Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ashante Wilson

Find this story
(SF "Magic") Demane is a young "sorcerer" whose magic is half-forgotten high-tech. He's helping guard a caravan which needs to pass through the Wildeeps, a place with dangerous magic of its own. (45,100 words; Time: 2h:30m)

Rating: ★★★★★ Award-Worthy

NOTE: Although this work exceeds the 40,000-word limit for a novella, Tor is marketing it as one, and the Hugo rules allow the organizers to treat it as such under section 3.2.7 of the WSFS Constitution. See related articles on
"," by (edited by Carl Engle-Laird), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Summary: Primarily, this story is about how Demane overcomes his fears and embraces his true nature despite the cost to his humanity and how he gives Captain Isa what he really wanted--an end. (There are other ways to interpret the ending, but I think this is the most consistent.)

Pro: Although draped in the language of magic and gods, there's nothing supernatural in the story at all. Everything is based on science and technology, albeit some of it too advanced for us to understand. The "gods" were clearly human beings who ascended in some sort of singularity.

The brothers' use of African-American Vernacular English gives them a completely different feel from the troops in a typical swords-and-sorcery story, even while the flowery narration gives everything a strong fantasy feel that belies the evident scientific underpinning of everything. This could have been a mess, but somehow it really does work.

The final scene, when Demane kills the Captain, comes as no real surprise. Even at the start, in the drills scene where Demane almost kills him, we know that the Captain wants him to kill him. He's lived too long, seen too much, and done too much. He wants to die, but by a worthy hand--someone kind who loves him.

It's implied that Demane will lead the brothers now. It's certainly what the Captain suggested (foreseeing his own demise). And even if he can't travel on the road anymore, Demane seems quite comfortable with his new existence. The journey is over, the story reaches a satisfactory (if sad) conclusion.

Con: The language and dialogue are likely too rich for some readers. (Actually a lot of people have reviewed this story and made that complaint.) Another problem is that even though we know Demane is godlike now, we're surprised not to see him mourning the Captain.

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Kai Ashante Wilson Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB

6 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I disagree that Demane didn't mourn. In the description of him at the end, he is pretty clearly only outwardly stoic.

  2. You might be right. There is this line, when the boy asked what happened to the Captain:

    "Demane might have answered, but a fit of palsy took his face. His mouth worked soundlessly. He shook his head."

  3. I'd agree about the prose, although it's not that it's "too rich" per se but that there are times in a story for beautiful descriptions and times to pare it back and let the story flow. Personally I'd have liked the balance tweaked in this regard, but it's very much a ymmv. I didn't have the same issue with the dialogue though - there were some great touches in how different characters spoke. Overall it's a gorgeous story with great world building though.

    1. Personally, I loved the prose in this story, but some of the people on Goodreads who gave it negative reviews complained about the sentences being too hard to read.

  4. Hmm, "hard to read" is slightly different from what I felt but I guess I can see where people may have been coming from. I'm really interested to read this author again because I think that he will get even better with time.