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Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: "Knight of Shallows" from The Green Man & other short stories by Rand Lee

The Green Man & other short stories
Rand Lee
Curiosity Quills Press
  • Originally appeared in Amazing Science Fiction Stories, July 1983
  • Reprinted in Gardner Dozois' Year's Best Science Fiction
  • Collected in The Green Man and Other Short Stories

Before Jet Li's The One was Rand Lee's "Knight of Shallows."  Roger Carl Shapiro is a senior secretary at Lifetimes, Inc., a company dealing in probability mechanics:
"Probability mechanics is a phenomenon unfathomable to anyone wedded to the old physics. Consciousness as a basic force in the universe. Or rather, multiverse.  You're looking at logical spin-offs from the eventualities of your life."
Because Roger couldn't make a living at writing he came to Lifetimes, Inc. As the company had snooped his other selves, they had found a version of Roger is killing the other-universe Rogers who work as bartenders in Key West.  Since they are nobodies, no one knows why his other self does it.  He's the only person who can enter the probability line and investigate.

At first Roger doesn't believe them until they show him a timeline where he'd published a story he'd only plotted out.  Roger agrees to go, but he's afraid that he has more in common with his rogue self than he wants.

When Roger visits these timelines, the company won't let him stop the murders.  Finally, after a series of failures, he has to tag his rogue self to gain this prototype technology.  He enlists the aid of another self--a female one--and he becomes unmoored the company's ability to trace him.

I wasn't immediately sure why Dozois collected this.  It didn't feel like his taste for one thing.  After a third of the way into the story, I got swept up.  By the ending ("I'll do it for you, Shep."), it finally clicked into place.  The narrative was so good, I'd forgotten to pay attention to literary matters.  I reread it, and sure enough, the author had laid it all out.  Every time I thought, "He didn't explain _____," he had.

Highly recommended.  Impressive tale and something worth coming back to whenever you feel you're running low on soul coal.

Stop reading here unless you've read it.  The following are some key lines to guide readers:
"You could have left." 
"Don't tell me what I could have done."
It's me, dear Christ, it really is me.  Everything squandered. All the richness.
"Your base lost you."
"We've all been beached and set adrift, Roger," she says.  "That and hugged the coastline waiting for the perfect wind to blow."
"It was always, 'Work, work,' and I was always alone. My private life? I didn't have one. They were surprised I should even want one. I didn't look like something out of an ad campaign, you see. I was Roger the Researcher."
"It is all part of the same pattern.... Probability mechanics put an end to that indulgence. It told us, 'Too late; you could have been this if you'd done this then, but not any more."

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