Thursday, April 15, 2010

2010 Hugo (and Nebula) nominee, novelette: "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast" by Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)

The novelette category covers stories from 7500 to 17500 words. It seems odd to me to have an intermediate short fiction category, but what do I know?

This story (I’m not going to repeat that title, even with the benefit of cut and paste), depicts a world where people wear special masks every day that confer different roles and personalities to them through some unspecified technology. One day you may be a lover, another you’re shopping, and another you’re a sacrificial victim of people’s tortuous need for blood and gore. Then you wake up again healed from your awful wounds, and you take on another role. There are clear channels for everyone’s passions, and no one has to think too hard. We get a few “days in the life” of our narrator, then we watch as he begins to question this harsh and rigid world. There are strict taboos involving the masks, and secret police to enforce them, which make this questioning more challenging and dangerous.

On one level, it’s formulaic dystopia. We see someone move through a world that is horrific to us, but natural to them. Said character learns there is another way and rebels. Then we get the typical ambiguous ending. The technology of the masks add a new flavor to the proceedings, but it’s not that new. Clearly, it’s a metaphor, but I can’t say for what. If it’s a satire of modern society and the “masks” we all wear in social settings, it’s not one that I related to. I can’t help but think that Foster was shooting for “alien but familiar” but really just came out with “alien.” It is delightfully alien though, and very well-written.

This story was also available as a free audio, this time via the Escape Pod podcast. I think this has become my favorite format for short fiction. I have to read the rest the old-fashioned way though.

Grade: B

No comments:

Post a Comment