set, then your actions are merely stage directions, genetics is destiny and all that. But if you do have control over things, what are the ways in which that too can be a prison? If you feel like you can control for every single outcome you want, not only do you end up not living in the present, you also attempt to micromanage every single moment of your life. We probably have a little bit of both sides to each of us — the one who tries to control everything, and the one who feels completely out of step with control.
Taking the philosophy and science fiction out of things, what this most reminded me of is the feeling you get when you know you’re going to be moving in say six months —- end of the summer, end of college, grad school, new job, whatever. Do you treat the six months in a lame duck kind of way knowing that it wouldn’t be worth it to try to meet someone knowing that there’s not enough time to have a real relationship in that period? Or do you go for it, knowing that there’s a high likelihood of heartbreak for you, the other person, or both?