Friday, December 7, 2018

Master Zhao: The Tale of an Ordinary Time Traveler, by Zhang Ran

★★★★☆ Well-written and a fun read.

(Time Travel) Master Zhao shares his tale of how he discovered his time-travel ability and what he’s done with it. But why hasn’t he used it to become more successful? (12,833 words; Time: 42m)

"," by (translated by Andy Dudak, edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 147, published on .

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

Review: 2018.688 (A Word for Authors)

Note: I visualized the nameless narrator as male because a) Zhao calls him “Master” Zhang b) he had a male roommate c) he casually invites Master Zhao up to his room for drinks d) he’s such a cheerful slob. None of these is conclusive, of course; it’s just how I experienced the story.

Pro: The best part of the story is seeing Master Zhao’s attempts to take care of his wife across past, present, and future China despite her illness. It’s also amusing to learn that disappearing socks are a universal problem, not just a Western thing.

It’s surprising what a sympathetic character Master Zhao is despite the fast that he tells us one story after another about his own dishonesty: He gets into this when he tries to stage an accident with a rich person’s car but ends up getting killed (and going back in time). Then he tries to deal heroin with his uncle. When he learns the doctor in Huanggang is a fake, he throws a rock through the man’s window. Then he steals money from his drug-dealing uncle. Later he admits he robbed banks.

But he also has a heart of gold. He gives up the bike business because he's afraid it will lead to Old Chen dying, and of course, his tender love for his wife despite her scolding and her illness is the one constant theme throughout.

Zhang gets quite a lot just for listening to his story. It gives his life a purpose that it hasn’t had in years, if ever. In his thirties, he’s already given up on life, so Zhao’s gift to him is substantial.  Zhao’s entrusting him with notifying his wife (and telling her where the money is hidden) is quite an act of trust, but it seems plausible. We trust the narrator at this point too.

The ambiguous ending is perfect. We ourselves don’t know whether this was the mainline or just a sideline.

Beyond that, the narration is smooth and the dialog is natural. It's a fun story and a pleasant read.

Con: There ought to have been more of an emotional punch to this story, but I didn’t feel anything. Zhao had lived for so long and his existence seemed like a burden to him, plus it wasn’t clear he was really dying at all.

I’m surprised neither of them entertained the idea that all the different timelines might be real.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 147)
Zhang Ran Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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