“Dormanna” by Gene Wolfe
“Thanatos Beach” by James Morrow
“The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree” by Michael Swanwick
“The Sigma Structure Symphony” by Gregory Benford
Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell
Each of the tales presented in March’s Tor.com is based on the author’s interpretation of an illustration created by John Jude Palencar.
In “Dormanna” by Gene Wolfe, little Ellie is awakened by a small, disembodied voice, a small bit of fuzz in her ear. She decides to call it Dormanna. Dormanna rides with her all day, and helps her answer questions in class. When evening comes, Dormanna provides both Ellie and her mother with a final surprise.
This is a short, gentle bit of fluff, rather like something from Dr. Seuss, but without the rhymes or the point. The girl in this story seems to me much younger than the one depicted in Palencar’s illustration.
“Thanatos Beach” by James Morrow is about identical twins, Inez and Alexis. They’re both prominent scholars and journalists. When Inez is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, they face a difficult road. She expects to have less than a year to live. After a visit to the oncologist, they stop in a bar for a drink, where they’re accosted by a dwarf. He claims to represent a doctor who has a revolutionary cure for Inez’s ailment. She takes the chance on his recommendation, but finds herself misled, doomed to imprisonment with other survivors of the treatment, on a lonely island. Though the tumors have been excised, they live on, and have become the masters. Inez and her fellows come up with a novel approach to free themselves, but it doesn’t work out as Inez hopes.
While I enjoy some satirical stories, this one failed to grip me. It may be that true fans will appreciate it.
In “The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree” by Michael Swanwick, Mariella Coudy is a brilliant young mind in a very plain body. By the age of seven, she’d invented her own version of calculus, and by sixteen, had a PhD. But it isn’t until twelve years later, when she meets Richard Zhang, that her life changes. Richard has a talent for engineering that rivals Mariella’s brilliance. He’s able to create experiments that demonstrate the principles she expounds. Together they prove that time doesn’t exist. Rather, it’s only an accumulation of consequences. Buoyed by their success, Richard kisses Mariella and a romance ensues. But when one of Richard’s experiments goes awry, Mariella must make a choice, and face her own set of consequences.
This tale starts slowly and ends quickly. I wouldn’t call it a favorite, but it’s the one I like best of this group.
“The Sigma Structure Symphony” by Gregory Benford tells us of Ruth, a student of the Library on Luna. Her work entails deciphering the messages received by SETI from the universe. Analyzing them is the key to mankind’s participation in the galactic economy. Ruth is passing through the library when she spies a crowd. With them, she watches another resident, Ajima Sato, as he attempts an ill-fated maneuver from the top of the facility’s rec dome. Soon afterward, Ruth is called to the Prefect’s office, where she is asked to decipher the Sigma Structures that Ajima was working on before his psychotic break. Accepting the assignment, Ruth works with the AI that Ajima talked to, and discovers that it believes there is a correlation between one of Bach’s sonatas and a theorem. Ruth sets about digging deeper and investigating further. Too late, she discovers the AI has set a trap.
I tired of this rambling tale long before I reached the end of it. The core of the story is sandwiched between so many concepts, both character and plot seem almost lost in them.
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