Thursday, March 31, 2016

Of the Beast in the Belly, by C.W. Johnson

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(SF) Nawiz has pursued the boy who ruined her life across the galaxy. Before she can get her vengeance, they're both swallowed by a gigantic sea creature, and it will be a struggle merely to survive. (12,501 words; Time: 41m)

Rating: ★★★★★ Award-Worthy
Recommended By: SFRevu:4

"Of the Beast in the Belly," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 04-05|16, published on by .

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

Pro: Manju puts his finger on it at the end: "It was never me you really wanted," he tells her. "You wanted to have a world to rule over, and now you have one." Nawiz gets what she wanted, in a way she never considered, but she also comes to a better understanding of herself, and she frees herself of the terrible hatred that had driven her.

The pre-swallow Nawiz is pretty despicable. So much so that we're more-or-less rooting for the sea monster to chew her up.

In Peshi's territory, she's reborn, more or less, as a man (complete with wife) and a mid-level functionary for Peshi. She's half-good, half-evil at this point. Good to her wife, but ultimately betrays Kaga in a vain attempt to enter the inner circle. Ironically, although she wants to be all-evil, Evil won't have her, and she's chucked into the next stomach.

This time she's reborn as a good person. Even the lies she tells are aimed at hiding what she used to be--not attempts to manage some further evil. After her accidental attack on Egg, she begins purging herself of the anger, hatred, and evil that had consumed her. She confesses, is forgiven, and takes communion with the locals.

Her final rebirth, as leader, occurs when she dives into the water to confront Peshi and ends up sacrificing her opportunity to leave. With Manju's speech to her, her self-realization is complete and so is the story.

Minor points of interest: The Jonah story in the Bible involves someone running away from his obligations, getting swallowed, and changing his mind--in two stages.
Every rebirth corresponds to Nawiz getting dunked into the water one way or another--like a baptism.
"Peschi" is presumably pronounced the same as the Italian word for "fishes."

Con: The physics and biology of living inside a giant undersea creature are unrealistic.

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4 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. When this story started I liked the idea of the multiple stomachs with other creatures in symbiotic or parasitic relationships - despite the chances of it being realistic being pretty low - and I was expecting a "dive through the beast" sort of adventure, so the actual direction the story took was quite surprising.
    I like your interpretation of it as almost a parable.

  2. It's a nice example of how an excellent story can have a fairly silly what-if.

  3. Excellent story.. Compelling with even character development in such a short piece. πŸ‘

    1. Very memorable too. Three years after reading it, I still remember it very clearly. Not many stories pass that test.