Sunday, May 5, 2019

Recrossing Brooklyn Ferry, by John Richard Trtek

[Asimov's]
★★★★☆ Rich with allusion.

(Time Travel) Bax’s girlfriend seems to have drowned on a mission to the 1924, but he seems to think she slipped away on purpose. But why? (14,832 words; Time: 49m)

Recommended By: 👍RSR+1 👍STomaino+1 (Q&A)

Some of the names may be easier to pronounce if you remember that “sz” probably has an “sh” sound and “cz” has a “ch” sound.

"Recrossing Brooklyn Ferry," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 05-06|19, published on by .

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

Review: 2019.242 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: In the first section, we learn Bax lives in the 2170s (give or take) and works for a government agency that does time travel. He’s mourning his girlfriend, Evie, who supposedly drowned after falling from the Brooklyn Ferry on a mission to the 1920s (August 1924, as we learn later), but his actions make it clear that she simply stayed there. He reads a letter she somehow sent him, across 250 years, with quotes from a Walt Whitman poem.

The rest of the story is about us learning what really happened and why.

 “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is a long poem (1781 words) by Walt Whitman which appeared in Leaves of Grass in 1856. Remarkable about this poem is that Whitman addresses it to readers of the future, fifty, “a hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence,” so it’s easy to see why it would appeal to time travelers—particularly to one who lost a loved one to the past. A close analysis may be worth reading, although that's not essential.

To fully appreciate the story, one should read the poem and then notice how much it influences it, not just because the story quotes the poem but because images from the poem become real, both in the 2170s and in the 1924. Story and poem alike are rich with duality.

Through the course of the story, we gradually learn that 2170s America is a totalitarian dystopia ruled by a fascistic group of “tops” and “over-the-tops,” who control people’s lives in various ways, including the use of the “pal,” which attaches to a socket in the back of the neck. There’s a resistance movement, which Bax and at least two members of Evie’s party belonged to. Their goal wasn’t merely to enjoy life in a better time (if you were white, at least), but to change history enough to destabilize the tyranny.

No one can know if they succeeded or not. Bax only knows that Evie lived her whole life there and left him a letter (the “inheritance” he spoke of in the first scene). But we know (also from the first scene) that the government is tottering, so we can imagine that their work was successful. (There’s quite a lot packed into that first scene; it’s worth rereading after finishing the story.)

Con: The story is finely crafted but it lacks all emotion. Evie has lost her world and Bax has lost his love, yet neither of them seems much affected by it, and neither are we. There’s also no real tension in the story.

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John Richard Trtek Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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