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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Strange Horizons, May 2, 2016

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Special Double Review

by Brandon Nolta & Eric Kimminau


Strange Horizons, May 2, 2016

How High Your Gods Can Count” by Tegan Moore

Reviewed by Brandon Nolta

If animals could speak in human language, what stories would they tell? What religious beliefs would they tell us about? What gods would they worship, or what demons? In Moore’s story, readers get at least a partial answer to those questions, as far as how they might pertain to monkeys living in the Central American jungles. As related by a nameless narrator, the monkeys that make up the central creatures of Moore’s story are the third creation of their gods, but are not particularly beloved by them. Lacking an ineffable quality the narrator cannot name, they are hunted and scourged into isolation, first by monsters sent by their creators and then by the fourth creation of the gods, humanity. However, no matter what humanity visits upon them, whether it’s the unthinking derision of tourists or the cruelty of hunters hired to keep tourists safe from monkeys, the narrator and the others keep one fact uppermost in their minds about the gods, a fact with repercussions the nameless humans come to learn very quickly.

So much of Moore’s story works well—killer opening and closing lines, a distinctive voice, a well-modulated tone evocative of parables and creation myths—that it’s difficult to pinpoint why it doesn’t come together into a more effective whole. Part of the problem may be the pervasive fatalism that permeates the perspective of the monkeys; even when given to minor acts of rebellion such as biting a tourist, it’s clear that the monkeys have accepted their fate as pariahs in the eyes of the gods. This lack of defiance is believable, but makes the narrator and company passive characters, which limits their agency and, in turn, how interesting they are. There is also a discontinuity between the aforementioned evocative tone of the story and the banality of the actions that Moore describes, such as the random shooting of a simian mother and wounding of the narrator. Even though the aftereffects are referenced throughout the story, the event is described with a complacency that is at odds with the chillingly crafted pair of sentences that explain their fate. Overall, the individual parts of Moore’s story work, but the center does not hold, and the cumulative effect is far less than it should be.

Strange Horizons, May 2, 2016

How High Your Gods Can Count” by Tegan Moore

Reviewed by Eric Kimminau

How High Your Gods Can Count” by Tegan Moore is a creation and retribution story, told from the perspective of monkeys who live in the Great Jaguar Pyramid and who interact, sometimes aggressively and with antagonism, toward the tourists who regularly visit the Temple. Each time a monkey attacks a tourist, men from the local village arrive to kill a monkey or monkeys if the incident seems to warrant it. “We cant let the monkeys ruin the tourists.” The story teller (a monkey) relates the tale of the first creation, where the gods created the animals, giving them the intelligence of society, only to take it away because their “voices were wrong.” So the gods bring the second creation, the men of mud. But their voices were no better and their bodies fell apart, which angered the gods, so they brought the third creation, the monkeys, men of wood. “Our voices were fine and ringing, and our bodies were sturdy and practical, and though we built homes and fires and had children and sowed seeds and spread across the land singing prayers and making sacrifices as best we could, there was still something wrong with us. There was something wrong with our hearts.” And so the gods were not satisfied and had no mercy. Flood and monsters came, their animals turned against them, so they took to the trees for safety and they turned into something else. Then the god made the 4th creation, man, and they seemed satisfied. But now the monkeys see the ghosts of the animals of the jungle and they seem to be in troubled chaos. Suddenly the earth shakes and a darkness spreads from the horizon towards them, and the monkeys know that the humans have supposed or mistook or forgot that the gods can count “infinitely higher than four,” implying that now, the humans have also failed to satisfy the gods and now it is their turn to experience their wrath and the next creation shall soon appear.

The story seems to take bits and pieces from numerous Tibetan (Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa), Malaysian and Middle Eastern creation tales, throws in a smattering of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and a smattering of Noah and the flood with a direct retelling of the Mayan creation myth of animal/wet clay/wood with a monkey twist, without mentioning that, according to the Maya, the ancestors of men were created from maize dough. What is left is commentary of what goes around, comes around and the gods can never be satisfied for long. Nothing really earth shattering or ground breaking, with mud slinging on the gods.

Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional now playing in the world of Grownups and responsibility.