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Monday, December 17, 2012

Review revised: “Mithridates, He Died Old” by Nancy Kress

Asimov's January/February 2013

Kress's title (excerpt online) riffs off A. E. Housman's "Terrence, This Is Stupid Stuff."  Mithridates was "one of the Roman Republic’s most formidable and successful enemies, who engaged three of the prominent generals from the late Roman Republic in the Mithridatic Wars: Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Lucullus and Pompey. He was also the greatest ruler of the Kingdom of Pontus." [Wikipedia]  What Housman's poem refers to is Mithridate's taking sublethal doses of various poisons in order to thwart assassination attempts.  Thus, he died old.  Housman uses this to say that downbeat literature provides a similar function.

This story breaks the rules on POV, much as 19th century did before the rules were established, but there's really no way else to tell this story.

The story begins, "She hadn't expected to enjoy dying so much."  The joy is fleeting.

Margaret Lannigan is dying from being run over and is given an experimental drug to pull her out of her coma.  At first she feels good from the drugs, the pain-killers, but then she gets visited in her drugged dreams by her sister, Beth, who died of cancer at eighteen and whose poetry Margaret viciously criticized.  Next visits a living student, William Calabrese, whom Margaret had gotten expelled (perhaps unjustly), keeping him from medical school.  Following next is the woman who had killed her.  The last visitor is Margaret's own daughter.

Intercut between these drugged dreams are scenes with Margaret's actual family and the doctor administering the drug that's allowing Margaret her consciousness.

Interestingly, Kress both disagrees with Housman's metaphor and agrees.  The story ends on a melancholy note both for Margaret and for future users who might benefit.  

Moving story.  Worth a few reads.

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